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.