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Rapid Risk and Resilience Results for Placemaking in Fragile Urban Contexts

A "rapid risk assessment" tool for integrated and conflict-sensitive development interventions in highly contested spaces.

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Kibera, where this project is located, is the largest informal settlement in Nairobi, with an estimated 300,000 people living in single story dwellings in a space smaller than New York’s Central Park. Space is scarce, and public space almost nonexistent. High levels of environmental poverty coexist with material poverty. Rates of crime and violence are also high. Government infrastructure and upgrading interventions have often been a source of conflict and tension (see Mitra et al 2017).

Over the past decade, Kibera has experienced unprecedented growth.  With this growth, the settlement is also growing into the ‘final frontiers.'  Structure owners are building tiny rental unit dwellings for newly arriving Kenyans from 'ushago' (rural areas of Kenya), while local and national government are reactively working to provide basic infrastructure and services within these marginalized settlements. 

As such, structure owners and the government are in contest for land and resources that would provide development for hundreds of thousands living in the informal settlement.  The last 5 years of development have been marked by new arrivals occupying the cheapest housing which sits alongside Kibera's flood-prone waterways.  These residents live in great risk — vulnerable to damage and destruction of property, decreased levels of social cohesion, heightened crime and insecurity, and increased exposure to public health issues.  These risks and extreme vulnerability are sources of common crisis and conflict, weakening community stability and resilience.  

In policy and in practice, Kenya’s national and local governments have sought to address these challenges in policy and in practice. While the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) enacted a 30-m riparian zone policy for Kenya's waterways, these issues of stability, conflict, and vulnerability for the 127,000 people living within the riparian of the Mathare, Nairobi, and Ngong rivers has proven the policy to be difficult to realize.  Moreover Amnesty International cites the policy plan as "socially and economically disastrous for thousands of people" in Nairobi's informal settlements (Amnesty International, 2009).

In recent years, the national and county government has made effort to change the landscape of Kibera in reality.  From water and sanitation facilities to public roads and sewerage networks —  agencies have attempted to consult with residents in these development interventions.  These infrastructure and upgrading interventions have often been a source of conflict and tension (Mitra et al 2017) and perceived as contributors to increasing flood and climate risk due to contributions to negative health and livelihood impacts.  

Many observers posit that a fundamentally important part of the solution is to integrate government and community resilience initiatives using conflict-sensitive and context-specific approaches towards climate risk reduction.  We seek to build upon our decade of experience in placemaking in these contested spaces to support the implementation of collaborative, scaled interventions and infrastructure that activates positive environmental and inclusive social outcomes. 

Explain your idea

We would now like to build and test a tool that could be used in Kibera and other informal settlements in Nairobi by civil society and local authorities to synthesize and share community perspectives in physical resilience and risk reduction initiatives. The integration of these perspectives would not only improve the acceptance of and benefits out of scaled interventions but provides the opportunity to build social cohesion, social connection and social resilience in informal settlements. We believe that at the base of this problem is a lack of grounded assessment of local issues and a lack of integration of communities into the decision-making process. Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) has been working over the last several years to enable community knowledge to come to the forefront of project development to create public space and infrastructure development that is context-appropriate and conflict-sensitive. Our work has comprised of testing tools and techniques for Community Co-Design, Flood Modelling, Drainage Mapping, Community Risk Assessment, and Household Surveying. The tool we propose would combine our experience in Android device data collection and digital mapping for assessing community risk and vulnerability. It would also bring together our partners (M.A. Students from University College of London and a Fellowship from UrbanArk Program) to streamline the elements into a "rapid risk assessment" tool for both local authority and non-governmental application for integrated and informed adaptive action that takes into account local priorities and risks in a conflict-sensitive approach. This need arises from the learning of our practice and our research in Kibera as well as a direct request for support in risk assessment and needs prioritization from the Nairobi City County Department of Public Works. The tool would be field-tested in the development of three public space and infrastructure interventions that are planned to be implemented by KDI and the City County in 2017.

Who Benefits?

Nairobi Slum Residents – improved outcomes from conflict-sensitive risk reduction and resilience interventions that integrate residents' priorities and knowledge. Government and NGOs in Nairobi, Kenya – an approach and a tested set of tools that enables their work to provide better outcomes for scaled interventions to address some of the most pressing resource conflicts and resilience challenges with local priorities and knowledge. Other rapidly developing cities - Dealing with a myriad of challenges, few rapidly developing cities have the capacity or time to integrate community perspectives to dually address climate risk and conflict. Our tool tests how such an approach can serve as a model in Nairobi and could be applied in other parts of the world facing similar challenges.

How is your idea unique?

This tool is novel in a manner that it seeks to bridge the gap between local knowledge of accumulated risk and resource conflict within communities and recommendations for scaled interventions by government and nongovernment organizations. To date, at least 15 tools exist touching on issues of hazards, climate, and resilience. Each of these brings together some combination of information and knowledge from various sources — from household and government data to remote sensing and public records. Most outputs from these tools are simplified as a map of physical hazard or an illustration of community vulnerability. These outputs fall short of critical components that are essential to truly resilient efforts: (1) integrating local knowledge, priorities (2) providing technical and socially sensitive insight for addressing risk. With these 2 essential aspects in mind, we seek to build and test a tool which considers these essential aspects for improved local outcomes.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Tell us more about you

Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) has been working in the informal settlement of Kibera, Nairobi since 2006 building low-cost, high-impact environments we call “Productive Public Spaces”. This network of micro-spaces addresses macro challenges facing the settlement, for example, flood protection, lack of safe sanitation, lack of recreation spaces and insufficient income generating opportunities. Each space is financially self-sufficient; a percentage of profits from the new micro-enterprises pays for site maintenance. As of September 2016, KPSP has completed 7 completed multi-faceted public space projects and is in construction on the eighth, ninth and tenth. All projects include elements of flood risk reduction, both via physical flood protection, and through improved management of solid waste and drainage through increased community organization. Building on the success of the ‘Productive Public Spaces’ in Kibera, KDI has been working with residents in the last 4 years to build the adaptive capacity of communities and local governance in Kibera address flooding and associated risks. As this project would be a part of our larger strategic aim in this work to integrate community perspectives into settlement-wide and regional planning, initiatives and interventions, we have a dedicated team five full-time staff members (community development practitioners and research and technical professionals) who would be committed to making this idea into a reality.

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

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