By Thandeka Tshabalala and Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)
On 19 February 2014, Europe community members welcomed about thirty masters students of Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Cape Town (UCT) to their informal settlement, which is located in Gugulethu, Cape Town. This first gathering kicked off a four month long ‘planning studio’ in which community members and students will work together to address some of the community’s most pressing concerns. The studio also aims to expose students to alternative planning approaches to urban informality. The Informal Settlement Network (ISN) facilitates and supports the community leadership while CORC offers technical support as the community and students develop plans for upgrading. Read more on the background leading up to the 2014 studio.
First meeting in Europe
Community members and students gathered in Europe’s community hall where ISN and CORC shared opening insights on the importance of community participation, mobilization and capacitation. Such an approach forms a solid foundation for planning community-relevant issues such as access to basic services and housing. Situated close to employment opportunities at the Airport Industria and the N2 corridor, Europe’s location is ideal for its residents. For this reason students and community members decided that it would be ideal to look at in-situ, incremental upgrading projects. In order to give students a more concrete idea of ‘life in Europe’ community members showed them around their settlement. This opened up a platform for both community members and students to reflect and share their expectations for the studio ahead.
The purpose of the studio is two-fold: For the community, technical support around housing and upgrading are advantageous for engaging government. For the students it is advantageous to gain valuable experience in working in a highly collaborative and participatory environment around some of the most pressing issues in the city.
After the visit, CORC’s technical team joined the students at UCT in order to reflect before the next joint planning session with community members. Based on the students many impressions – for some it was the first visit to an informal settlement – a variety of ideas, concerns and suggestions arose. Some students related Europe to studies of urban informality in the global South, others explored how the meaning of boundaries in communities impacts opportunities and community interaction. Some concerns related to the lack of public interaction spaces, lack of socio-economic activity and the need to value recycling as a source of income. Other students emphasized the importance of collaborative and participatory planning methods. Towards the end, one of the students seemed to capture the general sentiment that
“We need to develop new sets of eyes to understand the logic systems, local assets and already present ways of doing things in Europe. We need to identify local systems. The community needs to identify its own opportunities”
Joint planning for action
The next session was an interactive one with a printed map of Europe. It was marked with some reference points, landmarks and amenities that would serve as a collaborative working document to gather information about the settlement from community members. This meeting focused on sharing expectations and establishing specific issues the community wanted to address. Furthermore, it established where students’ interests and abilities aligned with community priorities. With great excitement, students and community members located their homes on the map, marked off the boundaries of Europe and identified central spaces. Community members also expressed that they would like the studio’s incremental projects to support their long-term vision of attaining housing. This focus is linked to the question: “how permanent is our temporary?” As communities wait for permanent housing, there is a need of assisting well located settlements such as Europe to upgrade, but not lose sight of the long term vision.
After several visits to Europe, students expressed the significance they perceived in planners moving away from physical planning to focus on the people they are planning with, i.e. understanding their background and socio-economic context within the larger context and potential of the city. The students thus based their analysis of Europe community on reinforcing socio-economic opportunities.
Through engaging with residents’ already present coping mechanisms students researched opportunities, constraints and concepts for future action. The opportunities they presented included access to employment, recreational spaces, spaces of interaction, education and small businesses. The identified constraints comprised flooding, crime, physical and social barriers, pollution and poor soil quality affecting food production. Together, community members and students developed working groups that respectively looked at socio-economic issues, transport, housing / land / tenure issues and water, sanitation and storm water services.
The working groups then identified more concrete concepts:
- Socio-economic opportunities around Klipfontein Road
Klipfontein Road was presented as a main artery of opportunity as Europe’s main entry point and connecting point to other neighbourhoods. The industrial area at the airport was presented as a potential source of employment. A further point related to taking advantage of existing business that represent high activity nodes.
- Easing access to public transport routes
This was particularly relevant due to the community’s reliance on pubic transport.
- Potential upgrading and re-blocking
- Strengthening food production
The focus would lie in increasing food security whilst decreasing poverty levels.
- Overcoming barriers to neighboring communities
This would facilitate greater interaction between communities.
During the presentation students emphasized the knowledge they had gained from the community in developing these concepts,
“ We regard the community as experts, they have all along been able to use their human architecture to deal with the physical constraints of the space they live in.”
The next phase of the studio will comprise developing a spatial development framework. CORC and ISN will continue to share the studio’s upcoming developments.