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Slum Soccer: Renewing urban space to create child-friendly cities

Slum Soccer aims to improve open urban spaces in one of Nairobi’s most densely populated informal settlements, Mathare. With a population ranging between 80,000 and 180,000 the area lacks any adequate and safe spaces designated to children’s play. In this project we will 1) map the hazards to children’s wellbeing and scout-out potential sites for development of child-friendly spaces; 2) design and create child-friendly spaces to ensure a secure environment for children to play in; 3) document and share best practices through video storytelling and narrative; and 4) provide a strategy for scaling-up to other areas. The project will establish a landmark for the community development of child-friendly spaces.

Photo of Spatial Collective
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We chose soccer as an entry point into urban-space renewal of informal settlements. Soccer (football) is an extremely popular sport in Kenya and a soccer pitch, as an open-space designed for play, recreation and interaction, will provide a secure environment for children; it will also ensure that children remain active in a healthy environment and reach their full potential.

Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. However, the reality in many urban centers in developing cities is that children’s needs are often overlooked and ignored by the city planners.

Informal settlements in particular lack safe spaces for children to interact and play. The available open spaces are usually filled with waste, broken bottles, batteries, metal, plastic, electrical material, building material, raw sewerage, paint and other chemicals, and human feces. Lack of available places to play for children means that children often play in areas where they come into close proximity and even contact with toxins and dangerous materials, endangering their health and overall well being. Our project will provide safer environments for children in the informal settlements.
The inspiration for this project comes largely from the work carried out by community based organization Mathare Environmental Conservation Youth Group (MECYG) and a non-governmental network, Up With Hope. The two organizations reclaimed two public spaces in the Mlango Kubwa community in Mathare and turned them into soccer pitches. Prior to redevelopment, both spaces were large dump-sites, filled with garbage and human feces. Working with local youth, the organizations cleaned the areas, designed the layouts of the fields, fenced and levelled the areas, and planted grass and greenery to create a safe island for children and youth among the urban concrete. The first, smaller pitch, is designed for children between the ages of 3 and 7, and the second, larger pitch, is used by youth and children of all ages. Both fields were created with limited resources and by the youth themselves. For this project, and in collaboration with both aforementioned organizations, we intend to replicate, document, and scale-up the work of these youth in order to create much needed safe places for children and youth, and for the community as a whole.

First, we will partner with local youth groups and use participatory geographic information systems (GIS) methodology to map all of the hazards to children’s wellbeing, as well as identify potential open spaces for redevelopment. We will use the GIS maps for advocacy purposes to address the dangers children face in informal settlements every day. Once the appropriate open spaces are identified, we will conduct research into land ownership and possibilities of redevelopment. We will further engage the local youth to create relevant designs for those open spaces. Through community consultations, we will collect feedback concerning the redevelopment plans and adjust them to fit the local knowledge. We will then invite civil engineers and architects to review the community approved plans and oversee the redevelopment of the open spaces. Once the place is built we will encourage the youth to regularly maintain the pitch.   
Second, we will partner with local authorities, such as ward managers, area chiefs and councilors, and the local Member of Parliament, all of whom have access to either social capital or political resources required to complete this undertaking. Spatial Collective, a social-enterprise with focus on technology for community development, will provide the necessary technical and project management expertise, as well as the monitoring and evaluation framework for this work.
In order to ensure the best learning outcome of the project we will document the step-by-step process of the methodology and conduct community forums and workshops on lessons learned and potential for expansion to other areas. We aim to use the power of social media, video and narrative to disseminate the positive message about Slum Soccer.

Who will benefit from this idea and where are they located?

The primary beneficiaries of the project are children in Mathare between the ages of 0 and 5 years old and their parents. Children and their parents will benefit from the cleaner, safer and more stimulating environment designated for play and leisure. The secondary beneficiaries of this project are the youth and the whole Mathare community. By being involved in the identification, design, and development of a renewed urban space, the youth and other community members will learn about the community-led development process, obtain a sense of ownership, and through the use of community resources support local business. All of the beneficiaries reside in Kenya, particularly in the Mathare community and other nearby communities.

How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?

In this project we will test three assumptions, first, that there is a lack of public spaces in Mathare designated for children, second, that there is the need for more child-friendly spaces in Mathare, and third, that the community can identify, advocate, design, and create child-friendly public spaces. We will test these assumptions by, first, creating a community map of hazards and open spaces with indications of potential places for redevelopment. Second, through community consultations with parents of young children we aim to determine what their biggest challenges are when it comes to providing their children with safe and secure environments for play. Third, through research and building on the previous work on other Slum Soccer initiatives, we aim to understand what the capacity of the community to undertake this project is.

What kind of help would you need to make your idea real?

Considering the multidimensional nature of the project we will seek advice from local youth and community leaders as well as experts such as civil engineers and architects who already have relevant experience in community development projects in Kenya. We will acquire the advice of these experts to assist us with the process of building child-friendly infrastructure in Mathare. The civil engineers and architects will engage the local children and youth through participatory public space drawing activities which will clearly depict the community’s visions of the urban public spaces, and further, lead the redevelopment of a public space.

Is this an idea that you or your organization would like to take forward?

  • Yes. I am ready and interested in testing this idea and making it real in my community.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Irene Blas

provide an opportunity for children to practice sport and in this case play football is a wonderful idea. Everything related to the practice of sport and encourage creativity and entertainment in children is important. The communities where these playgrounds can be enabled by the people themselves to greater awareness and necessary work is performed. Ideas how are you carried out for the welfare and improvement of entertainment for children and their childhoods , and also by the binestar Mothers know where your children play.

Photo of Guy Viner

Sounds like a fab idea. We’d encourage you to try some part of this idea out in order to evolve it effectively and share back your learnings here. Check out our tips on prototyping: We’re excited about what human centered discoveries you’ll make towards strengthening your idea further!

Photo of Spatial Collective

Guy, thank you for sharing these tips! The slum soccer idea is built on two experience trialing the approach in Mathare - so we have protyped and come up with this approach to refine it further. Let us know if this didn't come out clearly (maybe have a look at one of the videos). The human centered design approach will enable us improve our idea. More suggestions are welcomed.

Photo of Emmanuel Agu

This is an exciting idea, i like the fact that you are using a well recognised sport as the foundation for the children. Not just the parents and children involved but i believe the community will also gain hugely from this.

May be in the future you can look into how you may bring other forms of sporting activities into the community because different sports develop different skills.
And maybe you might be able to bring in other rural village community and design a tournament that would help promote the sport and include rewards for the winners of the tournament.

Photo of Spatial Collective

Thank you for your contribution Emmanuel :) We thought it best to start with soccer because of its popularity in the community, but we are also interested in trying out different sporting activities which are popular among both young boys and girls.

A tournament with village communities would be quite eventful! ,Thanks Emmanuel :) That's a great idea! We thought it best to start with soccer because of its popularity, but we are also thinking of trying out different sporting activities that are popular among both young girls and boys.

A tournament with other village communities would be quite eventful!

Photo of Esther Kalenzi

I love the fact that dumping sites were transformed with children in mind. I am also particularly impressed by the youth who took part.
It is so awesome when people work together to improve their communities.
The fact that you have seen it work makes it even easier to replicate the idea.

I wish you the best.

Photo of Spatial Collective

Hi Esther! Thanks for the well wishes :) It really is amazing to see the youth taking the initiative to improve their community, not only for themselves, but also for the younger generations.