Kounkuey Design Initiative: The Kibera Public Space Project
Over the past two years working with Kounkuey Design Initiative in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, my team of 10 local staff was constantly writing articles to help further the discussions surrounding the challenges and opportunities of urban development and slum upgrading efforts in the city. Many of these articles were published locally though did not find there way into online forums. This article below presents the Kibera Public Space Project in its entirety – both the progress achieved, the strategies employed, and how the project fits in with other efforts surrounding the informal settlement. The article was published in in the March 2014 issue of BuilDesign Magazine.
Urbanization in Kenya has been uneven and concentrated in big cities like Nairobi. The development of informal settlements are reflective of this asymmetrical development and they continue to multiply in number. Over the decades there have been several approaches to slum upgrading ranging from large-scale, top-down, public sector approaches; to small scale, self-help and enabling strategies.
Discussions surrounding development within informal settlements have gained traction as traditional approaches to slum upgrading have not been holistic enough in addressing the lived realities of slum dwellers, nor effective enough to meet their social and economic needs. Drawing on lessons learnt from these slum upgrading precedents, Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), an international NGO specializing in the practices of architecture, landscape architecture, engineering and urban planning, has developed an approach to slum improvement based on multi-stakeholder participation, sectoral integration and networked change.
In the context of KDI’s approach, multi-stakeholder participation is defined as an iterative and open design process that mobilizes community groups (and their knowledge of the context), the technical knowledge of design professionals, the political will of local government, and the investment capacity of the private sector. Sectoral integration refers to the amalgamation of physical, social and economic strategies into an integrated slum improvement project.
Together, multi-stakeholder participation and sectoral integration optimize the potential for networked change. This networked change describes KDI’s approach to addressing macro-scale issues through the development of a network of micro-interventions.This physical network is supported by a human network of slum residents and institutional collaborators.
The Kibera Public Space Project
KDI has developed and employed this method in collaboration with communities in need by creating low-cost, high impact environments called Productive Public Spaces (PPS).
A PPS is a community-driven intervention that seeks to mitigate environmental hazards, provide public space amenities, build social networks and develop small business enterprises. Together, these layers of design address numerous environmental, social and economic needs for the project’s surrounding residents, villages and the settlement as a whole.
In 2006, KDI began working in Kibera to assist communities in transforming their surroundings through a bottom-up approach to slum upgrading activities named the Kibera Public Space Project (KPSP). KPSP is a series of micro-interventions that work together to create a network of public spaces and communities which collectively address the macro-challenges of poverty reduction, river remediation, waste space reclamation, social cohesion, and general quality of life in the settlement. To date, KDI has completed six KPSPs and is working towards developing its seventh project in the network.
The Design and Development Process
KDI’s participatory planning and design methodology is key to the success of the KPSP. Each project takes about two years from inception to implementation. This process includes organizing community members, securing the necessary backing from local authorities, designing the space and associated businesses plans in collaboration with their community partners, as well as construction and implementation.
Each PPS begins with the vision that residents have for their community. KDI solicits community organizations throughout Kibera to identify potential PPS through submitting formal Requests For Proposals. This process helps KDI understand the community’s vision for the proposed space and future community activity within the space. Once KDI selects a community partner, the NGO seeks consent from the surroundings’ residents, youths and local authorities.
During implementation, KDI and the community partner hosts interactive, participatory design workshops with community members. With the guidance of KDI’s technical team, these workshops include discussions about the physical planning of the facilities and the design of the social programs that will activate the public space.
Installation of KDI’s projects typically takes about 6 months. The construction process begins by building up the waterway (as projects occur along river tributaries passing through Kibera) and connecting to water and sewer infrastructure, followed by the completion of the structures. Kibera residents and community partners lead all of the construction work and fabrication, which guarantees financial investment within the informal settlement.
Upon completion, KDI monitors and provides non-financial support to the project for one year, ensuring that the members have the capacity required for project sustainability. When it is appropriate, KDI exits; allowing the community to independently and sustainably operate the project.
KPSP01 lies at the border of Silanga Village and Soweto East, adjacent to the Nairobi Dam. For decades this site was unbuildable, used as a dumping ground, and impassable because of flooding. KDI and the New Nairobi Dam Community (NNDC) began working together to reclaim the site in 2006 by controlling the persistent flooding with a new waterway and developing the landscape.The site now hosts a community centre that functions as a school during the week and is home to several churches on the weekends. The walls of the building can be opened to serve as a covered stage with amphitheatre seating for special events. Also present on-site is a large urban agriculture facility that the community operates.
KPSP02 is located at the Mashimoni-Lindi Bridge in the heart of Kibera. The site had four make-shift toilets that drained into the river and was otherwise devoid of activity. The Riverside Usafi Group emerged as a productive community group, which began working together with KDI to transform the space. Today, a clean, hygienic sanitation block providing improved water and six toilets and four showers that are connected to the sewer line replace the polluting toilets. Adjacent to the sanitation block are three community business kiosks and a children’s playground. The revenue generated from this project generates enough income for community driven expansion efforts.
KDI’s third KPSP is one of its largest projects. It is located in Gatwekera along the Ngong River at a key pedestrian access point into Kibera. The length of the river in this area was under constant threat of flooding, and was a common hideout for thieves. Residents rarely passed through the area during evening hours for fear of robbery. In 2010, KDI partnered with Bridge Community Group and the Kibera Christian Initiative (KCI) to design and build a PPS that would address these environmental and social challenges surrounding the site.
Today, the site includes several drainage channels and 75 metres of flood-mitigating, stone gabions. This river remediation enabled the construction of a school, two business kiosks, a public laundry washing facility, a small poultry farm, and a playground for neighborhood children.
KDI’s fourth project lies at the border of the Lindi and Laini Saba villages along the confluence of two large tributaries. In 2012 three community groups came together to develop the space: Slum Care, Ndovu Development Group and Usalama Bridge Youth Reform. This project became KDI’s first site with a large association of youth. The collective partnership supported the development of a riverbank gabion system, a formal, improved water and sanitation block, a daycare centre, and a garbage collection and recycling program.
KDI’s fifth project in partnership with Empowerment to the Community Foundation (EMCOF) presented a number of challenges. While the community indicated that a toilet block was the highest priority, this project location at Daraja Ya Masista (Sister’s Bridge), Gatwekera sits at a low elevation making a municipal sewer connection impossible. Over many months, KDI and EMCOF worked together to research, design and construct a septic tank + wetland solution for the community. The entire site was completed in February of 2014, and now hosts a public laundry washing facility, a day care center, a barber shop, and DSTV viewing theater.
Designed as a second phase to KPSP01, KPSP06 was initiated in response to the dire need for on-site sanitation option. Without any improved toilets in the area, the project was one of the major priorities for KDI’s community partner, NNDC. The primary challenge was similar to KPSP05; it was impossible to connect to the municipal sewer line because of the project’s elevation. Through numerous design workshops, KDI and NNDC determined an alternative composting toilet system as the best option for the community. Human waste is collected and mixed with various dry materials to create humanure compost. After a 6-8 month maturing process, NNDC will be able to begin use and sell the organic fertilizer for local farms and for added community income.
Expanding the discussion around Slum Upgrading Projects
While some of the larger efforts surrounding the needed improvements in and around Kibera have been representative of top-down methods, KDI has been paving the way to develop a methodology that brings residents’ concerns and creative potential to the forefront of the design process. Larger interventions are often needed to address such challenges as those presented by Kibera. Small scale, grassroots methods however can limit the negative effects of large scale developments while ensuring unified, unanimous project support.
Over the next few weeks I will be republishing a number of articles written over the course of the past two years. Many will be of my work with KDI in Nairobi. Other posts will present my personal writings that discuss best practices of design analysis and implementation in the larger informal/humanitarian realm. I look forward to sharing.