Rivers and People
Re-imagining the waterways of Nairobi, Kenya through learning, building and a network of flood resilience.
The major waterways and informal settlements of Nairobi County.
Community prioritization of challenges facing the sites routinely includes riverine and drainage flooding, unimproved sanitation (latrines draining directly to watercourses), illegal and sometime unsafe water connections, trash dumping (on riverbank, or in drainages) and general pollution of soils and water. The example of our seventh project (KPSP07) is shown in this image - the physical infrastructure paves the way for social and economic programs.
EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA
The Kibera Public Space Project (KPSP) was started in 2006 by residents of Kibera in partnership with KDI. Given the lack of open space, KDI and partners have focused on wasted or unsafe spaces at the nexus of flooding and environmental risk. Community prioritization of programs typically includes providing flood protection, formalizing drainage, replacing unimproved latrines and providing clean, safe water. This creates the physical foundation for a productive community space that can provide shared amenities (like water, sanitation facilities, and playgrounds), offer social programs (like skills training courses and recreational activities), and provide economic opportunity (through micro-loans and small businesses).
To date KPSP has 6 completed multi-faceted public space projects in Kibera, is in construction on the 7th and in design on the 8th and 9th. We believe that this idea has replicability in other slums in Nairobi. There are many other great resident and community-driven public space projects and organizations that we know of in Kibera, Mathare, Dandora and Korogocho. With this project we would like to share the experiences of designing and delivering intense participatory design processes to help partner organizations in other slums with the technical (design, engineering) and programmatic experience to develop their own “productive public spaces”.
Nairobi Slum Residents – from reduced climate risk and increased social and economic resilience associated projects.
Government and NGOs in Nairobi, Kenya and further afield –from learning from a model of participatory development to address some of the most vexing resilience challenges in slums.
HOW DOES YOUR IDEA TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE CONTEXT OF URBAN SLUMS AND CLIMATE CHANGE?
1.5 million of Nairobi’s residents live in slums, with the major settlements located along the 3 major watercourses that make up the Nairobi River Basin. KPSP provides important evidence on how to engage communities in integrated projects that not only reduce climate risks but build resilience. By targeting the rivers, providing flood-protection, building sanitation centers, and supporting door-to-door trash collection programs, the KPSP projects have the potential to reduce flood-risk and pollution of the larger watershed. They have opened a discussion about connecting these local improvements to the rest of the region, and they provide concrete, practical examples for the achievement of lofty municipal and ministerial goals such as the restoration of the Nairobi Dam and the Nairobi River Basin.
Residents and community organizations are making significant efforts to create safe recreational spaces in environmentally challenged areas across Nairobi but need technical and process support to make these projects truly safe and sustainable. Government engagement may also be at a turning point as the severe flooding of May 2015 and the upcoming El Nino period have sharpened mobilization, and the recent devolution of power to the County level puts Nairobi in in a favorable position to drive collaboration across the relevant departments. Now is a great moment to insert the learning from KDI and partners’ experiences in Kibera to develop new projects in other Nairobi slums and inform a more nuanced discussion on climate-resilient slum-upgrading city-wide.
Yes, for two or more years
I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF
KDI is a design and community development organization that partners with communities living in extreme poverty to physically transform degraded environments, build social cohesion and grow resilience. KDI has been working with residents and community partners in Kibera since 2006.
IS THIS A NEW OR RECENT IDEA FOR YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION? HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT YOU ARE ALREADY DOING?
This is the next step in the realization of an idea that was born in 2006. With its 7th project nearing completion the Kibera Public Space Project has built a growing, physical network of amenities and infrastructure. By design, the Productive Public Spaces reclaim strategic points along the polluted Kibera watercourses to form a “spine” of missing community assets that piece by piece, begins to remediate the settlement and the watercourses. Since the beginning the idea has been that this approach could be applied in other settlements, and by extension contribute significantly towards the remediation of the larger river basin. Now, after 9 years of practice in Kibera, we feel that we are in a position to figure out how that could work.
HOW IS YOUR IDEA DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SIMILAR INITIATIVES? WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY? WHAT UNIQUE ADVANTAGES DO YOU HAVE?
One small-scale community project, no matter how nuanced or layered, cannot, on its own, solve problems that expand beyond the neighborhood. At the same time, large-scale, top-down initiatives are politically challenging and not grounded in a community’s priorities, and thus may fail to meet real needs. Though the land area of Kibera and other slums is relatively small compared to the overall Nairobi River Basin, the settlements have a disproportionate impact on water quality (the levels of pollution downstream of Kibera are equivalent to those of raw sewage). A proliferation of these Productive Public Space interventions would remediate not only the watercourses immediately around the slums, but have a significant impact on water and environmental quality in the rest of the watershed and city. KDI’s strategy is not only to develop successful small-scale projects, but also to leverage these discrete improvements by creating a network of people, institutions, and physical systems that work together, to extend reach and impact beyond individual sites to the settlement, city, and region. This idea extends the human network, that has the potential to create the physical network.
Physical and social networks of public space that act together to address macro issues. Graphic by Jack Campbell Clause.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR IDEA?
KDI’s success in Kibera is based on our legitimacy in the community, which comes from our network of colleagues and collaborators built up over many years. Translating our work to other settlements means identifying the right partners that can bring that interface with the community, and who also value and support the approach KDI takes to the work. Therefore, the main questions are channeled towards forming real, sustainable partnerships with groups in other slums. We are encouraged by the amazing work happening in other settlements, and are still yet to define which groups would best legitimize, sustain, position this work within the context of greater Nairobi.
WHY DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEM YOUR IDEA SOLVES FOR HASN'T BEEN SOLVED YET?
Public space has been traditionally undervalued as a medium for addressing issues beyond “green space”, whereas in fact it has the potential to impact significant challenges like poverty and climate change. An additional challenge is that community participation and integration is complex (and expensive) to do in ideal conditions, and faces greater complexities in the slum context where diverse incentives and multiple objectives exist. Previous city projects on public space in the slum context have failed because of a lack of grounded engagement with sufficient technical expertise and community development support.
HOW HAS YOUR IDEA CHANGED BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM YOUR COMMUNITY?
KDI invited community organizations from the Korogocho and Dandora settlements involved in public space work to take part in a Nairobi Design Week event in Kibera on November 20th, to share their successes and also discuss collaboration. Community groups in these areas had successfully highlighted the need for public space in their communities and had even gone as far as to engage their residents in initiatives which had gained them community support though the challenges faced by the two groups differed markedly in scope. Discussions with both Dandora and Korogocho revealed that the creation of a network exchange would benefit both sides.
In Dandora the community group had successfully claimed portions of space for public use both socially and economically using community engagement processes that were well defined and transparent but lacked professional input on technical (design, engineering) and programmatic interventions to develop their own economically and environmentally sustainable “productive public spaces”. In Korogocho, the community group had a very strong community presence but was much less developed in establishing permanent public spaces. Here KPSP could provide much needed input on the processes and planning needed to conduct workshop engagement sessions with community and develop clear project proposals that cater to the physical, social and economic needs of the Korogocho community.
KDI and representatives of groups from Dandora and Korogocho discuss collaboration at the KDI organized Nairobi Design Week event in Kibera on November 20th.
Kids from Kibera checking out at exhibition of the Kibera Public Space Project at the KDI organized Nairobi Design Week event in Kibera on November 20th.
Members of a community-school in Lindi village, Kibera checking out at exhibition of the Kibera Public Space Project at the KDI organized Nairobi Design Week event in Kibera on November 20th.
Groups from Kibera and other settlements sharing stories of positive change at the KDI organized Nairobi Design Week event in Kibera on November 20th.
WHAT WOULD YOU ULTIMATELY LIKE TO ACHIEVE WITH THIS IDEA? WHAT IS YOUR NEXT STEP TO GET THERE?
Creating networks of public space and access along the waterways of Kibera and other low-income settlements can support social and economic development, provide an ecological buffer, and improve the resilience of the whole city. Ultimately what we would like to achieve is the transfer of knowledge to other groups on how to successfully carry out Productive Public Space type projects. If we are successful in helping one group to drive and create a good project then the potential extent of this network is infinite. Each group we train can become a trainer of other groups, ultimately linking coordinated but responsive resiliency efforts across the informal settlements of Nairobi.
Networking public space along the waterways of Nairobi.
How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?
A fundamental part of this idea is to engage and influence key decision-makers in the wider city to consider the role of public space, as well as to provide new evidence to support and amplify the efforts of existing and future public space advocates. A new project in Korogocho or Dandora, could become a new and important example.. Together with the KPSP, these projects could become nodes in the city's network of public spaces, demonstrating how the informal can become part of the solution, rather than the elephant in the room.
We are an active participants and collaborators in several city-wide initiatives: the ’60 Public Spaces Initiative’, the Task force for the Rehabilitation of the Nairobi Dam, and the Urban Rivers Rehabilitation Program. KDI and partners will also be able to use the evidence from the initiative to advocate for a greater role of public space in city planning and slum upgrading programs, including the Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP).
Graphic from Bukky's presentation "Re-Imagining the Future Waterways of Nairobi" representing a network of access, infrastructure and green space in the Ngong River and its tributaries (credit: Frank Kirimi and Bukonola Ngobi, KDI).
Bukonola Ngobi, KDI Urban Design Coordinator, presenting a paper on "Re-Imagining the Future Waterways of Nairobi" at the International Federation of Landscape Architects - Africa Symposium in October this year.