The step-by-step process of Blocking-out for safer settlements

By Andrea Bolnick, CORC/iKhayalami

Given that estimates suggest a government house may only be delivered 30 years after being on the roll, blocking-out with improved shelters and basic service provision is a significant way in which communities and the State can improve the lives of the poorest members of our society, today.

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Blocking-out is a term that is used by the South African Shack Dwellers International Alliance for the reconfiguration of shacks located in Informal Settlements into a more rationalised layout, to enable a safer environment, far better living conditions and easier access for the provision of basic services.

The Informal Settlement Network (ISN) as advocates of Informal Settlement upgrading and as organised leaders and communities who are at the helm of engaging the State around such upgrades play a key role in enabling city wide and country wide roll-outs of blocking-out.

For the Blocking-out of an informal settlement, households must agree to change the position of their shacks to comply with community-led design processes, with upgraded shacks, taking topographical realities into consideration, addressing drainage issues and finding ways to better incorporate sanitation solutions into communities. All of this vastly improves peoples’ daily lives. Through the process of blocking-out the community has to deal with many challenging issues and difficult individuals who try to stop the process but through dealing with these matters and finding ways to move ahead with the process, the result is a much stronger and cohesive community who take pride in what they have achieved.

The central most important component of blocking-out is that it needs to be predicated on the central participation of shack dwellers residing in the settlements linking them to wider networks of shack dweller leaders who assist the local leadership in dealing with the numerous challenging situations that arise. In order for these challenges to be addressed effectively it is imperative that the local shack dwellers lead the process with assistance not only from other shack dweller networks but with the support of local authorities and the State.

Governments’ role in blocking-out is imperative. It  is only with State sanction that many of the positive aspects of blocking-out can be realised. The State needs to play a central role in the blocking-out processes based on an ethos of partnering communities, where necessary assisting communities in dealing with challenging situations and most critically with regard to the realignment, upgrade and or provision of basic services such as water, shack improvement (as most of the worn out materials are damaged during the process), sanitation, waste removal and electricity. It is also envisaged that additional resources might be required to support the social processes of blocking-out.

The following steps are involved in implementing blocking-out:

1. ISN through its existing partnership with local government draws allied Informal Settlements into the partnership at settlement level.

2.  Enumerations that include shack counting, numbering and mapping are conducted in the various settlements.

3.  Once enumerated each settlement then identifies their needs and priorities.

4.  If blocking-out is identifed as a priority then an initial assessment is conducted with the leadership of the settlement and ISN (with technical support from CORC) as to the viability of a blocking-out in the settlement.

5.  If the assessment is that blocking-out is possible then engagements with the City partnership are augmented. This would include site visits and discussions on the viability of conducting a blocking-out.

6.  If all parties are in agreement then processes related to blocking-out can begin.

7.  Additional social and technical support will be provided to the settlement by ISN and CORC.

8.  The financing of blocking-out is a key element. Blocking-out may or may not be accompanied with a shelter upgrade. Shelter upgrade is much more capital intensive, but is necessitated by the poor quality of existing shacks that cannot be rebuilt in another stand. In practice, CORC has used community savings contributions as triggers to blocking out. These contributions then become the backbone of the process and has the potential for raising enough capital for shelter upgrade in the future.  This is also an indicator of a community-driven process.

9.  Families in the settlement would start saving towards the upgrade of their shelters as they will be required to make contributions towards these costs. (Currently the network is requesting a 20% contribution towards the cost of each shelter upgrade.)

10. An in-depth mapping of the settlement would be required. This would be done with the NGO support and in conjunction with google imaging.

11. On site and in relation to the created map there needs to be clear identification of spatial boundaries that have evolved over time. Such boundaries indicate a strong spatial language of how people choose to interact or not to interact with one another. These aspects need to inform future layout and design.

12. In identifying these boundaries, households are organised into clusters. The settlement leadership and ISN then start to work at cluster level with regard to solving problems, answering questions and concerns and starting to think through the principles of design.

13. Exchange programmes are arranged to settlements who are either in the process of blocking-out or have completed a successful blocking-out.

14. Support around the design process will be anchored by ISN and CORC and will be provided either from within or from partnerships created with Planning schools and academic institutions.

15. Together with ISN, the community and professional input for an overall framework would need to be designed with key principles to be adhered to – such as the location of water and sanitation outlets, roads and drainage pathways.

16. Then at cluster level detailed aspects of the layout would be worked on by community leaders and ISN, and where needed by professional support. This would be viewed as a guideline layout.

17. Community contributions should be scaling up in line with the general interest and excitement in the community. Prior to the commencement of the physical aspect of blocking-out matters related to contribution need to be in place as per the agreements reached with the community. In most cases contributions towards the shelter upgrade would accumulate gradually in keeping with pro-poor approach.

18. Once the physical aspect of blocking-out begins, many aspects of the theoretical design at cluster level have to be altered to accommodate the complexities of people in relation to limited space and moving people in-situ. The real challenge during the implementation is ensuring that the families can be blocked-out within the same day, without impacting the life in the cluster.

19. All through the above, the community and ISN have to keep the overall guiding principles and framework in place to ensure that when basic services need to be installed or relocated this can be done in conjunction (with previous agreements) with the City.

20. The improvement and or provision of water and sanitation should come in phases as per the sequence of blocking out in-situ as pipes will need to be laid as shacks are dismantled and repositioned in their cluster.

21. Improvement of paths and roads can happen during or after the improved layout depending on what is more practical.

22. Other aspects of improved service provision will take place after the new layout has been completed such as the provision of electricity.

There is no secret formula to Blocking-out. It requires preparedness to work relentlessly with community members and leaders in improving the quality of life in the informal settlements. All in all the process of blocking-out from choosing which settlement to start with or which cluster to begin with depends on the preparedness and interests of that community. Thus community leaders have to come forward and say we would want to block-out our community and at the community level the cluster that is ready will say we are ready to block out and the whole community is then blocked out cluster by cluster. That way community ownership is guaranteed, and even the most reluctant cluster will eventually come on board as they note that everyone around them has improved space.