Upgrading and Reblocking – Exercises in hope

12 June 2014

Supplying houses in South Africa is hampered by inadequate resources, but also by rigid systems supported by obsolete ways of thinking and doing.  Meanwhile, there is progress with smart ways to improve informal settlements and replanning them inclusively. Read more about the experiences of architects Julian Cooke and Olwethu Jack:

 

Upgrading, not eridicating, informal settlements

By: Julian Cooke, ARCHITECTURE SA | ISSUE 66, p26-27

Upgrading not eradicatingDespite the construction of about two million houses in the past two decades, it is plain that the current mode of housing ‘delivery’ in South Africa is inadequate. It hits you in the face when you see the rapid accretion of informal settlements on the outskirts of whichever town or city you are in, from Brandvlei to Johannesburg – and in the almost daily reporting of service delivery protests in the media. In theory, the government moved a number of years ago towards accepting that the upgrading of informal settlements has to be a central part of handling the problem. The Breaking New Ground policy and the renaming of the ministry responsible to Human Settlements are evidence of that. However, there is very little sign of anything being done. The impression is that no one really takes it seriously, that the idea of ‘eradicating shacks’ still drives thinking and that the attraction of using housing provision politically for patronage is still too strong.

In light of this, it was a wonderful experience to attend the workshop organised by the Border Kei Institute for Architecture (BKIA) last year, which senior official Steve Topham addressed.

Topham is the coordinator of the Department of Human Settlements’ National Upgrade Support Programme (NUSP). These are notes from his talk, followed by comment.

OUTLINING THE PROBLEM

Topham began with some elucidating  statistics:

      • Between 1994 and 2012, the number of households needing adequate shelter in cities rose from 1.5 to 2.3 million.
      • Despite billions of rands in government spending on housing, informal settlements grew from 300 in 1994 to 1 066 in 2001, to 2 628 in 2013.
      •  There are an average of 10 shack fires per day countrywide, many of them devastating hundreds of homes.
      •  Disease-related mortality in informal areas is 10 times higher than in formal housing.
      • There is 40% unemployment in informal settlements.

As if this reality is not problematic enough, it is worsened by the means that have been used to handle it. A shift has occurred in recent years from  housing as a human process to an  administrative one. In the early days In the early days of post-apartheid, the various levels of government worked with communities in the housing process. Now the focus is almost exclusively on the product and the disadvantaged, increasingly marginalised, have developed the characteristics of an underclass. There is a real danger of the state becoming the enemy. This is manifest in the large increase of service delivery protests, from 10 in 2004 to 113 in 2012.

In 2005, Rodney Harber wrote a very sceptical article about the then new Breaking New Ground policy (Architecture SA, Nov/Dec 2005), and his scepticism was well founded, with so little coming to fruition. It seems curious that with the constant,costly disruption of service delivery protests, the government has not activated this policy on a larger scale. Housing as a people’s process is such an obvious way of building in services and improving the day-to-day living environment and also generating work, developing real skills, stimulating local economies, creating a climate of hopefulness, engendering a sense of community and ownership, and generally empowering people to create sustainable livelihoods. A cynic would say that it hasn’t happened because the government wants to maintain current power relations or wants to use housing as a bait for catching votes.

FROM ERADICATION TO INCREMENTAL UPGRADING
When these issues were presented in 2010 in meetings of all the state departments involved, there was no disagreement about the problems or about the need for innovation and flexibility. Out of the discussions emerged a determination to engage with informality and, over the following three years, there was a concerted movement by government departments to do so.
Following this resolution, an agreement was reached to make sure that 400 000 households in well-located municipalities receive basic services by 2014. In addition, integrated upgrading programmes were to be undertaken in 45 municipalities and an expanded programme of upgrading was to be incorporated as part of the National Development Plan.

The change from the idea of eradication to incremental upgrading is
a daunting one for a number of reasons. So many officials are accustomed to the view that everything about the informal dwelling is negative and to the idea of housing as a delivery process, symbolised in the handing over of keys for completed units to beneficiaries. All the procedures that have been devised relate to the delivery paradigm. They constitute a manageable administrative process which must now be ejected in favour of something far messier and more difficult to handle centrally, a participatory approach which is not easy to pin down and for which officials have had no training.

However, these principles are now solidly built into the housing code. For example, there are structures for effectuating in-situ upgrading, tenure in informal settlements is now formally recognised and affordable basic services are being provided. The NUSP has placed a major emphasis on community empowerment, the promotion of social and economic integration, and the development of social capital.

It is ironic, not tragic, that we are only now beginning to face up to learning how to do participatory planning. Under apartheid, it was vigorously resisted by the regime, who by definition would not have wanted anything to do with empowering black people and who used housing provision to control where they lived. After the freedom struggle had shown so powerfully how to organise ordinary citizens to take control of their destiny, it seemed so easy to take that spirit of mobilisation into doing, in a different way, what Sweden did in the 1940s and 50s – make the country its people’s home. If that had happened, by now we would have a public service really clued up in the business of participatory housing, as there must be in much of South and Central America, the Indian sub-continent and parts of Africa. This said, it is a great step forward that these ideas are finally taking hold.

NUSP ACTIVITIES
NUSP is now active in 39 municipalities. It is busy producing policy strategies and programmes in 23 of them and is making detailed settlement development frameworks in 16, including socioeconomic data and geotechnical information. It is supportive of efforts to find sustainable livelihoods and build social capital within communities and to plan, schedule and budget for the introduction of services and support programmes.

This activity is extremely encouraging and a sense of the programme’s thoroughness and expertise may be gained from the NUSP website. One component to which Steve Topham alluded is the impressive resource kit which it has developed. This sets out all the principles of its operation, so that anyone involved in in-situ upgrading has a clear framework to refer to.

CHALLENGES
The NUSP faces several challenges. The first is the mindset of people involved in housing. At every government level, in the private sector of suppliers and contractors and among the people themselves, there is very little sympathy for the process of upgrading informal settlements. The eradication mindset is difficult to eradicate. Secondly, South Africa is very weak on participatory planning. The experience is limited, as well as the understanding of what is necessary. Thirdly, there is a need to integrate social and technical issues in programmes of upgrading and that means a distinctly multi-disciplinary approach. Lastly, it is essential to capacitate officials and practitioners alike in a new approach, different from traditional procurement processes.

Anyone involved in the housing industry will agree that a major stumbling block to developing new ideas has been the mindset of officials governed by old norms. Whether you want to change an erf size, a road width or a set-back from the norm, let alone double the normal density, it is likely to
cause endless resistance and delays. It is not only short-sighted officialdom that has been the problem, but also the vested interests of powerful construction companies, who have worked to maintain the status quo, in which most of the money generated by housing projects goes out of the communities they serve. Thus a concerted effort to re-educate everyone involved with making decisions in the housing process must be in the country’s best interests.

IMPLICATIONS FOR ARCHITECTS AND URBAN DESIGNERS
There are a number of implications of this initiative for architects and urban designers. The first is to become involved and to be prepared to engage in local-level partnerships, with practices such as enumeration and reblocking exercises, in order to achieve local solutions. Added to this is the issue of standards. Standards which are too demanding make much upgrading impossibly expensive to achieve. Those which are too low reduce the effectiveness of the upgrade and the acceptability of living standards. The architectural and urban design profession can help to achieve a balance and flexibility of standards on issues such as service levels, stand sizes and road widths. Thirdly, in-situ upgrading projects such as those the NUSP is involved with, are essentially team efforts, with leadership, of necessity, shifting from one discipline and one stakeholder to another. It is essentially a multi-disciplinary approach and design professionals will have to become accustomed to that. Fourthly, it is very important that architects and urban designers develop ideas for community housing that is a viable alternative to RDP – workable, without gimmicks, deliverable at scale and within the subsidy.

As the Nov/Dec issue of Architecture SA showed, there are a few architects and urban designers who are already involved in these kinds of projects and in multi-disciplinary practice. It also showed that architectural schools were beginning to introduce courses which engage with this area of design. (An outstanding project conducted at the University of Johannesburg was presented at the BKIA workshop by Thorsten Deckler.) However, if one takes a hard look at the scale of the housing problem and at the importance of its being handled positively for South Africa’s stability and prosperity, one must ask the question of whether enough is being done.

Reblocking – an exercise in community planning

By: Olwethu Jack, ARCHITECTURE SA | ISSUE 66, p28-29

BACKGROUND
AS A DESIGNER working for the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC), it is a fulfilling experience to be part of a community-planning exercise and use an architectural design background to help realise community requirements for better living conditions. Reblocking is the spatial reconfiguration of shacks in informal settlements to allow for more open spaces. It is a communityled initiative that happens in situ.

The first part of the process involves developing an understanding of community needs through a number of meetings and articulating them on paper with design proposals that can be easily understood. The core of the process is to draw out local residents’ vision of their settlement. After discussing their vision, we assist in making it a reality. Normally, this is done through using scale 3D models, which help residents, unaccustomed to reading two-dimensional plans, to understand the context better. The most important feature of the process is that the models are built together with community members, which is an excellent exercise for learning about terminology, scale and space. Model building also helps to eliminate the language barrier.

The participatory principle penetrates the entire process. For a project to be successful, there is a need, for example, for a mapping team, consisting of community members, which is responsible for the mapping of existing structures onto a plan or aerial photograph. This team also assists in counting the number of dwellings, numbering them for easy identification and measuring them. The other important team is involved with design. Its members need to have an understanding of space, the ability to visualise and to think in scale. It is not always easy to identify such skills, but during the community meetings, we take note of residents who seem to be genuinely interested and try to identify those who are good with space and design through the questions they ask and the involvement they offer.

An important issue is ownership.Experience in working with communities ften exposes the difficulty people have in accepting projects and the designs chosen for their housing. When they have housing or facilities simply delivered to them without their involvement, they don’t identify with the project and don’t readily defend it. Weak participation results in a lack of ownership and that commonly leads to vandalism.

On the other hand, the process of designing with communities, through acknowledging their capacity to come up with their own solutions, evokes a strong sense of ownership. That stimulates the will to protect their homes from misuse or vandalism. We often discover that communities have already thought out solutions to environmental problems. However, because they lack confidence in the face of ‘experts’, they value outsiders’ views more than their own and do not see that their solutions are as good as any. They need encouragement to recognise their own capabilities in solving issues. Community savings are also an important factor in developing a sense of ownership and pride. Most people feel affirmed when they play a role in improving their dwellings with their own resources – financial, as well as skills and know-how.

Local acumen is often invaluable in gaining an accurate understanding of residents’ issues. There was a good example of this in a settlement called Europe in Cape Town’s Gugulethu, where a section of the community constantly complained about flooding, the cause of which was very difficult to understand. After several discussions with the community, someone volunteered the idea that it might have been due to the fact that every time it rained, the city council filled the roads with soil to deal with potholes. This resulted in their shacks being left at a lower level than the road, hence the flooding.

The data collected normally includes detailed information about the number of occupants per household, the rate of employment and the household income. It provides an in-depth understanding of the community and its spatial environment – essential in enabling them to play a role in defining priorities and designing an effective upgrade scheme. Added to this, through their participation in data collection during the enumeration and profiling process, they learn a lot about developmental issues which helps to sustain the upgrading process.

CASE STUDY
A good example which showcases the results of an organised community is the reblocking project in Mtshini Wam, a settlement of roughly 200 households located in the greater Joe Slovo Park area of Milnerton, Cape Town. This was a joint initiative of the City of Cape Town, CORC and the Informal Settlement Network (ISN). Here the mapping and design teams were involved from the start of the project through to implementation and construction, and provided the leadership for the whole project. Their close involvement from the beginning evoked firm feelings of ownership and empowerment. It also put pressure on community members to deliver good quality products for themselves.

After an enumeration process conducted by the community, CORC presented the issues. We then held a studio with the community, demonstrating what kind of opportunities reblocking would bring. The studio assisted the residents in understanding how they could solve the serious density issues they faced. The lack of space and very high intensity of occupation had previously been the City of Cape Town’s excuse for not providing services to the community.

The people who were present and active in the community studio volunteered to form design and mapping teams. These teams were strengthened by people from other informal settlements where reblocking had not taken place. In other words, groups which might want to do reblocking in the future were capacitated to do so. The settlement was mapped and measured to ascertain, as exactly as possible, the dimensions and number of dwellings in the community. Simultaneously, the design team was busy building a model of the settlement. During this time, residents from outside communities were invited to sleep over at Mtshini Wam to enable them to gain an overview of the settlement and to identify with the community. The benefit of this emerged when, during the site analysis, they were able to see things which were normal to community members and which they did not see.

Reblocking_Initial_Design_Stage

Initial Design Stage

We used a scale of 1:200 in building a model. Representing the existing situation to scale assisted all team members to understand scale. After cutting out the pieces, they were numbered and labelled with their sizes. They were then arranged in their current positions on site. The design team began by looking at the amount of space available and the total number of dwellings. They then looked at how they could use the available space to create a system of private, semi-private and public spaces, while creating proper access to and within the settlement.

The mainly corrugated iron houses were then grouped in clusters around courtyards. This was to provide space for children to play within sight of their parents and to
provide protected space for gardening and clothes lines. The residents made the decision that the services, toilets and washrooms should be put in the cluster in a situation where they could have control over who would use the facilities.

The density of the existing settlement was such that no reasonable vehicular access could be gained into it. Thus we agreed it was essential to have a main access road

Complete Model

which would allow for emergency services to reach all the clusters. Additionally, residents wanted to have access to the settlement limited in order to improve security by ensuring that non-community members could not enter the settlement without being seen.

When it came to implementation, the community leaders, with ISN coordinators, identified clusters based on the design. They facilitated a process in which each cluster nominated two leaders. Their duty was to administer the cluster’s contributions for shelter upgrading. When we were ready to start the project, a general meeting was called to get volunteers to form a working team. Forty people volunteered and formed a demolishing team, a cleaning team, an earthworks team and a building team.

The City of Cape Town, CORC, ISN and community leaders set up a working programme. All the manpower came from the community, while the City of Cape Town organised a contractor to provide sand, stone and a compacting machine. The moving of dwellings happened in clusters. The residents of a cluster of about eight families were notified that their homes were to be demolished the following day so that they could organise where they would move and store their furniture. It was a three-day process. On Day 1, the teams demolished and cleaned up. The foundations were laid and compacted. On Day 2, the shacks were rebuilt – people mended them, cut out windows and fixed roofs. On Day 3, they reoccupied the shacks.

Reblocking_Before_and_After

Before and After

BENEFITS
The benefits of the reblocking exercise were considerable. Initially, a number of people were very hesitant, but by the time their turn came for shifting their cluster, they quickly cooperated. After the event, people seemed to be happy with the change to their home and with the general improvement of the area. The tenure of individuals over particular pieces of land is now much more secure than in the previous arrangement. The opening of roads has ensured proper access by fire and other emergency vehicles. The reorganisation, planned with care around ground levels and drainage, has considerably reduced the danger of flooding. The levels of basic service provision have improved substantially. The whole process of involvement and cooperation has built community interaction and empowerment. This, together with a more effective spatial arrangement with improved surveillance, has reduced the incidence of crime.
The benefits of the reblocking exercise were considerable. Initially, a number of people were very hesitant, but by the time their turn came for shifting their cluster, they quickly cooperated. After the event, people seemed to be happy with the change to their home and with the general improvement of the area. The tenure of individuals over particular pieces of land is now much more secure than in the previous arrangement. The opening of roads has ensured proper access by fire and other emergency vehicles. The reorganisation, planned with care around ground levels and drainage, has considerably reduced the danger of flooding. The levels of basic service provision have improved substantially. The whole process of involvement and cooperation has built community interaction and empowerment. This, together with a more effective spatial arrangement with improved surveillance, has reduced the incidence of crime.
The benefits of the reblocking exercise were considerable. Initially, a number of people were very hesitant, but by the time their turn came for shifting their cluster, they quickly cooperated. After the event, people seemed to be happy with the change to their home and with the general improvement of the area. The tenure of individuals over particular pieces of land is now much more secure than in the previous arrangement. The opening of roads has ensured proper access by fire and other emergency vehicles. The reorganisation, planned with care around ground levels and drainage, has considerably reduced the danger of flooding. The levels of basic service provision have improved substantially. The whole process of involvement and cooperation has built community interaction and empowerment. This, together with a more effective spatial arrangement with improved surveillance, has reduced the incidence of crime.

One thought on “Upgrading and Reblocking – Exercises in hope”

  1. Mark Algra says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0u39JfLHsfE&t=33s

    Hi
    I thought this may be of interest.
    Kind Regards

    Mark Algra

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