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

RafaellaSimas Lima19 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.

Urban street trading: tailored thinking for the Global South

Lila ROriard Colin17 April 2015

On the 25th of March we ran a one-day seminar on street trading in the cities in the Global South. Prominent researchers from different parts of the world mixed with young PhDs to share their research and reflections on the topic.

During the reception after the seminar one of the speakers remarked: ‘I feel people in this room are talking on the same language and sharing similar questions; an exciting feeling’.

I really sympathised with that comment: to connect disconnected research and people was one of the key motivations behind the event. In fact, street trading as a tool to understand cities is currently disconnected from major debates, despite their widespread presence in cities in the Global South.

Street trading_web

The seminar looked at street trading on two levels: On a practical level about the difficulties encountered with regards to implementing city policies; and another more theoretical level using street trading as a conceptual tool to understand (and challenge understandings) of cities, and city-making processes.

The conceptual problem of street trading

The exercise really started long before the seminar, when we had to choose a title that accurately framed the subject and our objectives. I first proposed the title ‘Street traders and the cities in the Global South’.

This was quickly changed to specify ‘street trading’ as we acknowledged that the commercial system (traders, organisations, marketplaces, local and transnational commercial connections) is far more complex than only street traders, which only considers people and not wider spatial, political and economic contexts.

Looking for a more appealing title, Yves Cabannes and I proposed ‘Street trading: the privatisation of public space’.

However, we realised that that we were getting trapped by the very same conceptual-box that we were trying to escape and challenge: the modern paradigm of cities.

In fact, the definition of ‘public space’ and ‘privatisation’ fail to adequately explain how streets in the Global South work. In this context, the appropriation of the streets and open spaces by street traders, without formal permission from the municipality, is already a current, and to a certain extent, legitimate practice. In other words, to have informal street trading in the streets is normal.

Our discussion on the title illustrates a conceptual problem with street trading: as researchers, we lack theoretical frameworks that fit properly to explain how cities and streets work and the conditions that make them suitable places for street trading. After this discussion we settled on the title Street trading in the Global South: Practical and theoretical challenges.

Informality is never black and white

Among the different discussions held during the seminar, I have chosen three that show how the current theoretical frameworks fail to address street trading.

The first of these discussions was on the concept of informality. It was quickly agreed by participants that while this concept seems to propose a black and white understanding of the phenomenon, the reality that we observe is actually somewhere in-between – different shades of gray.

Is this concept useful to understand how street trading works? Are the street traders doing wrong by operating outside the law, or rather have cities been unable to offer them a dignified role in the city-making process?

Contested urban spaces and city-making

The second discussion related with the claims of vendors to urban space and the legal systems that regulate the activity. Traders have been facing evictions in many locations and some of them start mobilisations to protect their places on the streets. Most of these evictions occur when groups of the urban elite, supported by city authorities, ‘clean’ the streets to re-appropriate spaces used by them in the past such as the city centres.

The contestation of urban space is an interesting angle to see how the city is made and for who. This perspective shows that street traders are not often seen as having a voice in the making of their own cities.

Urban streets are more than mere thoroughfares

We also discussed the need to move to a new paradigm of space that integrates the richness of the streets as vibrant places where many things happen throughout the day. In the past, streets were conceptualised mainly as a ‘road’, a space of transit, where separation of uses and users was optimal to fulfill this function.

This idea still predominates in the way we think about a street and the way city authorities expect it to work. Street trading hardly finds a space in this functionalist conception of space.

Street trading can only find a proper space in the cities if we start thinking about the streets as a different kind of ‘object’, one that understands the vitality, dynamism, polyvalence that streets in the Global South have.

Lastly, I want to thanks to all the participants for making this seminar an exciting space for exchange, and specially to Yves for the enriching discussions we had.


Lila Oriard has recently completed her PhD at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. Her doctorate explores street vending and its ability to produce space, through an examination of  the Tepito market in Mexico City downtown area.

The struggle for the recognition of collectively owned urban land in Cochabamba, Bolivia

DingLiu23 February 2012

Post written by Jo Maguire, DPU alumna 2003-05.

The new Bolivian constitution, introduced in January 2010, when over 64% of the voting population approved it, states that adequate housing is a right (Article 19, Section I), that the state will promote social housing plans based on the principles of solidarity and equity, directed preferably at low-income families (Article 19, Sec II) and that collectively owning property is recognised (Article 56, Sec I)

Many of the articles in the new constitution await the introduction of laws to support them, and social housing provision and the right to collectively own urban land is among them. Collective land is legally recognised in rural areas, as an important feature of indigenous rural communities, but not in urban areas. However, the residents of a community in Cochabamba are the attempting to change that, by pushing the local government to pass an ordinance that recognises their community as collectively owned, and by proposing a new national law that recognises collectively owned solidarity communities in general.

The Community Maria Auxiliadora is a beautiful anomaly. In the peri-urban “Zona Sur” of the city of Cochabamba, it was created 12 years ago by a steering group of five women, following the vision of Rose Mary Irusta. She took out a loan to buy a parcel of land so that low-income women and children could have access to their own house, rather living in the squalid, overcrowded rented housing conditions that so many families have to endure in the city, with the related problems of stress, illness, abuse, youth delinquency and child neglect. The result of this vision is the Habitát para Mujeres, Comunidad María Auxiliadora (Habitat for Women, María Auxiliadora Community), an intercultural solidarity community.  Currently with just under 2000 residents (365 families), it is planned to grow to 5000. It has a democratic base, with a Management Committee elected every two years, and a President and Vice President that are always women. There is much encouragement of women’s leadership, recognising that women tend to be more concerned and affected by their families’ housing. There are many single parent families. A mainstay of the community is the community work carried out on Sundays, where the community’s principles of solidarity and mutual self-help are evident. The community is not religious, nor has a political line. It is multicultural: residents come from all over Bolivia, there are different indigenous groups as well as mestizos (mixed race), and two indigenous languages are widely spoken as well as Spanish.

To enter the community a family has to have a low income and not own a house or land in Bolivia. They must sign that they agree to the community rules: that the land is collective, that they have the right to indefinitely use the plot allocated and leave it to their children; that they cannot sell or rent out their house, as the community is “for living, not for profit”; that they will do community work and attend the monthly meetings; that they will not sell alcohol. The cost entering the community and having a plot on which to build a house is 600 US$, i.e. 3$ per square metre, while surrounding neighbourhoods are selling at over 20$ per square metre. It can be paid over a year. The price is fixed, so making a plot and house accessible to low-income families and avoiding the current free-market approach to land in peri-urban areas, where land is bought as an investment and left vacant. While a family does not have an individual title deed, they do have a legal document naming them as co-owners of the whole community and giving them and their descendents the right to occupy their housing plot.

The social impact is impressive. There is security, a rarity in peri-urban areas; less alcoholism or violence within the family than in other neighbourhoods; mutual support and solidarity (for families in crisis there is a repayable fund to help them, and if that is not enough a whip-round). Many of the young people are studying at university; the local school says that the community’s students are getting the best exam results; there is a self-managed youth group, putting on events for the children of the community and carrying out projects. The community is developing its own culture, and restoring aspects of a culture still found in the countryside in Bolivia but usually lost when people move to the city: a culture based on communitarianism rather than individualism.

The cornerstone of this social and physical capital gained by residents is the collective ownership of the community. If the residents had individual title deeds they could do what they liked within their walls and the community would have very little control. As it is, the Management Committee debates an issue and then takes it to the monthly community meeting for a decision: a man continues to beat up his partner and children, despite help from the Family Support Committee, should he be expelled from the community? A family has not paid their monthly housing loan payments to the NGO for over a year and does not live in the house, should the house be given to another family and their investment repaid?

All this has been gained by a lot of hard physical work. The residents have cleared the roads, put in a well, water tank and pipe network, and a sewage system with an ecological treatment plant, built a community office, sports facilities, and an afterschool club. Most of this has been done without help from any level of government. National and international NGOs have helped to an extent, especially with house building loans.

The community is better known internationally that locally, with a World Habitat Award in 2008, and as a shining example for the Habitat International Coalition. But there are many powerful local interests that work against the community: politicians visit and say it should be a model for all Bolivia and then do nothing. The whole of the Zona Sur of Cochabamba city, with 200,000 residents, is still classified as rural land, and this benefits a corrupt network of surveyors, lawyers, “loteadores” – people that illegally buy grazing land from local peasant farmers and divide and sell it as housing plots – as well as local government officials and politicians.

So the struggle to get collectively owned urban land legally recognised is not easy. The community, particularly the group Mujeres Lideres de la Communidad Maria Auxiliadora (Women Leaders of the Maria Auxiliadora Community), is currently attempting to push the local government elected body to pass a ordinance that recognises that the community is collectively owned land, however there are representatives and officials that oppose it. The community has elaborated a law that will permit collectively owned urban land and recognise solidarity communities, which is supported by the Vice Ministry of Housing, and is presently with the President’s office and other Ministries for consultation.

An unexpected breakthrough resulted from a recent judges’ verdict. Rose Mary Irusta was taken to court, accused of fraud by a small group within the community. They had family members working abroad, had built large houses and wanted to sell up and move on. The judge stated that they knew perfectly well the rules of the community when they entered it, and there was no evidence of fraud. Moreover, he stated that the community was collective owned; so giving some legal acknowledgement to the existence of collectively owed urban land.

Jo is an architect living and working in Cochabamba-Bolivia. The views expressed in this piece are her own.

Disconnected thoughts from a disconnected India

DingLiu18 November 2010

Post written by: Pooja Varma. DPU alumna 2009

About a month ago I had the opportunity to attend the 361 Degrees Conference on Design & Informal Cities in Bombay, with my friend Laura. The event was compelling as it boasted respected academics and practitioners within the urban development field. The theme for the conference, Design and Informal Cities, was also extremely pertinent for India and myself as a planner. But I also wanted to satisfy a personal curiosity of seeing how such a relevant theme would be managed and showcased by Indian organizers in Mumbai, which has become a poster city for slum dwellers and housing rights.

While the panels of speakers were well regarded, knowledgeable and effective, the conference itself came across as a confused and self-indulgent attempt to achieve relevance and prominence, a reflection perhaps of India’s overall urban development. I can pin point many out of place elements such as the abrupt dance performance celebrating India’s “achievements” barely minutes after discussing the lives of more than 6 million people in Bombay living in poverty, in slums, everyday stripped of their dignity, without adequate access to basic services like shelter, sanitation and toilets. Having a world famous architect who has no connection to informal cities showcase his work as a grand finale to the two-day conference on design and informal cities as the theme is another.

A major disconcerting aspect of the entire experience was the realization that the students and professionals in the audience, educated in Bombay within the fields of architecture, planning and urbanism were completely ignorant about the failure of Indian policies on appropriate housing. They seemed to know nothing about alternate slum upgrading schemes that have successfully reduced health risks and improved quality of life in informal housing like the Slum Networking Programme implemented in Ahmedabad, the active and effective women’s NGOs like the Self Employed Women’s Association and SPARC that work on the grassroots level, with poor communities, slum dwellers acting as facilitators and intermediaries, advocating for housing rights.

After two days of listening to the impressive work and projects undertaken by people and organizations around the world on informal settlements, the concluding questions session left the impression that the vast majority of the audience did not know much about slums or slum dwellers. These students, the future city managers, designers, architects and planners of Indian cities are not equipped to understand the greatest urban issue facing most countries in the developing world. Their unabashed ignorance and lack of understanding resonates the cusp of the problem in an economically fast growing India. And that problem is the deep disconnect within Indian society. A disconnect between the social classes. The privileged or middle class leads a life so far removed from the reality of the poor that it is not their reality. They may live in the same city, on the same street, but live in different worlds.

India as a country does have technical experts, thinkers, academics, and financial resources it needs to improve the cities and realize equitable development. What is lacking is the political will that stems from the general attitude of the majority of the influential, the privileged and middle class that looks away while claiming to look beyond the appalling civic condition. But the divide is not just one of class, but also of a grave lack of understanding of what the poor want or need. They are perceived as beneficiaries of government spending while the middle class relentlessly evades taxes, builds gated communities and fancy homes over dilapidating infrastructure and rubbish piles. The government is blamed for not doing enough, for overt corruption and inefficiency; while the privileged occasionally hindered by the absence of domestic help, continue to pursue a self-interested life style.

The Impact of Mega Events on Housing Rights

TinaZiegler3 November 2010

Post written by: Julia Azevedo Moretti

The impact of private and public projects on housing rights has been a topic of passionate discussion in Brazil recently and it has been so because the country will receive two mega events on the next few years – 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. It will be an opportunity to clarify what extent an innovative legal framework together with a considerably organized social movement will be able to avoid major evictions and manage to translate investment in such projects into a pro poor scenario.

It is well documented that urban development in Brazil is characterized by significant inequalities and socio-spatial segregation. On one hand informality drives the production of urban space and continues to be a major problem. Sao Paulo, i.e., is a city of contrasts: despite being the richest city in the country it has almost 32% of its population (over 3 million people) living in precarious settlements such as slums, old tenement houses and illegal land subdivision. On the other hand Brazil is considered to have an innovative legal framework symbolized by the City Statute. Anyhow, since the poor have limited access to centrally located and well serviced land they hold tight to the land they occupied, but the pressure on such areas is increasing and there is one case that illustrates very well the challenges to come.

Favela da Piscina is a slum located in a central neighbourhood near the highway that leads to the international airport and to an important football stadium. The area has been occupied since the 60s and has been fully developed by the poor families. Self built houses were serviced with infrastructure due to the organization of those who live in the settlement.

According to the Brazilian constitution if someone lives in an urban area for 5 years and finds no opposition from the owner this person is entitle to claim ownership of the land. The City Statute, enacted in 2001, reassures that right and enables communities to claim it collectively (collective adverse possession). The dwellers from Favela da Piscina in three different opportunities (1990, 1996, 1998) have tried to obtain such ownership declaration from a Court of Justice, but had no success. Since the land was considered abandoned they let it be and kept living in the area with no land title. Recently, however, under the influence of market appreciation the owner has claimed the land and 120 families found themselves under the threat of eviction. The land price has gone up with the expansion of the nearby highway, urban regeneration projects in the area and the expectation of higher investments for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. In response, the dwellers once more organized themselves to file a law suit aiming to obtain a land title, this time based on the City Statute. Will that be enough?

Such examples are been discussed in academic seminars as well as in mobilization events organized by civil society. It is worth follow one experience called Jornadas pela Moradia Digna in which civil society join forces the Public Defender’s Office to discuss and claim housing rights on behalf and together with poor communities – this year the subject will be exactly the impact of megaevents on housing rights. Hopefully there will be time to reclaim the right to the city, in other words, the right of all who lives in the city to enjoy urban life and have access the benefits of the city as well as to take part in the decision making process.

Image credits: Fig 1 Agnese Canziani, Fig 2 Source: http://www.habisp.inf.br/