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    On the Wall/Within the Street: Re-Engaging Urbanites with their Environment

    By Claire Tunnacliffe, on 30 June 2015

    London, December 2014

    London, December 2014

    Walking along the Regents Canal at the end of last year, this Tasmanian Tiger caught my eye. As Londoners, life can be fast-paced, and not in the least stressful – everything happens at 100 miles per hour, and if it’s not, then you’re probably not doing it right. Or at least, it certainly feels that way… And yet, this encounter made me stop and pause and look and reflect.

    The Tasmanian Tiger is extinct, and amongst the bleak backdrop of greying sky and murky canal water – I couldn’t help but wonder if it had been worth it? Did the person who placed this up want me to reflect on the Tasmanian Tiger (okay, not indigenous to London) but on the wider disappearance of the natural world within our very urban existence?

    A quick Google search revealed that the artist behind these eulogy-style pieces is Indiana and The Extinction Project, “my work has focused on the idea of wilderness and freedom, in escaping from the current modern society and moving to the country. This society steals most of our time in exchange for money that we spend on things we do not need, and in the process we are destroying what we really belong to: the nature and the world”.

    Walking the streets of many cities around the world, I’ve often come across artistic interventions from people having taken to the streets and scribbled, scratched, pasted, created beautiful murals or one-word retorts. While the expanse of what can be described as street art is huge, I define it as the act of taking to the streets and inscribing on the walls artistic, but also a political, social and environmental responses to the state of the world from a very personal perspective.

    London, September 2012

    London, September 2012

    Over the last few years, I’ve researched urban street art as a tool for social transformation. The world has an infinite depth of artists, writers, and creative individuals marking their place in the world. Street art is a powerful tool in reflecting the experience of the urban, provoking an engagement of urbanites with their environment.

    As a global artistic and social movement, it repurposes space through experimental interventions and challenging the dominant visual culture (an unending stream of advertising, commodity, industrialisation, consumption and alienation), it provides alternatives to this vision. Encounters with urban street art within the everyday create social interstices, opening up ways of seeing and feeling the world differently.

    Through its lens, we reconnect within an increasingly urban existence, one we had forgotten the natural and social entanglements that make up the fabric of the urban context. With urban street art disrupting the mainstream experience of the urban, the spectator is provided with an alternative vision of the world at play.

    As a result, at the crossroads between urban street art and everyday life, the spectator evolves from a passive to an active participant. By awakening new understandings and raising consciousness, engaged urban street art provokes a re-engagement of urbanites with the environment, acting as a catalyst for transformative social change.

    Marrakesh, May 2014

    Marrakesh, May 2014

    So, that’s the theory. But in practice? To move beyond the topical and speculative to the practical act of catalysing transformative social change, there needs a more grounded understanding of the cultural effect of urban street art itself: Who are the spectators? How does it make them feel? What do they take away from the encounter? Do they change their routine because of it? How can we understand more fully the role of the active participant?

    The same question started rolling itself in my head: “How does urban street art open up new ways of seeing and feeling the world around us?” I began to ask around, artists and academics, everyday encounters and in-depth research. These interviews are part of a wider project around documenting these encounters around the city.

    The answer has, up till now, always been a reverberating Yes. But how? Speaking to Lee Bofkin, co-founder of Global Street Art, “Of course street art has the opportunity to encourage social transformation, for so many reasons. It enables talented artists to leave gifts around the city, which are beautiful and site sensitive. It allows artists to be challenging and ask difficult questions. It counters the idea of a single authoritative aesthetic, which allows for a diversity of opinion and a diversity of voices. Its transience gives people something to look out for, to be interested in, less threatened by and maybe even excited by change.”

    New York, October 2013

    New York, October 2013

    In very different ways, illegal and legal street art play a role in the shaping of public spaces; an interplay for confrontation, awareness, beautification, response, anger, activity. It is this activity, which allows people to participate and take responsibility for their public spaces. There is a dualistic role between the counter-culture and anti-capitalist retorts of illegal pieces as there is a desire and need for legal wall spaces, carefully chosen to brighten and breath life into others.

    This is not an either/or. The beauty of what is called urban street art today, will be called something different tomorrow, but the act of taking to the street and inscribing on the walls is nothing new.

    London, June 2013

    London, June 2013

    What we should hold onto are the messages; the powerful voices which interlace personal with political, social, and environmental, which momentarily occupy the space on the walls and between the streets as well as living on beyond, once documented online. I would tread carefully in describing urban street art as a subculture, as it has been expunged by the mainstream attempts to monetise it.

    Yet, there remain many artists who continue to use the streets, both illegally and legally, to speak about issues they hold important, some of whose notoriety is spread across the timelessness of the internet, and others who remain faceless scribbles.

    All of whom, nevertheless, play a part of this artistic and social movement. I would more easily call myself a researcher and an urban planner before an artist, but I strongly believe that one of the greatest attributes of urban street art in creating social transformation is that it awakens a dormant creativity within us all, and with it, a refreshed curiosity in how we shape, create and impact our everyday.

    So, the next time you Instagram that piece that caught your eye, ask yourself: what just woke up inside me?

    Paris, September 2014

    Paris, September 2014


    Claire is a DPU MSc Environment & Sustainable Development alumna. Since graduating in 2012, she continues to research the role of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences. She is applying for a PhD to begin in 2015 on urban street art in West Africa and the effect of marking surfaces in public spaces, however her interests are rather more interdisciplinary, lying at the cross-sections of; community engagement, urban street art, public interest design, sustainable development, town planning, creative cities, art psychotherapy, mental health, the psychodynamics of public spaces, and their impact on place making in the city. 

    She will be publishing a fuller version of the account above as a DPU working paper in the coming months entitled “The power of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences”.

    Reflections of a male researcher interviewing women in Hyderabad, India

    By Nikhilesh Sinha, on 19 June 2015

    Naseer beckoned to me from the other side of a doorway, through which I could see a large-ish courtyard, with several women, of various ages, heads uncovered, going about their mid-morning activities. I hesitated, and then drawing a deep breath, I stepped through…

    After several weeks of wandering around Jahangir Nagar, survey sheets in hand and hanging out at the corner Irani chai café, I found myself being acknowledged and greeted on the street by several of the male residents. I had struggled initially to explain myself and my research, but the fact that I was studying and living in London seemed to clear many a brow and had a significant effect on my curiosity value.

    My interaction with female residents however, was restricted to those I’d interviewed for the survey, usually along with a male member of the household. In cases where there was no male present, the interview would be conducted briefly on the doorstep, if at all. One obstacle was my own bashfulness. I was unsure how to approach and talk to women, especially in a neighbourhood where the niqab and/or burqa is customarily worn in public. I felt continually intrusive, awkward, ill-equipped, and a hairsbreadth away from committing an unforgivable faux pas. I did once get mistaken for a government official and yelled at by a woman because the garbage heap near her house hadn’t been cleared for weeks, but that was an unexpected bonus.

    Hyderabad 1

    All of this meant that if I was to get to do in-depth interviews with women residents, unmediated by males in the household, I needed to rethink my strategy. Assistance came from an unexpected quarter – an accounts executive at a digital printing studio where I got some printing done, put me in touch with his father who runs a school, located not far from Jahangir Nagar. A few days later I found myself being invited to the house of Naseer, – a student of Huda School, Sultan Shahi – and his family, who live with nine other households in a ground floor unit, with shared bathing and toilet facilities.

    The first thing I notice was a broken but evidently functional washing machine, swirling and gurgling to itself in the corner. It was washing day, and Naseer’s mother, was in the midst of pulling garments of various shapes and sizes from a multi-coloured pile. She would wring one out and pass it on to one of her daughters to hang on the line that stretched across the courtyard. Some of the other female residents were engaged in a similar activity. Naseer’s mother explained later that this was a fortnightly ritual.

    Hyderabad 2The courtyard space seemed to be shared by all the households who live there, but Naseer’s mother possessed some subtle authority. I was to learn later that Naseer’s family were the tenants who had lived there longest, all of eight years. Naseer’s father drives an auto rickshaw, leaving the house in the morning only to return at night, and he told me he leaves the running of the house and paying of the bills to his wife. It appears that she may have some say in the running of the other households in the tenement as well, certainly as far as the use of the shared space is concerned.

    I interviewed three other women living in the same tenement. The first was Naseer’s grandmother, who lives in the adjoining room. Her husband died last year and Naseer’s father decided she should move from the settlement where she and his father used to live. He felt it was not safe for a widowed woman to continue living there. She told me that she believed she would have been fine, but moved at her son’s insistence.

    The second was a middle-aged women living in a two-room apartment along with her five daughters. She told me that her husband had left her some years before, and that he hadn’t provided much financial support for her or their eleven children. She has managed to marry off five of her daughters, and is now left with five more to worry about.

    The last was the landlady, or as she described it, daughter of the owner of the building. She said she lives like a tenant along with the others, paying for utilities and managing the space for her mother in lieu of rent. Her husband works as a chauffer in Saudi Arabia, and visits once in two years. Unlike the other women I interviewed, she attended school and is literate in both Urdu and English.

    Hyderabad 3.1

    I entered the tenement as someone who was known to the Headmaster of Naseer’s school, and was treated as an honoured guest. None of the women I interviewed put on a hijab, though they would have done so if they were stepping out into the street. This may mean that men who enter the courtyard cease being strangers, or as is more likely it was due to my association with Naseer’s school.

    Towards the end of my conversation with the landlady, she enquired if I was married, and on learning I wasn’t, both she and Naseer’s mother, who was seated nearby, offered only half-jokingly to arrange for my wedding, and to hold it in their courtyard. An offer I was both deeply touched and petrified by. This exchange was the source of much amusement all round. When I left I was followed by three girls, aged approximately eight, ten and fourteen (the last wearing an oversize burqa) who accosted me and asked me when I was returning to get married. I smiled nervously, mumbled “soon” and walked as fast as my legs would carry me in the opposite direction.


    Nikhilesh Sinha is in his third year of a PhD at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. His research relates to how poor people find places to live in Indian cities. He teaches a course on Global Citizenship at Hult International Business School, London, as well as a course on the challenges and opportunities of doing business in India. Before moving to London, he led research in affordable housing and urbanisation at the Centre for Emerging Markets Solutions at the Indian School of Business (ISB). He has also worked in television, co-founded a theatre company, and is usually in the middle of reading three books not remotely related to his research.

    Water justice in cities: from distributional struggles to co-produced transformation

    By Pascale Hofmann, on 10 June 2015

    Rapid urban expansion and the emergence of new urban centres in the Global South is frequently accompanied by a lack of adequate infrastructure and services. This is resulting in declining levels of access to water supply and sanitation for a large number of urban dwellers, with the State increasingly unable to fulfill its role as a provider of basic services.

    I will elaborate on this using the example of Dar es Salaam, a city that has been the focus of my research for a while.

    IMG_3997

    Private vendors take on the responsibility for water delivery where formal infrastructure is absent. This usually means that those living in poorer areas end up paying more than those connected to the piped network.

    In Tanzania’s largest city we see that formal service provision is limited to central and more affluent areas. The gap in service provision is particularly high in rapidly growing peri-urban areas such as Tungi and Kigamboni, whose inhabitants are among the worst served.

    Both wards are areas that tend to absorb large proportions of the growing urban population, but with disproportionately high percentages of poor households. This is going to accelerate further once the construction of a new bridge that connects these two wards to the city’s main business district is complete.

    Peri-urban areas may be incorporated into the city, but still lack services

    At the same time, many informal areas previously labelled as ‘peri-urban’, like the Kombo and Karakata subwards close to the airport in the South, have become more consolidated and incorporated into the urban core. Yet they continue to suffer from non-existent or inadequate formal infrastructure and services.

    As with the Kigamboni peninsula, the majority of those affected are lower-income people that experience varying degrees of water poverty, often with severe implications on their livelihoods; both in terms of the additional time spent to meet their needs and their income, if their economic activities rely on water.

    Map of Dar es Salaam, with the area of Kigamboni highlighted in red. From Google Maps

    Map of Dar es Salaam, with the area of Kigamboni highlighted in red. From Google Maps

    Global efforts to meet water and sanitation needs

    To address injustices in the current provision of infrastructure and services, there has been a renewed commitment globally towards universal access through the Sustainable Development Goals in order to activate people’s right to water supply and sanitation. Tanzania is one of the countries that have endorsed the right to water and sanitation.

    In practice, however, efforts to tackle the shortfall have largely been seen as a problem of maldistribution. In other words, proposed solutions currently include expanding the water source, reforming the utility and improving the network – these plans assign major roles to utilities, the state and external support agencies.

    Poverty, which is first and foremost conceived as people’s financial inability to pay, is regularly presented as the main reason for people lacking access to water supply and sanitation. This is in spite of evidence that Dar es Salaam’s lower-income households frequently pay more in relative and actual terms for a service that in reality is of a lower quality and lower frequency.

    IMG_4041

    More than just a distributional struggle

    But water injustices in cities are much more than just a distributional struggle. They are created by socially fabricated political-economic structures, which have led to clear power imbalances that misrecognise those without access. Power relations play a significant role in Dar es Salaam where water has become a commodified good. Even though water supply is in public hands the utility is heavily pushed to be financially autonomous and commercially viable.

    In Dar es Salaam and many other cities in the Global South the lack of entitlement and recognition is associated with the informal status of the urban water poor and their disempowerment. While the utility acknowledges their responsibility to provide Dar es Salaam’s residents with water regardless of their tenure status the proportion of their action contributing towards improving supply in informal settlements has been negligible so far.

    Co-produced water practices

    The deficiency of utility networks and supply in poor urban settlements has given rise to the emergence of a range of alternative practices. Many of them emerge out of poor people’s needs and can range from individual coping mechanisms to collectively organised and negotiated initiatives. Some of these communal efforts represent different forms of co-produced service provision whereby organised groups of poor communities are collaborating with the state directly.

    IMG_4062

    Goals of current DPU research

    Earlier this year, I was part of a group of colleagues from DPU, in collaboration with a number of partner organisations, that embarked on the Wat Just research project – Translocal learning for water justice: Peri-urban pathways in India, Tanzania and Bolivia to explore alternative practices to access services with a particular focus on co-produced water management in three cities; Cochabamba, Dar es Salaam and Kolkata.

    In each city we found a variety of service co-production arrangements that range from latent state support to fully institutionalised co-production platforms. However, very little is known to date about their actual performance and their potential to operate at scale.

    The aim of our future research is to examine their transformative potential to address not only the current service gap – i.e. meet the urban poor’s practical needs – but also to investigate how far they can tackle more strategic needs such as challenging and transforming existing power relations that threaten to keep the needs of the urban poor hidden.


    Pascale Hofmann is a lecturer at the DPU and is currently studying for an EngD at the DPU and UCL’s department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE). She has been working with Professor Adriana Allen on a research project with seed-funding from the ISSC (International Social Science Council) Transformations to Sustainability Programme.

    The project, on Translocal learning for water justice: Peri-urban pathways in India, Tanzania and Bolivia, has brought together academics and NGOs from Bolivia, India and Tanzania to discuss and share the challenges and opportunities of co-produced water and sanitation services in their cities. How can these platforms contribute towards water justice at the city scale? A series of Water Justice City Profiles have been produced, elaborating on the challenges in each urban region, as well as a series of videos that explain the concepts and contexts in which the research operates – several of which will be released in the coming weeks.

    Experimental modes of urban design research: BUDD in Cambodia

    By Giovanna Astolfo, on 2 June 2015

    The BUDD Fieldtrip engages with urban challenges in informal settlements in Cambodia by experimenting a different mode of design research. A mode that is embedded, relational, and therefore also active, reflexive and certainly collective. Embedded refers to the learning and knowledge production which is seen as a process integrally related to the practices and lived experiences of people in specific contexts. The work on the field starts from the understanding of the unique needs, abilities, aspirations, and forms of resistance of urban dwellers. Participants focus on how people shape and reshape space and how their specific forms of life shape and produce the everyday.

    As it is an immersion in life, the research is also necessarily relational – recognising that knowledge production and learning are defined within relative positions, and in conversation with existing discourses, social and material processes.

    Active refers to a practice that is engaged with material conditions and social and political complexities, while reflexive acknowledges the contexts in which the research is produced and challenges hegemonic outcomes.

    It is precisely in the apparent contradiction between active and reflexive that an ongoing balancing act between withdrawing from taking action and engagement takes place. Withdrawing from taking action implies a humble, flexible and reflexive approach against the risk, inherent to design, to get trapped into solution-delivery, and prescriptive and exogenous plans.

    What follows is a visual account of the process to which BUDD students are exposed to and contribute to shape during and after the fieldtrip. It makes sense of the word collective, as the essential attribute of the above mentioned design research. The work developed during the fieldtrip is two times collective: in recognising that space is collectively produced by multiple subjectivities and therefore in pursuing the production of knowledge as a common endeavour.

    Embedded in the present text there are some students’ notes developed during the fieldtrip and posted in the BUDD blog as part of the reflexive praxis of the course.

    Image: Snapshot of the activity in Beoung Chuk Meanchey Thmey 2. The video by David McEwen is available at https://youtu.be/1r9PQ1KcMlM

    Image: Snapshot of the activity in Beoung Chuk Meanchey Thmey 2. The video by David McEwen is available at https://youtu.be/1r9PQ1KcMlM

    In Cambodia BUDD students were divided across three sites, working with Community Architects Network (CAN-Cambodia), CDF (Community Development Fund), GDH (General Department of Housing) representatives and Khmer university students. The fieldwork unfolds similarly in the different sites following a modus operandi that is now consolidated.

    During the first days, after being introduced to the community members and leaders and have met local governmental officials, participants indulge in observing, surveying, mapping and interviewing, to grasp an understanding of the context, in its physical and social construction. Collective activities aimed at gathering information, identifying issues and developing proposals follow one another filling a very dense agenda.

    They are also aimed at mobilising the community, reinforcing the cohesion when present, and building a relation with the materiality of the living environment. For instance, collective mapping of boundaries, landmarks and households; enumeration; focus groups; participatory exercises – such as the ‘dream house’ and ‘dream community’ exercise; design workshops as the ‘re-blocking workshop'; and even more playful activities as the ‘talking jacket’ and the ‘participatory massage’.

      Image: The 'dream house' exercise is a collective activity that involves the co-creation of 3d models of incremental housing units at 1:50 scale. Using plastiline for the furniture and cardboard for walls, rooms and roof, all removable, the community members supported by the students managed to imagine new spaces for living. (copyright: Cristian Robertson De Ferrari).

    Image: The ‘dream house’ exercise is a collective activity that involves the co-creation of 3d models of incremental housing units at 1:50 scale. Using plastiline for the furniture and cardboard for walls, rooms and roof, all removable, the community members supported by the students managed to imagine new spaces for living. (copyright: Cristian Robertson De Ferrari).

    “Housing is conceived from inside to outside scaled by the households through the scale of the body, its shapes, its dimensions. The house is understood far away from stereotypes repeated as a stamp, seeking an average family or an ideal life standard acquirable as commodity. The exercise challenged concepts repeated and taught in Universities as a mantra: The house is clearly not “a machine for living in”. The body, the people and their social relations are in the centre.

    Before the exercise, we were afraid to invite the community to dream a house far from what was possible to achieve by them in the reality. We discussed about the risk of the exercise in the creation of false expectations. However, during the activity, we discovered once again that people knowledge is linked with the reality and experience. The outcomes of the exercise were projects feasible to be built in the future.

    Projecting the dream house was an exercise of reality, affordability and hope. The dream house is not a luxury mansion impossible to build, maintain or inhabit. People dream, but with open eyes : small steps, flexible projects, and reality. All the houses, created with individualities, were proposing improvements and new realities. ” (Cristian Robertson De Ferrari, MSc BUDD student, 2014/15)

      Image: the presentation at the municipality in Kompong Thom. A community leader is explaining to the vice Mayor a map of the context developed by the students, including the current location of the community and the possible relocation site, while the rest of the community members is actively participating to the discussion (copyright Sri Suryani)

    Image: the presentation at the municipality in Kompong Thom. A community leader is explaining to the vice Mayor a map of the context developed by the students, including the current location of the community and the possible relocation site, while the rest of the community members is actively participating to the discussion (copyright Sri Suryani)

    After the initial observation, survey, mapping and participatory activities, the group of students start working along with community members to jointly envision and materialise a proposal to be presented to the local authority, either at the municipal or district level. It is of crucial importance that the presentation is led by the community. This is in fact a unique opportunity for them to share their story and upgrading aspirations.

    “Together with university students, ministry representatives, CAN Community Architect Netwwork, CDF Community Development Fund, we facilitated community to open communication with local authorities. We could have called it an ‘urban forum’, where the community became visible and openly spoke out their proposal to government.

    Their agency to act and bring something on the table was important to build trust and recognition as equal partner for government in shaping the environment. Collective agency, then, means everyone who presence in the forum understand their capacity to act, listen, and speak for themselves. Knowledge was produced both about space and positionality. We spoke in different language, but actually our meaning was mutual.” (Sri Suryani, MSc BUDD student, 2014/15)

    Image: an idea of the whole process, aimed at a incremental investigation of Cambodia's transformation, through defining and redefining, building and rebuilding an incremental understanding. Prior to the fieldtrip, students analyse Cambodia in a time of transition and elaborate on the definition of transformation as main general framework for the analysis, drawing from readings, seminars and data collection.  Furthermore, they create action plans aimed at guiding the design research in Cambodia. In order to get a full understanding of the sites, students are split into report and site groups. Report groups work together in London, site groups in Cambodia; each report group includes two representatives from each site groups, in order to think across different sites and ground the overall research question into the different locations. During the fieldtrip students have the possibility to contextualise their definition and test their design research methods.  Back in London, students can integrate the information obtained before the field work in order to re-problematise their notion of transformation, while grounding the site findings into design strategies for city wide upgrading. (BUDD students)

    Image: an idea of the whole process, aimed at a incremental investigation of Cambodia’s transformation, through defining and redefining, building and rebuilding an incremental understanding. Prior to the fieldtrip, students analyse Cambodia in a time of transition and elaborate on the definition of transformation as main general framework for the analysis, drawing from readings, seminars and data collection.
    Furthermore, they create action plans aimed at guiding the design research in Cambodia. In order to get a full understanding of the sites, students are split into report and site groups. Report groups work together in London, site groups in Cambodia; each report group includes two representatives from each site groups, in order to think across different sites and ground the overall research question into the different locations. During the fieldtrip students have the possibility to contextualise their definition and test their design research methods.
    Back in London, students can integrate the information obtained before the field work in order to re-problematise their notion of transformation, while grounding the site findings into design strategies for city wide upgrading. (BUDD students)

    Proposals, interventions and strategies developed with the community are refined during the last days of the fieldtrip and presented to the vice governor in Phnom Penh. This is a further opportunity to exchange the learning and outcomes; it is also aimed at making visible the presence of such enormous capital in the communities, the ‘people technology’. Capitalising on the site work, back in London, BUDD students share once again their outcomes in a final presentation that concludes the Cambodia fieldtrip project.

    Image: strategies for city wide upgrading (BUDD students)

    Image: strategies for city wide upgrading (BUDD students)

    Contemporary urban challenges call for a deeper reorientation of design research. The BUDD mode – embedded, collective, relational, active and reflexive – aims to do so. Immersed in the tradition of action learning of the DPU, these pedagogical dimensions foster a constitutive role for urban education in addressing urban exclusion and inequality, and global disparities in the production of knowledge and space.


    Giovanna Astolfo is a lecturer on the MSc Building and Urban Design for Development, she recently joined students on overseas fieldwork in Cambodia. This is the second year that the MSc BUDD has visited Cambodia, continuing a collaboration with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights that previously saw the programme conduct overseas fieldwork in Thailand in 2011-13.

    Spaces of Peace: A participatory process worth studying

    By Laura Pinzon Cardona, on 29 May 2015

    petare 3

    From my experience, living and working in Colombia and witnessing the struggles found in processes for upgrading poor zones in the city, I often wonder how can small organisations propose and deliver urban projects seeking for social and cultural transformation, without getting lost in the highly bureaucratic processes for funding and building permissions.

    I want to share in this post some points about a participatory methodology, initially used in Venezuela in July 2014 that points to interesting directions for achieving more comprehensive, and time sustainable, results for urban interventions in low income areas.

    Having said this, it is important to highlight that the experience in Venezuela needs to be studied critically, in order to understand local factors that made it successful and wondering whether it could be a methodology than can be easily replicated elsewhere.

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    Spaces of Peace (Espacios de Paz) is the name given to this participatory methodology, and that was precisely the main purpose, to create places of truce in conflictive neighbourhoods with violent histories, through the transformation of empty buildings, and urban voids, into communal spaces for the practice of different activities related to cultural and recreational practices in the community.

    This initiative was lead by the Presidential Commission of the Movement for Peace and Life (Comisión Presidencial del Movimiento por la Paz y la Vida) and coordinated by the architecture firm PICO Estudio. Eleven social architecture collectives – both national and international – were invited to participate in the project, and to take part in five parallel participatory workshops across the country. The workshops lasted 6 weeks, which included one week for preparation, and five for design and construction.

    IMG_2849

    This may sound straightforward for someone unfamiliar with managing and delivering urban proposals in low-income communities in South America. But the fact is that it is an outstanding accomplishment. The project achieved five good-quality results in parallel, in just six weeks, while remaining participatory throughout. In my experience, it can take about 6 weeks just to have the permissions ready for a small urban intervention, and that would only involve two or three actors – not the seven who came together for this project.

    There are a few details that piqued my interest in learning more about this methodology, which I believe these could be strategic decisions that explain the apparent success of implementation of this approach. The first detail I want to highlight is that local women managed resources for each project, including both food and money to pay for construction materials brought to the site.

    In doing so the role of actors in the project is balanced: the community all of a sudden receives these architecture collectives to guide the workshop, design and construction – even if they are from the same country, they are still somehow alien to local contexts. But at the same time it is the community itself, represented by their women, who are the ones in charge of managing the process in the best way possible to make the ideas feasible.

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    Production teams were in charge of all logistical details covering a wide range of tasks related to the preparation and implementation of workshops, including transportation, hosting, food, hiring and delivering of construction materials. Besides a small quota of voluntary students and some specialised craftsmen, men and women from the communities did most of the labour, being hired and paid for their time

    One final detail I want to highlight is that cultural and social activation started in parallel with the project being built. With the support of local and national networks of foundations, artists and collectives with social purposes, many different activities were planned and realised in the communities during the workshops. This called the interest of the community and gave a chance to more people to participate.

    I am part of one of the international collectives invited to be part of this exercise, Habitat sin Fronteras. Although I could not be there during the workshops I followed it from my home in Colombia, through the experiences of a colleague, and in August last year I had the chance to visit one of the projects in Caracas. In this project an existing two-story building was renovated, in a very crowded corner in Petare, a traditionally conflictive poor neighborhood.

    petare 2

    Inside the new building there are spaces designated for dancing and yoga, a music-recording studio, and an Internet room with a few computers. The roof terrace was reinforced and properly adapted for a single basketball court with space for stands and plants. During my visit I could see all these spaces were used intensely by local people, still being supported by some art and cultural collectives that participated during the construction exercise.

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    Looking at the impact generated by Spaces of Peace, it is hard not to think this should be done more often and in many more countries. However, specific local conditions such as political will, levels of coordination among institutions, strong funding management and production capacity from the project leaders, and community cooperation are, among others, some factors to study locally before replicating this particular exercise.

    Nowadays, Spaces of Peace 2015 is being implemented in Venezuela, and also in Mexico at a smaller scale on a project-by-project basis. I will share some of their experiences in future posts.

    Related Links:


    Laura Pinzon is an architect and completed the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development at the DPU in 2012. She currently works as a consultant with Habitat sin Fronteras, a non-profit foundation, and is also manager and creative director of a communication company called 101 Media Solutions, developing communicative strategies to support development processes in Colombia, where she currently lives.

    Transformation in a Time of Transition: Engaging with People-driven Upgrading Strategies in Cambodia

    By Giovanna Astolfo, on 26 May 2015

    In the last 20 days students from the MSc BUDD have been engaging with people driven upgrading processes in Cambodia as part of the annual action oriented design research fieldtrip project.

    Working closely with local communities, in collaboration with the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC) and the Community Architect Network (CAN) and supported by the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), BUDD students, along with 22 local students from 7 different Universities, developed design strategies for city wide upgrading and inclusive urban design, starting from a socio spatial full immersion in three informal communities in Phnom Penh and Kompong Thom.

    Image: Striking contrast of Global Phnom Penh, between elite towns, vernacular wooden architecture and poor houses. The desire for growth and economic development passes through urbanisation, land exploitation, eviction and relocation (©Ana Puhac; Rui Geng; Camillo Boano; Alex Pixley)

    Image: Striking contrast of Global Phnom Penh, between elite towns, vernacular wooden architecture and poor houses. The desire for growth and economic development passes through urbanisation, land exploitation, eviction and relocation (©Ana Puhac; Rui Geng; Camillo Boano; Alex Pixley)

    Two of the three sites share similar challenges, even though one is located in a mostly urbanised area in the periphery of Phnom Penh (Chbar Ampov District), while the other is located in the Province of Kompong Thom, 160 km far from the capital city, in a mostly rural part of the country.

    Poor though cohesive communities are here facing the perpetual lack of land tenure – one of the many by-products of the murderous urbicidal past of the country – and basic services (water, sanitation, waste management..); on top of that, seasonal flooding worsens the already precarious conditions in urban and rural Cambodia weakening the relationship between environment and people. But local people’s knowledge and technology, their inexhaustible inventiveness and resilience, their ability in organising and building, proves once more to be strong enough to imagine, design and plan a different future.

    Image: Beoung Chuck Meanchey Thmey II community in Phnom Penh is a cohesive community willing to pursue land negotiations and start a process of upgrading. In order to do so, detailed house mapping and reflections on accessibility were experimented, along with alternative layouts including landfill and housing on stilts (©Camillo Boano)

    Image: Beoung Chuck Meanchey Thmey II community in Phnom Penh is a cohesive community willing to pursue land negotiations and start a process of upgrading. In order to do so, detailed house mapping and reflections on accessibility were experimented, along with alternative layouts including landfill and housing on stilts (©Camillo Boano)

    The third site, Anlong Kngan community, has been even more challenging, given the large scale (it is in fact formed by nine communities for a total of 500 households), the extremely contested and conflictive context (a relocation site in the periphery of the city, today a densely inhabited area with high pressure over land) and lack of cohesion in the communities. The Anlong case is paradigmatic as it represents a common feature in the urban production of Cambodia: massive settlements generated ad hoc from forced evictions and acts of emptying the centre of the city paired to the use of peripheral land to relocate informal populations, toward building the image of a ‘charming’, globalised and competitive city.

    Anlong Kngan combined the perverse failure of the relocation system in Phnom Penh with another example of the resilience of the Khmer people and their ability to work out the worst condition, resist unjust urban dynamics, reclaiming the right to shape, built and inhabit the city.

    Image: Water supply by re‐using plastic bottles; coping mechanisms for floods (©Vishaka Jha); techniques to capture insects for daily consumption (©Giovanna Astolfo)

    Image: Water supply by re‐using plastic bottles; coping mechanisms for floods (©Vishaka Jha); techniques to capture insects for daily consumption (©Giovanna Astolfo)

    The Kompong Thom community is formed by 30 households and lives in unhealthy and unsafe conditions above a polluted canal. Houses are built on stilts echoing the traditional vernacular wooden architecture ubiquitous in rural Cambodia. During the rainy season, the water of the canal reaches the floor level of the houses worsening the living condition of the residents.

    In light of the vulnerability of the area and taking advantage of the lack of land tenure of the residents, the municipality is willing to relocate the community in a site 70 km far away causing the disruption of their livelihood. However, the small city does not show evidence of a possible pattern of growth or urban development that can explain the relocation or make sense of such pressure over land. Also, it is unclear how imminent the threat of eviction could be.

    Image: mapping of the community settled above the canal (©Giovanna Astolfo); raised access to the houses; possible land for relocation identified by the community (©BUDD students)

    Image: mapping of the community settled above the canal (©Giovanna Astolfo); raised access to the houses; possible land for relocation identified by the community (©BUDD students)

    Nevertheless, the community urges to envision alternative scenarios as tools to expand the room for manoeuvre with the local authority, to catalyse attention, gain visibility, mobilise other communities and reach a level of autonomy. Helped by a pro-poor oriented Municipality, the BUDD developed and tested several proposals for on-site upgrading (domestic space, shared spaces and infrastructures), re-blocking and relocation to another land of choice.

    Image: Imagining living spaces: the dream house activity; co‐producing alternative futures: relocation versus on site upgrading (©BUDD students)

    Image: Imagining living spaces: the dream house activity; co‐producing alternative futures: relocation versus on site upgrading (©BUDD students)

    The group of students worked along with community members to jointly develop a strategy to be presented to the local authority first, and, after further refinement, to the vice Governor in Phnom Penh.

    It is of crucial importance that the first presentation is led by the community, in order to capitalise on the unique opportunity for urban poor communities to share their story and upgrading aspirations directly with local authority. Similarly, the aim of the second presentation is to facilitate the institutional recognition of the presence of such enormous capital in each communities.

    Image: moments of the learning process in Kompong Thom. Dream house exercise and community driven presentation of the strategies to the local authority. The dream house is a collective activity that involves the co‐creation of 3d models of incremental housing unit at 1:50 scale with plastiline removable furniture. (©BUDD students; Giovanna Astolfo)

    Image: moments of the learning process in Kompong Thom. Dream house exercise and community driven presentation of the strategies to the local authority. The dream house is a collective activity that involves the co‐creation of 3d models of incremental housing unit at 1:50 scale with plastiline removable furniture. (©BUDD students; Giovanna Astolfo)

    Image: Learning from the Province. Visit to upgraded community that are already part of the network (©Giovanna Astolfo)

    Image: Learning from the Province. Visit to upgraded community that are already part of the network (©Giovanna Astolfo)

    Anlong is a peri-urban site for relocated people, where the government allocated empty land for victims of (deliberate) fire in the more central zone. Fast forward 15 years, the communities have transformed the empty land without infrastructure and services in a dense lively urban space.

    Four of the nine communities not included in the relocation process, are illegally occupying part of the land. The site is therefore two times a locus of contestation, for being a relocation site and for being a squatted relocation site.

    Image: Anlong Kgan settlement (©Camillo Boano; BUDD students)

    Image: Anlong Kgan settlement (©Camillo Boano; BUDD students)

    Great effort was put by the students in disentangling the complex dynamic of resettlement as a mechanism repeatedly present in the system of the city and in unpacking the conflicting agendas of different actors.

    The proposed interventions aim at the incremental occupation and densification of the site (sensitive reblocking), the activation of self-sufficient mechanism and growth of the site as a self sufficient city, at strengthening the interdependency of the communities settled in the site, and at increase the rootedness and sense of belonging.

    Image: unpacking Anlong Kgan settlement development (©BUDD students)

    Image: unpacking Anlong Kgan settlement development (©BUDD students)

    The three sites despite local specificity share similar features related to the uncertain institutional and legal framework for the urban poor’s access to land in the new course of the National Housing Policy implementation; even when present, laws and regulations on land and housing are rarely fulfilled.

    The collaboration between BUDD students, Staff and representatives of the recently established General Department of Housing (GDH) as part of the Ministry of Land Management (MLMUPC), has been an attempt to catalyse attention to people driven processes in the production of the city and attentive participatory methodologies.

    Image: collaborative settings (©Fiona; Belen Desmaison)

    Image: collaborative settings (©Fiona; Belen Desmaison)

    Since reliable data and maps, when existing, are difficult to gather or deliberately hidden or simply not recognised as forms of knowledge, a cross cutting underlying common goal of the fieldwork in each site has been the co-production of knowledge, including settlement profiling, enumeration, mapping, and participatory design activities, at the point that it is difficult to say who contributed more: the community, the Khmer students or the BUDDies.

    Image: co‐production of knowledge(©Giorgio Talocci)

    Image: co‐production of knowledge (©Giorgio Talocci)

    Finally, a common trait of the work has been the constant learning attitude, inspired by the humble, no-hero work of CAN and ACHR. Such attitude is central and constantly reasserted in their approach: learning from the people, learning from urban reality, learning from each other, learning by doing.

    If once Giancarlo de Carlo said that architecture is too important to be left to architects, maybe there is a greater role for Community architects?


    Giovanna Astolfo is a lecturer on the MSc Building and Urban Design for Development, she recently joined students on overseas fieldwork in Cambodia. This is the second year that the MSc BUDD has visited Cambodia, continuing a collaboration with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights that previously saw the programme conduct overseas fieldwork in Thailand in 2011-13. This year’s cohort of BUDD students will present the outcomes of their research on Wednesday 27 May 2015.

    Action-learning in Euston: inputs for HS2 Citizens’ Charter

    By Maria P Sagredo Aylwin, on 21 May 2015

    co-written with Ashley Hernandez
    HS2 makes me feel

    Since 2013 students from the MSc Social Development Practice have been working with Citizens UK on researching the aspirations of Euston residents in London affected by the HS2 plans. This project involves the development of a high-speed rail that will connect London to Birmingham.

    The students addressed various topics, among them housing, jobs and training, community relations and the accountability of the HS2 project, through participatory research methods. The research included transect walks, interviews and mapping of the area. The main findings were presented at a community meeting, where residents could express their ideas and engage with the findings. The result of this research contributed to the development of a charter elaborated by the Camden branch of Citizens UK.

    The following video summarizes the process of research and its main findings. The video was presented at the pre-launch of the charter that was organised by Citizens UK in April 2015. The event was attended by residents of the area, Camden Council and students from other contributing universities.


    María Paz Sagredo and Ashley Hernández are students of the MSc Social Development Practice at the DPU. This research formed part of their London-based Social Development in Practice module, which aims to actively engage local communities in policy and planning processes to ensure more equitable and transformative development outcomes. 

    Exploring possibilities for community-led urban land development in Dar es Salaam

    By Rafaella Simas Lima, on 19 May 2015

    For the past two-weeks students of the MSc Urban Development Planning have been working in three sites across Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as part of their field trip project supporting community-based initiatives for informal settlement upgrading.

    Working with the Center for Community Initiatives (CCI), a local NGO, and members of the Tanzanian Federation of the Urban Poor, students have been trying to understand the realities of urban life in these three areas while developing ideas to guide more socio-environmentally just trajectories of urban development at the city-wide scale.

    Incomplete houses on the Chamazi site Image: Rafaella Lima

    Incomplete houses on the Chamazi site
    Image: Rafaella Lima

    The three sites in which the groups are based—Karakata, Chamazi, and Mabwepande—have much in common: they are all growing peri-urban areas, they are all mostly “informal” or “unplanned”, most residents are low-income, and they face similar interlinking challenges such as infrastructure, access to basic services, sanitation, and solid waste disposal. But they also represent different patterns of land acquisition and development within the Tanzanian context.

    Learning about the Gulper machine, a mechanism that the Federation has been using for the emptying of pit latrines in Karakata.

    Learning about the Gulper machine, a mechanism that the Federation has been using for the emptying of pit latrines in Karakata.

    Karakata is the longest-established settlement of the three, and developed as residents from elsewhere in the city moved further out in search of more affordable land and rent prices. Considering Karakata’s close proximity to Julius Nyerere International Airport, as well as its diverse array of livelihood activities, the value of the land is currently rising at a rapid rate.

    Residents face big issues such as sanitation and access to medical services, and the rapid erosion of the river in the area presents a grave environmental threat. Students assigned to this site have been working on ideas such as community-led environmental risk assessments and a more sustainable model for the Federation’s waste-disposal system.

    Mapping the route between Chamazi housing site and the town centre.

    Mapping the route between Chamazi housing site and the town centre.

    In Chamazi, Federation members formed a housing cooperative to collectively purchase a plot of land to build homes for those who were evicted by the government from Kurasini Ward in 2008, due to the expansion of the port area.

    However, since the project began in 2009, many houses have not been completed and a high percentage of families have yet to move to the site. One hypothesis for this has been that Chamazi’s distance from the city center (sometimes 3-4 hours with traffic) means much fewer livelihood and employment opportunities.

    But the Chamazi site is not as isolated as it once was; in only the past few years the area around Chamazi town has grown rapidly, bringing new businesses, markets and services. UDP students have been exploring the seeming disconnect between the housing site and the town, along with the financing of the housing project to understand how it can remain affordable and viable.

    A student-led focus group trying to understand the dominant challenges in Mabwepande.

    A student-led focus group trying to understand the dominant challenges in Mabwepande.

    Mabwepande is another peri-urban site for relocated people, however in this case the government allocated land for victims of flooding in the more central Suna zone.

    At the moment the area feels rural and many residents use the non built-up space for agricultural purposes, but we have yet to see how increased development of the area and new pressures on land will affect them.

    As the Federation has only just begun working in this site, Mabwepande had yet to be mapped in a way that was accessible to its residents. Along with conducting interviews and focus groups to begin to build a larger picture of the Mabwepande community, students created maps with the help of community members to be shared on the site.

    Students present some of their findings and ideas to community members in Karakata.

    Students present some of their findings and ideas to community members in Karakata.

    These three sites are illuminating important citywide processes, such as the uncertain institutional relationships that govern the urban poor’s access to land (for example, there is no clear resettlement policy that might guide the relocation of people like in Chamazi and Mabwepande).

    Students are understanding the notion of “scale” in practice, as they come to grips with the scale of informality and poverty across Dar es Salaam. This has been underpinned by the rainy season, in which intense flooding across the city has brought the hardships faced by Dar’s poorer residents into clear focus.

    Observing a Federation and CCI-led focus group used in settlement profiling in Vingunguti settlement.

    Observing a Federation and CCI-led focus group used in settlement profiling in Vingunguti settlement.

    Finally, there is the challenge of gathering reliable data in a city that is growing so rapidly, in a context where certain forms of knowledge are not recognized. The field trip focuses on the way knowledge is built at the local level as students learn from the Federation model of settlement profiling, enumeration, and mapping.

    In return, students offer input and experiences from their diverse home countries to try and support community-led processes of co-production of housing, land development, and knowledge.

    Snapshots of the urban economy: Mekelle, Ethiopia

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 11 May 2015

    For the past 10 days I’ve been with staff and students of the MSc Urban Economic Development in Mekelle, Ethiopia. They have been making sense of economic development by exploring four broad topics, and assessing their contribution to the local economy:

    1. Mekelle University as a supporter of small enterprises
    2. Urban and peri-urban agriculture
    3. Co-operative organisations
    4. The airport as a catalyst for economic development

    We have put together a series of images, which provide a snapshot of different parts of the urban economy in Mekelle.

    Tradition has it that Mekelle University was first formed beneath the Momona Tree on its campus – the shadow of which served as its first office. Nowadays it retains an important social function as both a meeting point and a place of intrigue for visitors. The DPU has been partnering with Mekelle University for the past 5 years– we have been immensely grateful for the contributions of University staff. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Tradition has it that Mekelle University was first formed beneath the Momona Tree on its campus – the shadow of which served as its first office. Nowadays it retains an important social function as both a meeting point and a place of intrigue for visitors. The DPU has been partnering with Mekelle University for the past 5 years– we have been immensely grateful for the contributions of University staff. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Coffee culture is rife in Mekelle with numerous coffee-houses lining a series of tree-lined streets close to the centre. We asked a new business owner why she had chosen this area in the face of such established competition. She had opened her coffee-house just one month ago, but her reply highlighted the social and economic role the businesses play in this area. They serve as meeting points for local business-people through which they engage with and build their professional networks. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Coffee culture is rife in Mekelle with numerous coffee-houses lining a series of tree-lined streets close to the centre. We asked a new business owner why she had chosen this area in the face of such established competition. She had opened her coffee-house just one month ago, but her reply highlighted the social and economic role the businesses play in this area. They serve as meeting points for local business-people through which they engage with and build their professional networks.
    Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Messebo cement factory, the fifth largest in Ethiopia, dominates views towards the outskirts of the city. It is by far the largest business and employer in the region and a key contributor to the local construction sector. Slow-build developments are common in Mekelle – this is evidently not due to a lack of available resources, but more often than not a consequence of financial difficulties which delay progress. Image: Tsuyoshi

    Messebo cement factory, the fifth largest in Ethiopia, dominates views towards the outskirts of the city. It is by far the largest business and employer in the region and a key contributor to the local construction sector. Slow-build developments are common in Mekelle – this is evidently not due to a lack of available resources, but more often than not a consequence of financial difficulties which delay progress.
    Image: Tsuyoshi Aiki

    Young boys roam the popular streets of Mekelle offering their services as shoe cleaners. While they often appear to be working independently, these boys actively contribute a small amount each day to an informal savings scheme in order to increase their financial capital. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Young boys roam the popular streets of Mekelle offering their services as shoe cleaners. While they often appear to be working independently, these boys actively contribute a small amount each day to an informal savings scheme in order to increase their financial capital.
    Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Farming within and on the outskirts of the city contributes to the security and affordability of food in Mekelle. The split between the two spaces is more than just spatial, however; it is also reflected in government attitudes. For example, peri-urban farmers are not able to obtain a license to sell their produce in the city centre – a restriction that others do not have to contend with. In spite of having more space to grow crops if greater quality in greater quantity, peri-urban farmer are therefore forced to sell to middle-men to reach consumers, which in turn has an impact on their income.  Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Farming within and on the outskirts of the city contributes to the security and affordability of food in Mekelle. The split between the two spaces is more than just spatial, however; it is also reflected in government attitudes. For example, peri-urban farmers are not able to obtain a license to sell their produce in the city centre – a restriction that others do not have to contend with. In spite of having more space to grow crops of greater quality and in greater quantity, peri-urban farmers are therefore forced to sell to middle-men to reach consumers, which in turn has an impact on their income.
    Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Mekelle is a regional hub for business and part of the ‘Garaltar Triangle’, a popular tourist route. The local tourist board believes that 95% of visitors come through the airport for tourism, however initial research by MSc UED students, through a series of surveys at the airport, suggests that the majority of travellers arriving by air do so for business purposes.  Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Mekelle is a regional hub for business and part of the ‘Garaltar Clusters’, a popular tourist route. The local authorities believe that 98% of visitors come through the airport for tourism, however initial research by MSc UED students, through a series of surveys at the airport, suggests that the majority of travellers arriving by air do so for business purposes.
    Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Towards the suburbs of the city an expanding manufacturing sector exists. One factory we visited produced honey for domestic consumption. The factory manager elaborated on the hope that they might be able to reach an international market. For the emerging manufacturing sector in Mekelle, and elsewhere, this challenge must be overcome if the sector is to become a key driver of national economic growth. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Towards the suburbs of the city an expanding manufacturing sector exists. One factory we visited produced honey for domestic consumption. The factory manager elaborated on the hope that they might be able to reach a wider international market. This challenge must be overcome if manufacturing is to make a greater contribution to national economic growth. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Urban Agriculture sites often exist where vital infrastructure services are not available, thus making it unattractive for commercial or residential development. Mekelle is not a densely populated city at present, so urbanisation tends to happen close to infrastructure and services. Urban farmers put these unoccupied spaces to productive use, but rely on motorised pumps to extract water from shallow wells to irrigate their crops. Image: Matthew Wood-Hill

    Urban Agriculture sites often exist where vital infrastructure services are not available, thus making it unattractive for commercial or residential development. Urban farmers put these unoccupied spaces to productive use, but rely on motorised pumps to extract water from shallow wells to irrigate their crops.
    Image: Matthew Wood-Hill


    Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. He has been in Mekelle, Ethiopia with the MSc UED programme for the past 11 days. The MSc Urban Economic Development has been working with Mekelle University for 5 years now, understanding urban economic development in practice.

    Sanitation and the Politics of Recognition in Kibera

    By Tamlyn Monson, on 6 May 2015

    To kick off their field trip to Kenya, students on the MSc Social Development Practice spent much of the day with representatives of Practical Action and Umande Trust, hearing about the ways in which these organisations have worked with local residents to promote productive and liveable settlements in Kenya’s slums.

    Part of the day’s programme was a trip to Gatwekera in Kibera, Nairobi, where we visited two of the settlement’s 16 biocentres. The biocentres provide accessible toilets, where – in an awesome reframing – excreta becomes a ‘human investment’ that is collected in a biodigester to produce gas for cooking and slurry that can be put to agricultural use.

    Street view from Gatwekera Total Sanitation and Hygiene Access (TOSHA) network biocentre. Image credit:  Tamlyn Monson

    Street view from Gatwekera Total Sanitation and Hygiene Access (TOSHA) network biocentre. Image credit: Tamlyn Monson

    Our objective was to understand whether and how these infrastructure projects could help us identify avenues through which such projects can be scaled up to more explicitly political claim making around citizenship. However, the reality of the interventions exposed some of our received assumptions about how such claim making should proceed.

    For instance, we found that in advocating for the rights of informal settlement residents, NGOs may also face certain informal political dynamics at higher scales within the state, and therefore opt to advocate for change outside of the ‘direct’, formal channels.

    According to Peter Murigi of Practical Action, completed infrastructural investments have the potential to legitimise the claims of informal residents to improved living conditions, this is because in permitting these interventions the state has indirectly recognized the need for change. Rather than explicitly lobbying through formal channels for change, advocates can use these achievements as precedents justifying claims for further practical improvements when opportunities to indirectly influence power holders arise.

    Multi-level biocentre in a Kenyan informal settlement. Image credit: Umande Trust

    Multi-level biocentre in a Kenyan informal settlement. Image credit: Umande Trust

    Witnessing the significant achievements of the Gatwekera Total Sanitation and Hygiene Access (TOSHA) Network, both staff and students were struck by the limited role of the state in these achievements: the government’s contribution, according to the TOSHA chairperson Moses Ambasa, is merely to “allow us” to go ahead – with projects realized through donor funding and community labour only.

    Ambasa was satisfied with this situation, in which slum dwellers are, so to speak, permitted to solve ‘their own’ problems. Participants felt a tension between the need to give due weight to this community voice, and the need to challenge the idea that residents of slums should shoulder such a disproportionate burden of cost and responsibility in securing basic living conditions.

    In an afternoon debrief, students acknowledged various shifts of perception inspired by the visit to Kibera, which exposed many to the complexity and ambiguity of an informal settlement for the first time. This was an exciting and stimulating start to a field trip in which students will soon be entering an unfamiliar field in the secondary city of Kisumu. The reflexive trajectories opened up today will be a valuable asset as students soon begin a practical engagement with the Kisumu Informal Settlements Network (KISN). They will be entering the field well prepared to begin unpacking the various entanglements we always find there.


    Tamlyn Monson is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Social Development Practice at the DPU and a PhD candidate at the LSE. Staff and students on the MSc SDP programme engage in overseas research with Practical Action in Kenya each year – read about the collaboration on the DPU website.