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The purpose of this paper is to share our experiences – as academics and professionals – in co-producing knowledge to improve urban development outcomes in the Global South. The focus of the paper – urban research and practice – is a context in which academic work influences policy and programming, and professional knowledge – validated and certified by academic institutions – forms the basis for urban planning and management. Collaborative research – co-produced with social movement activities – suggests that four issues need to be addressed to establish more equitable relations. First, alternative theories of change about how research leads to social transformation must be recognised, even if they cannot be reconciled. Second, the contribution of social movement leaders to university teaching needs to be institutionalised. Third, the relative status of academics vis-à-vis non-academics must be interrogated, and better understood. Fourth, researchers’ accountability to the marginalised needs to be established. We argue that academics are insufficiently self-critical about the power dynamics involved in knowledge production with social movements, and that long-term relations enable understandings to be built and some of these tensions to be alleviated. Our conclusion highlights the unequal power relations that lie behind these challenges, and summarises key measures to address inequalities and their negative consequences.
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Cite this paper as:
Horn, Mitlin, Bennett, Chitekwe-Biti, Makau (2018) Towards citywide participatory
planning: emerging community-led practices in three African cities. GDI Working Paper
2017-034. Manchester: The University of Manchester.
Towards citywide
emerging community-led practices in
three African cities
Philipp Horn1
1Department of Urban Studies and Planning,
University of Sheffield, UK
Diana Mitlin2
2Global Development Institute, University of
Manchester, UK
Jhono Bennett3
31to1 Agency of Engagement, Johannesburg,
South Africa
Beth Chitekwe-Biti4
4Dialogue on Shelter, Harare, Zimbabwe
Jack Makau5
5SDI Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya
Working Paper
July 2018
ISBN: 978-1-909336-69-8
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In this working paper we seek to contribute to debates about the scaling up of citizen
participation in towns and cities of the Global South through a focus on participatory
planning. Our contribution is three-fold. First, we discuss existing experiences of
integrating participation into citywide planning and urban governance processes,
highlighting that such efforts often do not adequately consider the views of low-income
communities, and restrict participation to the level of the neighbourhood. Second,
drawing on these experiences, we outline what we mean, theoretically and practically,
by scaling up participation and summarise the ways and extent to which the scaling up
of participation has occurred as discussed in the literature, and the factors that emerge
as significant to its progress. We consider government, academic and civil society-led
efforts. Third, we identify factors perceived to be significant challenges and potential
opportunities to scaling processes, focusing specifically on experiences in three African
cities: Bulawayo (Zimbabwe), Johannesburg (South Africa) and Nairobi (Kenya). In the
concluding section we summarise the implications for the next stage of an action
research programme to advance our understanding of how to achieve citywide
participatory planning.
Participatory planning, scaling, community-led practices, Nairobi, Johannesburg,
Bulawayo, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya
1. Introduction
In 2012, 863 million people lived in ‘slums’, a pejorative term referring to informal
settlements and other forms of inadequate housing (United Nations, 2014). The United
Nations has estimated that this number will increase to three billion people (40% of the
world’s population) by 2030 (UN-Habitat, 2003). In Africa where more than half (62%)
of urban residents lived in informal settlements in 2012 (United Nations, 2014)
present challenges that are particularly acute include insecure tenure, inadequate
access to basic services, insecure livelihoods and lack of citywide integrated and
holistic development.
We argue in this paper that existing planning legislation and practice remains incapable
of resolving such problems at the scale required. This is the case for both citywide
strategic planning approaches, such as master planning or city development strategies,
and many participatory planning initiatives that take place at the community or
neighbourhood levels. Strategic planning approaches often fail to consider the views of
low-income residents and are rarely sufficiently detailed to allow for action in urban
contexts in which governments lack crucial resources as well as the capacity for plan
implementation (Miraftab, 2003; Watson, 2013). Participatory development initiatives
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are often rolled out by the state, donors or the private sector with the aim of saving
costs. The consequences are varied but may include the reproduction of uneven power
relations between low-income residents and political authorities, selective citizen
involvement which thereby reinforces exclusion, and the restriction of citizen
involvement to the neighbourhood level in contexts where crucial decisions affecting
low-income populations take place at higher levels (Annis, 1998; Mohan and Stokke,
2000; Moser, 1989; Purcell, 2006).
At the same time, it is widely recognised that a more participatory approach to
planning, and greater participation in urban development more generally, can also
increase efficiency (lower cost of urban projects) and effectiveness (greater reach of
urban projects and services, better response to citizens’ interests and needs), and
ensure empowerment (institutional and organisational resources as well as collective
ideas available for effective political action) and the building of citizen capacity among
low-income groups (Colenbrander and Archer, 2016; Mitlin and Patel, 2014; Moore,
2005; Moser, 1989). Considering these positive factors, we argue here that one
potential pathway for improving accountability towards constituents and citizens’
influence in citywide decision-making processes would be to scale-up participatory
planning horizontally into other policy areas and/or neighbourhoods, and vertically
across lower and higher institutional levels.
Why is this a priority? In an environment in which public and private institutions do not
adequately address the specific interests and needs of low-income communities, low-
income residents often deploy their own community-based solutions and mobilise for
more inclusive urban governance. We argue here that community-led initiatives can
promote collective priorities and political voice, produce goods and services, and
provide peer support and solidarity. In so doing, they contribute to democratic control
over urban policy and planning decisions, with the extent of such influence varying
according to the degree to which low-income people and others are affected. A strong
process of community-led initiatives can promote inclusion (ie larger numbers of people
involved) at neighbourhood and potentially beyond neighbourhood levels. At the
neighbourhood level, for example, this refers to involving low-income residents in
democratic organisations such as savings groups or other community-based
organisations (CBOs) and community-led practices such as contribution to physical
labour around upgrading or involvement in planning and re-blocking structures
(Colenbrander and Archer, 2016). Beyond the neighbourhood, community-led
initiatives involve the coming together of leaders and members of different low-income
settlements and organisations to further their objectives (Mitlin, 2004). When
community leaders from multiple communities interact in this way, they can observe a
set of possibilities that are not evident (Boonyabancha et al, 2012). While innovative
community-led initiatives are taking place at the neighbourhood and beyond-
neighbourhood levels, insufficient attention has so far been paid to how such activities
can be scaled-up to the city level and integrated into state-led urban policy and
planning practices.
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As part of an action research network funded by the Leverhulme Trust, we are starting
to address the above-mentioned knowledge gaps. Our network brings together
academics, community networks affiliated with Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and
NGOs whose work includes innovative and collaborative local experiments around
participatory planning in Bulawayo, Johannesburg and Nairobi. The network aims to
develop the knowledge needed to support a move from participatory community-led
neighbourhood planning to city-scale planning processes. This working paper
represents the first collaborative output of this network.
To situate the network within existing bodies of work, the paper provides a literature
review on the challenges and opportunities for scaling up participatory planning to the
city level. While there has been much attention given to participation (see, for example,
Hickey and Mohan, 2004) we narrow the focus here to planning, as this is one of the
key state processes through which urban change and transformation take place. The
paper also reflects on preliminary findings from initial knowledge exchanges between
the network partners on efforts to scale up participatory community-led planning in
Bulawayo, Johannesburg, and Nairobi.
Our review of the literature reveals that existing scholarship mainly focuses on
experiences around state-led efforts at scaling up participatory planning. Such efforts
appear to be associated as much with managing and thus restricting participation as
they are with the transformation and empowerment of low-income communities.
Meanwhile, the few existing studies on civil-society-led efforts at up-scaling tend to be
more optimistic. They highlight the success of organised groups in pressing for the
state to recognise their needs and capacities, although the lack of community-led
scaled urban development processes is notable. Nevertheless, our own findings from
Bulawayo, Johannesburg and Nairobi, also demonstrate that changes in scale can
produce complex political challenges for community organisations. These relate, for
example, to challenges around adapting or changing community organising modalities
in such a way that the depth and breadth of different low-income groups’ involvement
at city-scale can be ensured. In addition to reflecting on such challenges, our findings
from the three cities also show that scaling can have the potential for community
innovations to be introduced at the level of local government. We therefore challenge
static and singular interpretations of terms such as ‘invited’, ‘invented’ and ‘claimed’
spaces of participation which are commonly used by academics to represent the
different ways in which communities ‘reach up’ to engage the state and states ‘reach
down’ to engage communities (Cornwall, 2002; Miraftab, 2009). Instead, we
demonstrate the dynamic and iterative nature of these representations, showing, for
example, that invented spaces of local community organisations can become invited
spaces as grassroots strategies are taken up by state authorities operating at different
The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. In terms of contextual background,
section two discusses existing experiences of integrating participation into citywide
planning and urban governance processes, highlighting the way such efforts often do
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not adequately consider the views of low-income communities and restrict participation
to the level of the neighbourhood. In section three we draw on this discussion to define
what we mean, both conceptually and practically, by scaling up participatory planning.
Section four then draws on this definition, as well as on Cornwall’s (2002) typology of
participation, to identify and analyse actually existing efforts by states, donors,
academics and civil society groups to scale up participatory planning as discussed in
the literature. Our analysis is broadly pessimistic and points out that, to date, there are
no elaborations of positive examples of scaling up, even when there exist more positive
specific experiences. In section five, we then reflect on initial findings from our action-
research network, which provides the opportunity both to analyse the reasons why up-
scaling has been so difficult and to explore how it can be improved. In the final section,
we consider what these findings mean for debates around scaling up participatory
community-led planning to city-scale planning processes and discuss the next steps for
our action research network.
2. Participation in city and neighbourhood planning
Throughout the last four decades, international donors, governments, and academics
have promoted participation in processes of development, planning and governance.
While it may be overstated to say that participation is the new ‘orthodoxy’ (Cornwall,
2002), there has been wider recognition of citizen contributions both in terms of
individual consultation and collective efforts. Urban development and city planning in
the Global South represent no exception to this trend. This section reviews the
academic and policy literature on the shifting role of participation in planning, focusing
first on citywide strategic approaches to planning and subsequently on different
approaches to participatory planning at the community and neighbourhood levels.
2.1. Participation and citywide strategic planning
Citywide strategic planning in the Global South has shifted significantly over the past
five decades, with participation increasingly, at least in terms of commitment, becoming
a central component of the planning and local governance process. From being a
process of urban administration dealing with control of land planning and tax collection
and the delivery of some services in the 1970s, local government approaches changed
to one of urban management in the 1980s, responsible for the effective and efficient
provision of services, and more responsive to local citizens’ demands (Freire and
Stren, 2001). Since the 1990s, local governments have also been expected to be
facilitators of good urban governance (Pierre, 1999; Watson, 2016). This role requires
them to be more accountable and transparent, more adroit at contributing to the
transformation of the diverse forms that local democracy assume, more willing to
recognise the complexity of new forms of citizenship, and more capable of involving
proactively different public, private and civil society actors (Pierre, 1999; Watson,
2016). Yet, despite these shifts towards more inclusive approaches framed around
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good urban governance, outcomes have been limited. We demonstrate in this section
that, in practice, citywide strategic planning approaches still fail to consider the views of
low-income residents and often fall short in the stage of plan implementation, especially
in contexts where governments lack crucial resources and capacity.
One of the most popular ways to open spaces for good urban governance has been
through decentralisation and devolution (Beard et al, 2008). Much excitement around
the opening of local democratic spaces could be noted after decentralisation reforms in
the Philippines (1990 Local Government Code), India (73rd and 74th Constitutional
Amendment), and Bolivia (1994 Law of Popular Participation). In addition to
establishing legal frameworks for decentralisation, these reforms all established
institutional channels for citizen engagement at the local level (ie Local Government
Councils in the Philippines, Panchayats in India, Neighbourhood Councils and Civic
Oversight Committees in Bolivia). These legislative reforms promoting good urban
governance and participation were certainly successful in some urban settings,
contributing to citizen empowerment and more inclusive and redistributive planning
(Faguet, 2012). However, it is widely recognised that progress was slower than
anticipated in some contexts. Stated commitments did not lead to changes in local
governance practices. The most commonly cited factors in explaining these gaps are:
(1) the prevalence of ineffective and weak local government institutions; (2) lack of
capacity among local authorities to undertake required institutional and administrative
reforms; and (3) lack of political will among the authorities in charge of local
government (Kohl and Farthing, 2006; Shatkin, 2008). Another factor contributing to the
at times limited potential of decentralisation for citizen empowerment and stronger
democratisation was the fact that, in parallel to such reforms, governments throughout
the Global South also introduced market-led reform policies which often led to an
emphasis on cost-recovery and continuing exclusion. Alongside a reluctance by
national government to invest in local government activities, it has been difficult to
engage residents, and the lowest-income groups have struggled to participate.
In addition to decentralisation reforms, participatory mechanisms were also introduced
into strategic and master planning processes. According to Mitlin and Thompson
(1995), this was done for more pragmatic reasons. For example, in many cities of the
Global South there is an absence of good quality data available from censuses. In such
contexts, professionals have included participatory methods in the diagnosis stage of
the master planning process and involved members of low-income settlements in
processes of data collection (Mitlin and Thompson, 1995). In some countries,
participation has also been incorporated into the end stage of the master planning
process. For example, Brazil’s City Statute requires that every municipality should
subject their master plans to public ratification and consultation (Avritzer, 2009).
Participation also represents a key element of City Development Strategies (CDS’s)
which, with support from Cities Alliance and the World Bank, have been introduced by
more than 200 cities across the Global South since 2009. CDS’s emphasise values of
good urban governance and citizen empowerment through stakeholder participation in
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public agenda setting, with a market-driven logic for economic growth and effective
resource management (Cities Alliance, 2006; Rasoolimanesh et al, 2012). Unlike
comprehensive master planning which produces detailed spatial plans to be
implemented within a period of four to five years, CDS’s mainly consist of “frameworks
and principles and broad spatial ideas” which should be addressed in policy and
planning practice within a period of 2030 years (Watson, 2009, p 168).
In practice, however, there often remains a gap between participatory rhetoric and
actual political and economic realities. While in part this is related to competing
ideologies and a lack of investment in participatory governance, it also appears to be
related to a reluctance of authorities to institutionalise empowerment and bottom-up
control. Actual citywide planning processes, whether in the form of master plans or
CDS’s, continue to be characterised by citizen non-engagement and remain in the
hands of state elites who are often unaccountable to low-income residents. Writing on
Sao Paulo, Brazil, Caldeira and Holston (2015) reveal how government authorities rely
on citizen involvement in the diagnosis and planning stage but often ignore the results
of this process at the crucial implementation stage of master plans. This point is further
supported by Rolnik (2011, p 251) who notes that participatory master planning is more
symbolic than real, as local governments, in practice, have “little autonomy over […]
investments, whether participatory or not”. Instead, in the centralised and sectorised
Brazilian political system, local government officials define their interventions on the
basis of relationships which they build with people in federal government and with
associated private sector lobbyists. It is for these systemic reasons that wealthier
citizen groups, representing the political elite and the private sector, have a significant
advantage in mobilising around their specific interests and needs in participatory
consultations in comparison to low-income groups (Caldeira and Holston, 2015; Rolnik,
2011). Such patterns are also evident in many Sub-Saharan African cities, where low-
income communities often continue to remain outside formal realms of government-led
urban planning, a process which mainly seeks to attract private urban developers and
project investments by donors (Watson, 2009, 2013). Evidence from India also
suggests a flawed process (Patel, 2013). The ability of higher income groups to occupy
spaces introduced by the Indian government for participatory and citizen involvement
has long been noted (Harriss, 2006; Ghertner, 2011).
In summary, then, while current citywide planning approaches might be useful in
designing more inclusive urban development plans and visions, they are characterised
by a range of limitations. Citywide planning is still influenced by a variety of competing
ideologies, including market-led approaches that tend to be prioritised over more
inclusive and participatory approaches. Further, governments tend to lack commitment
to participatory opportunities, allocate limited resources to associated support
measures, remain unable to manage elite encroachment, and lack knowledge of how
to design citywide plans that build on the assets and resources of low-income groups.
Instead, citywide planning continues mainly to respond to donor or private sector
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2.2. Participation and neighbourhood planning
Whatever the ambivalence of state action to support participation in citywide strategic
planning, the benefits have been widely recognised both by those concerned with
urban planning practice in the Global South and by those concerned more generally
with poverty reduction. Efforts have emerged from distinct sources, including
governments, NGOs and donors, and civil society groups, and tend to focus
predominantly at the level of the neighbourhood or community.
Governments concerned favouring citizen participation have recognised the need to
develop programmes that advance these goals. Some better-known examples include
the government of Sri Lanka’s Million Houses Programme (Joshi and Khan, 2010), and
the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)-funded and NGO-
led sites, services and housing microfinance projects, including PRODEL in Nicaragua
and FUNDASAL in El Salvador (Stein and Vance, 2008), and more recently the
Community Organisation Development Institute in Thailand (Boonyabancha, 2009).
With this have come different models and codified processes. For example, Hamdi and
Goethert (1997) have refined such participatory processes as ‘community action
planning’. Community action planning emphasises the involvement of residents and
organisations in low-income settlements in different stages of the planning process and
in development projects taking place at the community level. Core stages include, first,
the diagnostic stage where, community representatives should identify and prioritise
existing problems; second, the planning stage, in which community representatives, in
collaboration with other stakeholders, identify, negotiate and prioritise project solutions
to problems; and third, the implementation and monitoring stage of a specific project
within low income settlements.
In addition to professional efforts, citizen-led groups have also developed their own
approaches incorporating similar components. Such initiatives recognise that poverty
reduction necessarily has to involve greater voice as well as material improvements in
people’s lives (for a list of specific examples see Mitlin and Satterthwaite, 2013). The
more substantive of these processes tend to have a stronger focus on building
relationships between low-income residents, as well as on building relations between
organisations of low-income residents and a host of partner agencies, and
consolidating new relations between citizen groups and the state (Mitlin and
Satterthwaite, 2013).
As noted in the introduction, community-based participatory planning approaches,
whether initiated by states, donors or citizens, focus on stakeholder cooperation and
seek to improve the responsiveness and accountability of local governments towards
local communities. Their attention to community needs and problems also puts the
interests and demands of local, often low-income, population groups to the fore. At the
same time, however, such approaches have limited impact and face a number of
challenges. In particular, insufficient attention may be given to ensuring that the lowest-
income urban groups are included in decision-making processes which affect their
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communities (Annis, 1998; Mohan and Stokke, 2000; Purcell, 2006). Furthermore,
community-based approaches mainly represent small-scale and localised activities,
even when they have the formal support of national government agencies (Cornwall,
2008). Even when effective at the local level, without approaches that emphasise the
interconnected nature of urban development and which raise the ambition and
capability of local citizens to participate in city challenges, the SDGs and other
development goals are unlikely to be achieved. Participatory planning at
neighbourhood scale might lead to important improvements at the household level or to
small-scale community interventions. But such processes rarely lead to larger-scale
improvements and changes within low-income neighbourhoods as a whole, such as
settlement upgrading, re-blocking, or community-wide service provisioning. The latter
interventions often require pooling of resources and financial, technical, political and
administrative support from multiple and diverse organisations (eg public, private, civil
society) working across different sectors (eg housing, finance, infrastructure services),
as well as at different levels of urban governance (eg local, regional, national,
international). This requires new modalities of enabling neighbourhood-level decision
making to be relevant to the city scale and vice versa. Therefore, as we outline in detail
in the subsequent sections, scaling up participatory planning might be one possible
way forward.
3. Scaling up participatory planning
In a recent study, Tomlinson (2017, p 116) emphasises that questions around scaling
up participatory planning “arise from the projection that there will be two billion slum
dwellers by 2030”. He further notes that scaling up participatory planning is particularly
required in cities and countries with a high proportion of informal settlement dwellers,
whose specific interests, needs and demands are difficult to realise and are unlikely to
be adequately considered in city planning and urban development. Although we share
such normative sentiments, it is important to emphasise that we, unlike Tomlinson
(2017), do not define scaling up in relation to the number or proportion of
underrepresented people, such as slum dwellers, in decision-making processes.
Rather we argue the need for multidimensional scaling up.
Understood as such, scaling up means expanding participatory planning horizontally
into other policy areas (eg from water and sanitation to drainage and health) and/or
communities (eg from one neighbourhood to another) and vertically into higher
institutional levels (Fung and Wright, 2001). Further, we suggest here that successful
Our definition of scaling up participatory planning and our understanding of the processes to
achieve this share similarities with previous research led by Edwards and Hulme (1992), which
focused on scaling up the impact of NGOs on development. For Edwards and Hulme, scaling up
refers to organisational or programmatic growth which can be achieved through a variety of
processes, including: (1) working with government and within existing institutional structures; (2)
organisational expansion; (3) strengthening grassroots organisations; and (4) lobbying and
advocacy at local, national and international scales.
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scaling up processes should promote collective priorities and political voice, community
self-organisation in the production of goods and services, and peer support and
solidarity. It should also enhance the levels of inclusion and empowerment of low-
income residents and thereby improve democratic control over urban policy and
planning decisions.
To achieve this, we recognise that both quantitative and qualitative changes must take
place over time and across different realms of urban governance. In our understanding
of quantitative changes, we follow Miraftab (2003), who defines the quantitative nature
of scaling up as the capacity of actors to extend their work from the community level
and to engage with a larger number of actor networks and organisations at higher
levels. Even though quantitative changes might be in place, scaling up might not occur
because institutional, political and structural obstacles remain prevalent (Baiocchi et al,
2011). Hence, for scaling up to occur and to succeed, qualitative changes are also
required (Gaventa, 1998; Miraftab, 2003). According to Miraftab (2003, p 230) scaling
up demands “a qualitative change in how agencies see their roles, responsibilities,
power, objectives, and procedures and of how well prepared they are for changes
(intra-organizational and inter-organizational) in their power structures”. Such
qualitative changes are likely to be required for all actors and institutions involved in
city planning, including those representing low-income settlements. Bringing about
qualitative changes essentially refers to creating an enabling environment where
different people, including low-income residents, can cooperate, listen to each other
and make deliberate choices at face-to-face level. At the same time, as more and
diverse localities are drawn into citywide processes, associated policies and
programmes must be amended to be relevant to the specificities of a growing number
of locations. In addition, the perspectives of previously isolated communities also
change, leading to new priorities and possibilities.
4. The making of invited spaces: existing experiences of scaling up
participatory planning
Drawing on Cornwall’s (2002) typology of citizen participation and the definition above,
we now identify and analyse actually existing experiences of scaling up participatory
planning by states, donors, academics and civil society as discussed in the literature.
Cornwall (2002) considers participation processes along a continuum spanning closed
spaces where decisions are made by actors behind closed doors without citizen
involvement (ie conventional master planning) invited spaces platforms for
participation designed and controlled by states, donors or NGOs (ie the PRODEL or
FUNDASAL model for community planning) and claimed spaces which are
established by civil society groups (ie the SDI community-development planning
scheme). In addition, Miraftab (2009) adds a fourth category: invented spaces. These
are also established by civil society groups but, unlike claimed spaces, are less
institutionalised and serve to directly challenge the status quo (Refstie and Brun, 2016).
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It is important to note that these different spaces of citizen participation do not stand in
isolation to each other. Indeed, as highlighted by Refstie and Brun (2016), claimed,
invented and invited spaces may overlap and connect; this, they suggest may lead to
participation which is transformative in nature, producing urban reforms that challenge
unjust practices of resource redistribution and exclusion. And, as we argue, the
interplay of claimed, invented and invited spaces is also an essential precondition for
scaling to occur.
The case of participatory budgeting (PB) illustrates this point. Participatory budgeting
emerged in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, where social and community movements
that opposed the privatisation of public goods and the reduction of local government
functions demanded greater control over government spending decisions taking place
at city level. Responding to these demands, participatory budgeting was introduced into
the planning proceedings of the municipal government, led by the Workers Party (PT),
in 1989 (Baiocchi et al, 2011). Hence, participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre
represents an illustration of how one participatory practice shifted from a claimed or
invented space to an invited space thanks to the ability of movements to move from the
local to the city scale.
After its success in Porto Alegre, participatory budgeting was introduced by
municipalities across Brazil (Avritzer, 2009) and was later, after receiving praise from
donor organisations such as the World Bank, rolled out as a blueprint participatory
urban development model by municipal governments in other countries in Latin
America and elsewhere in the Global South and North (Cabannes, 2014; Goldfrank,
2007; Shah, 2007; Sintomer et al, 2008). Research on participatory budgeting in Brazil
shows that cities which adopt this approach have spent a significantly larger amount of
their budget on public housing, informal settlement upgrading, sanitation and
healthcare, and thereby are contributing to a greater reduction in urban poverty and
mortality rates in comparison to cities which have not introduced participatory
budgeting (Pimentel Walker, 2016; Touchton and Wampler, 2014). Similar pro-poor
outcomes have also been observed for participatory budgeting schemes in other cities
of the Global South and North (Cabannes, 2015). Projects resulting from participatory
budgeting are also considered to be cheaper and better maintained thanks to
community control and oversight (Cabannes, 2015). In addition, participatory budgeting
is praised for mobilising people in low-income settlements and for demonstrating the
potential to transform at least some aspects of urban planning from a state-controlled
exercise into a more open, deliberative and collaborative process in which direct and
deliberative democracy can flourish (Avritzer, 2009; Baiocchi et al, 2011; Cabannes,
2015; Goldfrank, 2007; Santos, 2005). Participatory budgeting has also been
recognised for its ability to change political norms and values, favouring those that are
more inclusive and so improving democratic practices (Baiocchi et al, 2011). In a study
of eight municipalities, these latter authors argue that “PB cities provided for more
much effective forms of [citizen] engagement than their non-PB counterparts” (p 144).
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The transformative potential of participatory budgeting may, however, be limited.
Baiocchi et al (2011) agree with earlier research that emphasises the significance of a
strong and established civil society and sympathetic administration. Without these
factors, outcomes in their study cities are less positive. In Bolivia government
authorities established the terms and conditions of participatory budgeting, restricted
the allocated resources and restricted the application to specific policy sectors (ie
small-scale community infrastructure improvements) and/or neighbourhoods, thereby
preventing citizen involvement in other citywide decision-making processes (Kohl and
Farthing, 2006). Participatory budgeting should, hence, not be treated as a blueprint
that can be applied equally everywhere. Instead, the benefits associated with
participatory budgeting (eg poverty reduction, democratisation, citizen empowerment)
only emerge when certain context-specific conditions are fulfilled (Baiocchi and
Ganuza, 2014). These authors have highlighted the fact that the establishment of
deliberative spaces in which low-income residents can be involved in decisions around
spending priorities represented only one precondition for participatory budgeting to
succeed. Success is also dependent on a set of democratic reforms within the state
apparatus which induce a shift from representative to direct democracy and empower
ordinary citizens. In other cities of the Global South, when governments have
introduced deliberative spaces without undertaking democratic reforms to enhance
citizen empowerment and inclusion, participatory planning remains a symbolic
exercise. This is illustrated by Refstie and Brun (2016), who noted that the participatory
budgeting in Blantyre was more an information-oriented event, during which a
municipal plan, developed by the government administration, was presented to
residents without leaving space for consultation. Similar trends were also noted for
other African cities such as Dondo and Maputo (Cabannes, 2015). What again
appears important is the presence of organised and autonomous civil society able to
strategise its use of these spaces to secure its own goals; otherwise PB may result in
localised improvements to the relevance of state investments, but little more (Avritzer,
The breadth of civil society ambition in contributing to the making of invited spaces is
also evident in the recent efforts of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR)
which has supported members to strengthen citizen planning and implementation in
hundreds of cities (Boonyabancha et al, 2012; ACHR, 2017). One of the most notable
recent efforts to experiment with citywide participation and enable communities to
finance larger-scale improvements with public monies is the civil society programme,
Asian Coalition for Community Action (ACCA). ACCA introduced community
development funds (CDFs) in 12 Asian countries as a part of an integrated set of
measures to strengthen local participation and to scale it across the city (ACHR, 2017).
ACCA encourages local government involvement in CDF management, thereby
creating horizontal links between community savings groups and vertical links with
local government and other relevant professional agencies. CDFs are a “financial
platform made up of contributions from different sources including community savings,
ACCA seed funds and contributions from local/national government” (Archer, 2012, p
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424). If ACCA seeks to create a platform for citywide participation, CDFs are the
institutional mechanism to enable community and local government to plan and finance
together. Local government finance contributions to CDFs vary considerably but the
participation of officials and politicians has helped to secure changes in policies as well
as some access to resources. Arguably CDFs have been most successful in Thailand,
where they sit alongside a Thai parastatal, the Community Organization Development
Institute (CODI), which invests in informal settlement upgrading and has encouraged
community groups and their networks to engage with local government. CODI’s
approaches have drawn heavily on the experiences of Somsook Boonyabancha,
Secretary General of the Coalition who was first Deputy Director and then Director of
CODI for many years. CODI encourages the residents of informal settlements to
organise and plan their own upgrading, with infrastructure subsidies and soft loans for
housing improvements. It also encourages networking at the city scale and beyond to
strengthen local initiatives and enable citywide planning. CDFs have emerged as Thai
networks have taken up ACCA-financed opportunities to strengthen their ability to
create autonomous spaces within which they invite local authority participation. In other
countries in which ACCA operates, however, it remains unclear how successful the
CDF initiative is in securing citywide community planning.
The potential significance of building capacity, changing behavioural patterns, and
contributing to the making of invited spaces in which scaling up participatory planning
can occur is also highlighted by academic advocates of co-productive research and
planning (Albrechts, 2012; Mitlin, 2008; Polk, 2015; Watson, 2014). For example, Polk
(2015, p 111) highlights how co-production, defined by her as collaboration between
different public, private, civil society and academic actors, may help in “co-creating
solutions to urban planning problems or citizen engagement in creating visions for
urban planning”. To facilitate co-production and stakeholder collaboration, Polk
highlights the importance of establishing a ‘neutral’ space – in this specific case the
‘Mistra Urban Futures Centre’ situated in Gothenburg (Sweden) in which different
stakeholders can interact and jointly plan and evaluate policy-relevant research that
can later be applied in different public, private or civil society organisations operating at
different scales.
However, the problem with such approaches remains the fact that the subsequent
anchoring of policy-relevant research in distinct institutional and political contexts did
not occur. The reasons for this relate to the ongoing absence of an institutional, legal
and funding structure designed for such co-productive practices, the tendency of
participants especially practitioners to fall back into familiar roles in their actual
institutions, and the struggle of participants to integrate project results within their
agencies (Polk, 2015). Hence, while experiments around co-production and research
and planning may work within an academic workshop framework, they are unlikely to
be grounded in existing formal city governance structures and embedded in a political
process. It is therefore not surprising that government authorities and associated
agencies do not integrate such exercises into their institutional and operational
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In other contexts where an enabling legal environment is already in place, the
establishment of ‘neutral’ spaces appears to be helpful for defining and consolidating
participatory mechanisms at the city or metropolitan level. This is suggested by
research on Belo Horizonte, Brazil (Klink, 2014). Responding to new legislative
guidelines outlined in the 2001 City Statute (a federal law which called for the
consolidation of participatory planning at the city, metropolitan and regional scale), a
new metropolitan agency comprised of academics, local government officials, and
residents from across the metropolitan area was established within the Federal
University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). UFMG was selected because, unlike the different
municipal governments operating in and around Belo Horizonte, this university
represents a more ‘neutral’ space in which different actors can jointly elaborate a
participatory metropolitan master plan. Relying on a variety of participatory exercises
ranging from consultations and workshops to artistic forms of dissemination Belo
Horizonte’s (and Brazil’s first) participatory metropolitan master plan was designed
between 2005 and 2010. In the current context the metropolitan development agency
continues to operate within UFMG and is responsible for monitoring the implementation
of the plan. Whether this latter stage of plan implementation is participatory in nature
remains to be seen.
In summary, then, scaling up participatory planning has, to a degree, enhanced citizen
involvement and inclusion in crucial decision-making processes at levels beyond the
neighbourhood. In the case of state-led interventions around participatory budgeting,
this seems to be mainly the case in settings where participatory budgeting was initially
introduced as an invented space by local community organisations and later became
an invited space as grassroots strategies were taken up by state authorities operating
at the city level. In contrast, in contexts in which participatory budgeting was simply
introduced as an invited space by state authorities, considerable limitations remain
evident. This is demonstrated in the literature on participatory budgeting in other Latin
American countries such as Bolivia and in Africa. In these settings, participatory
budgeting appears to be associated as much with managing and so restricting
participation as with transformation and empowerment. Meanwhile, despite advances
in the making of invited spaces in which scaling up can occur, supported by
experimentation both by civil-society-led programmes such as ACCA and by academic
efforts in the case of co-productive planning, more work is needed on how to sustain
such innovative partnerships and strategies over time, and on how to avoid creating
additional or parallel spaces which coexist outside formal institutional structures.
5. Community-led practices to scale-up participatory planning in three
African cities
A recently established action-research network, funded by the Leverhulme Trust,
provides the opportunity to further analyse the reasons why scaling up participation has
been so difficult by drawing on the experience of specific locations and explores
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how it can be improved. The network draws together academics and non-academics
with an established relationship in three African cities. It draws on the work of SDI,
particularly in Bulawayo and Nairobi. In Johannesburg the partnership includes an
NGO, One to One, that has been working at the interface of professional, academic
and community expertise to develop new options for informal settlement upgrading.
This work has included collaboration both with SDI and other community groups. This
section explores the context in which this action-research will take place.
SDI is a network of community-based organisations of the urban poor in 32 countries
and hundreds of cities and towns across Africa, Asia and Latin America. In each
country where SDI has a presence, affiliate organisations come together at the
community, city and national level to form federations of the urban poor. Since 1996,
this network has helped to create a global voice for the urban poor, engaging
international agencies and operating on the international stage to support and advance
local struggles. Nevertheless, the principal theatre of practice for SDI’s constituent
organisations is the local level: the informal settlements where the urban poor of the
developing world struggle to build more inclusive cities, economies and politics. Over
80% of SDI federation members are women. The federations share very specific
organisational practices: savings, data collection, horizontal learning and co-production
of urban development solutions with other stakeholders, particularly local authorities.
Relying on a bottom-up, community development approach, SDI strengthens collective
organisation, inclusion and community cohesion by encouraging residents, particularly
women, to join savings groups. The core aim of such initiatives is to amplify the voice
of women living in informal settlements, to build relationships between low-income
groups and to empower low-income citizens to define and implement their own
development agenda in collaboration with local authorities (for a detailed review of
SDI’s methodology and approach, see Satterthwaite and Mitlin, 2014; Mitlin and Patel,
2014). SDI affiliates seek to find solutions that are relevant to the scale of the problem;
in the cities in which federations are active informal settlements typically house at least
between 30% and 80% of the population. The ambivalent citizenship status accorded
to informal residents in many towns and cities means that they are rarely consulted
about the development plans and associated regulations taken up by the city
governments. Even when well intentioned, these plans rarely address their needs and
may exacerbate multiple forms of exclusion. Their citywide focus is not only a reflection
of their commitment to inclusion, it is also a city politics in which residents’ associations
are divided by politicians who negotiate individual deals and offerings in order to
reduce their potential power and influence, and to maintain clientelist relations.
5.1. Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
The Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation emerged in 1998. The movement began
with the launch of savings groups in the two ‘holding camps’ in Harare, Hatcliffe
Extension and Dzivarasekwa Extension in 1997 (Chitekwe-Biti, 2009). These holding
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camps were at that time home to thousands of families following evictions from informal
settlements in and around the city during the previous decade. The savings groups
formed after a visit from an urban social movement, the South African Homeless
People’s Federation; the South African community leaders came to share working
practices and build solidarity. Working in alliance with the NGO Dialogue on Shelter,
the Zimbabwe Federation grew into a national network; within 10 years it had a
presence in 27 local authority areas, working with more than 45,000 households.
Despite considerable political challenges, economic crisis and a government broadly
hostile to independent civil society, the Federation has had some successes. By 2016,
11,541 savers in 352 savings groups had secured land and built homes for 8,500
families, built 2,703 houses, secured improved water services for 3,659 and sanitation
provision for 2,558 households.
The challenges related to the scaling up of participatory planning in Zimbabwe have
long been acute, related both to the prevailing nature of top-down planning in the
country and to the economic and political crisis from the early years of the 21st century.
Moreover, there have been particular difficulties in Bulawayo. For a considerable time,
the federation groups were paid little attention by the city government. In part, this was
a result of the ethnic and related political divisions in Zimbabwe and the efforts being
made by the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation and its support NGO, Dialogue
on Shelter, to engage national government. However, over time this politics has
changed, and the City of Bulawayo authorities have responded more positively to
Federation efforts, partly because of the crisis in local authority funding.
In the present
context, for Bulawayo as for other local authorities, community participation is as much
about income-generation as it is about sharing decision making. The contraction
between state-led development and market approaches has collapsed under the
weight of a financial crisis so extreme that all the state can offer is the market, despite
the required abdication of its responsibilities to respect citizens’ rights and address
needs. At the same time, the crisis in household income means that there is a very
limited potential for households to pay for municipal services. The City of Bulawayo has
been seeking to respond to these tensions with a more open approach, both in terms of
dialogue and engagement, and with a willingness to approve incremental urban
development (eg eco-sanitation designs rather than insisting on sewered sanitation).
In addition to difficulties related to the motivation of government and its lack of interest
in participation outside of market-related imperatives in service delivery, there are two
further challenges to scaling up state and citizen collaboration. These reflect the past
and the present. With respect to the past, Zimbabwe’s strong state has resulted in an
emphasis on professional rules and regulations. City planning processes have
continued to be based on rigid Master Plans, reduced at the local level into local
development plans. It is a challenge to get state officials to agree to the local
community doing things differently and experimenting with alternative approaches that
may not be ‘modern’ but which are more likely to be inclusive. At the same time,
Numbers in this section are all drawn from SDI (2016).
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community activists have had to develop their capacities to work collectively to create
new options for urban development. Traditionally the residents of informal settlements
have not even been included in consultations by local authorities; and their ability to
design and recognise improved modalities of urban development has not been
recognised. In this context, local organisations have tended to take on the role of
supplicants or have been drawn into party politics and have depended somewhat on
the state to deliver (once electoral victory has been secured). Second, and with respect
to the present, the growth in settlements on the periphery of the city has led to
residential neighbourhoods being far from bulk infrastructure. Arguably there is a need
to consider ‘densifying’ areas proximate to bulk infrastructure (to maximise access to
services) and/or to create innovative financing approaches that facilitate cross-
subsidies between higher-income and low-income households, thereby making
services more affordable for the latter. However, at present such approaches are not
being considered.
More positively, there has been a willingness to engage in stakeholder discussions
about how the needs of residents can be met. Between 2014 and 2015, the alliance of
Dialogue on Shelter and the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation signed two
memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with the National University of Science and
Technology (NUST) and the City of Bulawayo. These two MOUs present opportunities
for deepening participatory planning by creating the much-needed institutional
framework for collaborative slum upgrading activities. However, a lot more still needs to
be accomplished to scale up participatory planning. Generating consensus and a
shared understanding of why, how and when communities in slums are engaged in
planning processes remains a priority. An intended City slum upgrading protocol also
has potential to advance the up-scaling of participatory planning processes. However,
Bulawayo is still to consolidate its modest experiences into a protocol that informs its
response to informal settlements and, hence, guarantees visibility for and voices of the
urban poor in planning processes. The MOU with NUST could also be instrumental in
supporting both vertical and horizontal up-scaling, as it potentially offers scope for
reflecting on and refining current syllabi, thereby creating opportunities to produce a
new generation of built environment professional practitioners who are more
responsive to inclusive city-making processes.
In Bulawayo the challenges are: the limited willingness among authorities to innovate,
limited innovation experience at the community level, a municipal income crisis and a
lack of citywide vision. The opportunities lie in the recent recognition on the part of the
City of the potential of the participation of residents in solution generation to some
urban challenges (eg garbage collection and sanitation provision).
5.2. Johannesburg, South Africa
The Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FedUP) has been working in
Johannesburg for many years. Many of the savings schemes involved had previously
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been members of the South African Homeless People’s Federation. Savings groups in
South Africa were catalysed in 1991 when a group of community leaders from informal
settlements were introduced to this approach by the National Slum Dwellers Federation
of India and a collective of women’s savings groups from India, Mahila Milan.
Johannesburg was one of four South African cities in which the Federation prioritised
activities. Progress was slow in this city relative to the other three locations in part
because of the high levels of contestation between organised communities and local
and provincial government. The South African Homeless People’s Federation split in
2006 (in part related to the slow progress) and FedUP was formed. By 2016, across
South Africa, FedUP included 43,346 savers in 626 savings groups, and had secured
land and built houses for 13,348 families, had improved water services for 13,477
households, and provided sanitation for 14,839 households. To complement the work
of FedUP, the South African SDI Alliance has developed the Informal Settlement
Network (ISN), which “is the first major attempt in the post-Apartheid era to bring the
country’s disparate settlement-level and national-level organizations of the urban poor
under one umbrella” (Bradlow et al, 2011). The ISN draws together more traditional
community organisations, led primarily by men and the Alliance facilities their
collaboration with the women’s-led groups that make up FedUP.
South African local government appears to be well placed to support citywide
participatory engagement. Local government’s democratic mandate is well established
and the commitment to participation is embedded within the integrated development
planning process that municipalities have to follow (Karabo Molaba and Khan, 2016);
however, there has long been concern that participation is weak with an underlying
conception of citizenship that does not support active engagement (Oldfield, 2008).
Recent outcomes have continued to be disappointing (Lemanski, 2017). Efforts to
enhance the participation of disadvantaged groups have focused on the upgrading of
informal settlements.
In the post-apartheid context, South Africa’s national government recognised the
importance of addressing the needs of the urban poor and of tackling the problems of
social exclusion and poverty. However, despite the capital housing subsidy programme
introduced shortly after democratisation in 1994, there remained a significant housing
backlog and informal settlements continued to grow. While this capital housing subsidy
programme included a commitment to participation, this was not realised (Miraftab,
2003). Even the success of SDI and other civil society organisations in securing the
introduction of the People’s Housing Programme failed to embed more participatory
approaches within housing delivery (Mitlin and Mogaladi, 2013). To address the rising
housing backlog, South Africa’s then Department of Housing reorientated its focus
towards informal settlement upgrading. First articulated in the 2004 policy document
Breaking New Ground (BNG), this recognised informal settlements and provided a
directive and financial support for upgrading. This policy was further elaborated in the
Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP), which aims to “support
upgrading [instead of greenfield social housing delivery] on an area-wide basis,
maintain fragile community networks, minimise disruption and enhance community
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participation” (NUSP, 2015). The upgrading of existing shack settlements requires in-
depth local participation (see also Fieuw, 2015 for a detailed description of the different
UISP stages). To further ensure uptake of UISP, the national government set up the
National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP) in 2009, whose prime tasks include
strengthening the capacity of national, local and provincial governments to implement
participatory and community-based incremental upgrading (NUSP, 2015).
Despite a formal commitment to participation and integrated urban development, actual
government practices have been limited and tokenistic (Fieuw, 2015; Fieuw and Mitlin,
2018). Provincial and local governments lack the political will to implement participatory
and integrated urban development on the ground. Furthermore, the professionalised,
standards-orientated nature of South African planning is widely recognised and the
tension between these top-down approaches and the need (included in the Housing
Code of 2009) for a collaborative bottom-up decision-making process has also been
acknowledged (Combrinck and Bennett, 2016). Finally, incremental upgrading
interventions continue to focus mainly on participation at the settlement scale with no
related commitment to participation at the city-scale.
Local-level engagement has been difficult in Johannesburg. Community leaders and
residents are mistrustful of the state and frequently communities are divided. Inner-city
communities fear resettlement (Kitchen, 2016). Divisions may be related to party
political allegiances or to traditional governance systems and tribal affiliations. While
the alliance between FedUP and ISN has helped, tensions between the groups are
sometimes present as a result of their different modalities of organising and their
different constituencies. While funding is less of a problem in comparison to both
Nairobi and Bulawayo, since the government has the capacity to subsidise local
improvements, this creates contestation over control of resources. Although there is
considerable capacity within both civil society and local government, the lack of
substantive shifts towards a participatory inclusive city vision and associated
programming points to more limited capacities in terms of the citywide scale. Muthoni
Maina (2016) discusses the regularisation programme for informal settlements within
Johannesburg, initiated in 2008 with a commitment to citizen participation in
neighbourhood development. She argues that the programme was well conceived but
poorly implemented. While the legislative framework supports both local and city-scale
participation, progress has been limited and the City of Johannesburg acknowledged
this in 2016 with a new approach to secure citizen engagement (Karabo Molaba and
Khan, 2016). While acknowledging that progress has been limited, Karabo Molaba and
Khan recognise the contribution of the ISN to City planning and argue that it has been
influential both with respect to planning approaches and in preventing specific
evictions. Settlement-level successes continue to be reported. For example, in 2014
Slovo Park Informal Settlement, a member of the South African SDI network, has sued
the City of Johannesburg and, in April 2016, won a landmark case. In the final court
decision, the judge decided that the City of Johannesburg most follow the UISP
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framework and stop efforts at unlawful resettlement in Slovo Park.
Currently, the NGO
One to One is working with Slovo Park Informal Settlement Development Forum to
implement upgrading solutions and is engaging with technical staff at the City of
Johannesburg, as well as with academics and students at the University of
Johannesburg, to trigger citywide reforms around participatory and integrated urban
development planning. A second example is Ruimsig, on the periphery of the city,
where community-led incremental development has been explored with the support of
both the City and SDI affiliates. Success here has been recognised by the City
government, which has responded with policy concessions and efforts to improve
cross-departmental coordination to address residents’ needs (Karabo Molaba and
Khan, 2016). However, the perspective remains local.
5.3. Nairobi, Kenya
The Kenyan SDI federation, Muungano wa Wanavijiji (Swahili for ‘united slum
dwellers’) began in Nairobi in 1996 as a movement of urban poor people resisting,
through activism and legal challenges, the land grabs and brutal forced evictions of
informal settlements in that city in the mid-1990s. In 2001, Muungano joined SDI’s
international network of community-based organisations and evolved from a loose
collection of activists into a network of settlement-based savings groups claiming a
representative mandate. In part, this shift was in response to perceived changes in
government attitudes, which around 2001 began to look more favourably on upgrading
and regularising land ownership. Through learning exchanges with federations from
India and South Africa, the Kenyan movement quickly embraced SDI tools of savings,
data collection and house modelling. Organising through savings, in particular, became
a catalyst for mobilisation, and from 2002 Muungano spread, establishing savings
groups in most major towns and cities. In 2003, Muungano established a national
‘urban poor fund’, the Akiba Mashinani Trust, to provide loan capital for upgrading
informal settlements, livelihood activities and greenfield developments (Weru et al,
2017). By 2016, Muungano had organised 73,360 savers in 956 savings groups that
had secured land and housing for 283 families, improved water services for 20,499
households and improved sanitation for 7,796 households. In Nairobi many members
consider that the major achievement was to ‘retain the slums’, protecting both informal
markets and informal settlements. Today, these informal areas take up around 2% of
the city’s land and are the homes and/or workplaces of over half of Nairobi’s four
million citizens (Lines and Makau, 2017). Muungano’s consistent approach has been to
balance a single-minded struggle to “frame the slum phenomenon as a core issue
that the city and the state have a responsibility to address” (Lines and Makau, 2017, p
7) with adaptability and opportunism in response to emerging openings from the
state. Where a lacuna has been observed, Muungano has acted directly to introduce
For further details, see
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new practices and policies, for example the advances in Kenyan national policy on
slum resettlement, which resulted from the Federation’s involvement in planning and
implementing a World Bank-financed railway resettlement project in Kibera, Nairobi
(Lines and Makau, 2017).
Nairobi continues to be a key area of organisation and exploration. When Muungano
emerged in 1996, its focus was on challenging evictions across the city. The same year
the state established the Nairobi Informal Settlements Coordination Committee
(NISCC) probably the Kenyan state’s first significant response to informal settlements
and in 1997 the Committee instituted a moratorium on slum demolition on public land.
Muungano began to explore modalities of community-led informal settlement
upgrading, drawing both on self-reliance and state support. These improvements were
generally at the neighbourhood level with a project focus. Projects included the
upgrading of five ‘villages’ (smaller neighbourhoods in slum areas) in Huruma, Nairobi.
The local community in one of these villages - Kambi Moto built 100 homes between
2003 and 2009 and, as significantly, land was shared between landlords and tenants
(Weru, 2004).
In 2012, Kenya’s new constitution required public participation to be the basis for
government planning and all government expenditures to be guided by such planning.
Alongside this, a devolution process created new county governments with enhanced
responsibilities. Some county governments, including Nairobi, began to address the
needs of people living in informal areas. In this context, the federation has found its
data collection processes and inventories, including the city-level profiles of all slums in
five Kenyan counties including Nairobi, collected in 2003 (Lines and Makau, 2017, p 3),
increasingly valued. In the context of these political changes, the Muungano leadership
explored new approaches to organising residents of informal settlements. Anticipating
that only a minority of community residents would be likely to join savings groups (in
projects undertaken to date, this figure rarely exceeded 10%), the leadership reflected
on how the remaining 90% might be drawn into the participatory planning of upgrading.
After serious internal reflection, the leadership proposed that savings groups should
catalyse into neighbourhood associations which draw in all residents. Recognising that
the contribution of savings groups is likely to be essential to deepen local democratic
practice and build leadership accountability and financial capability, Muungano
acknowledged the need to experiment with modalities that might lead to more people
joining in participatory decision-making processes at the neighbourhood and city levels.
With 9095% of residents being tenants who must negotiate shelter within a powerful,
multi-layered, highly complex informal slum economy, capacitated associations are
needed to negotiate with structure owners and land owners to ensure that tenants are
not disadvantaged as informal areas densify and, in at least some cases, formalise.
Muungano’s main present focus is the challenge and opportunity presented by the
declaration of the local government, Nairobi County, of a Special Planning Area
(gazetted in August 2016) in the neighbourhood of Mukuru.
Mukuru is a dense belt of
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informal settlements, numbering 100,000 households, where over 30% of shacks are
double storey. Many land titles are privately owned and zoned for light industry
compounding the complexity of upgrading and land regularisation. The Special
Planning Area suspends planning regulations and freezes development to offer an
opportunity for innovation. It is the culmination of a long campaign of mobilisation in the
area by Muungano, its member savings groups, its support NGO (SDI Kenya), and
AMT. Muungano, in particular, highlighted the poor living conditions, drawing on a
research project undertaken in collaboration with SDI Kenya, Akiba Mashinani Trust
(AMT), the Universities of Berkeley, Strathmore University, and the Katiba
This move to a larger scale, as well as the politicised nature of urban
development in Nairobi, has orientated the Federation’s leadership towards greater
engagement with County authorities, albeit one based on an autonomous movement
able to define its own vision and negotiate on behalf of its members. From 2010, the
engagement with the University of Nairobi has helped SDI Kenya and Muungano gain
access to city planning processes.
Nairobi City Council and now Nairobi County have made efforts to engage with
organised communities such as Muungano and officials are often interested in finding
ways to work with residents’ associations to improve living conditions. However,
Nairobi’s rapid redevelopment in the context of a growing economy provides frequent
reminders of the need to shift the vision of authorities away from one that at best
marginalises low-income residents (and at worst excludes them). Urban development
in Nairobi is commercialised, and the city authorities must manage multiple pressures
in a city growing in population and economic opportunity. In recent years, economic
growth has been associated with infrastructure improvements, and while some
provision has been made for the lowest-income households, little has been done to
tackle tenure insecurity; generally the needs and interests of higher-income households
continue to influence the city’s vision and development trajectory. Despite increased
powers under devolution, Nairobi County continues to argue that it is unable to finance
informal settlement upgrading at the scale demanded by residents, including those
groups organised by Muungano.
6. Conclusions and ways forward
Reflecting on the challenges and opportunities to scaling up participatory planning
identified in our review of the literature, three trends which require further research
stand out from our initial findings from Bulawayo, Johannesburg, and Nairobi:
First, scaling up participatory planning has to change the relationship between
organised civil society within low-income communities and government institutions. In
all three cities, SDI federations have to negotiate the mismatch between city
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government interest in engaging communities and processes that enable participation
that is meaningful to community organisations. Academics have used the terms
‘invited’, ‘invented’ and ‘claimed’ spaces to represent the different ways in which
communities ‘reach up’ to engage the state and states ‘reach down’ to engage
communities. Our research demonstrates the synthetic nature of these representations,
and hence their potential to mislead. Explorations at the local level show that the
invented spaces of local community organisations become invited spaces as
grassroots strategies are taken up and used by city governments and national
programmes. The community networks discussed here are seeking to use such
processes to create space for participatory planning at the city scale, building on their
national activities and international profile to advance the legitimacy of citizen
involvement in citywide planning. Hence our findings show that community innovations
can be reintroduced as local government policy as, over time, their value is
demonstrated. While such shifts away from invented and claimed spaces to invited
spaces are acknowledged in the existing literature on participation, more research is
required on when and how such changes allow organised low-income groups to
integrate their needs and priorities into planning at the city level and, in so doing,
advance citizen participation in state decision making. We will be exploring the
circumstances under which this takes place, and what it means for academic work to
Second, multiple approaches are being followed to influence local government and
legitimate the contribution of organised communities. In Bulawayo, this is being
attempted through the signing of MOUs with the municipal government and the local
university (NUST). The engagement of the university serves both to legitimate
community involvement and to open up more avenues for engagement as academics
are regularly consulted by local government, and to change the academic education of
planning professionals. In Johannesburg, SDI groups are pressuring local authorities at
the city and provincial level to implement national legislation on citywide participatory
planning. With state subsidies for housing managed primarily at the provincial level, a
multilevel approach is required. However, the success of first securing the People’s
Housing Programme, followed by its limited reach and depth (Fieuw and Mitlin, 2018),
points to the need to move beyond initial engagement to embedding changes in policy,
programming and practice at the city scale. Efforts in South Africa are enhanced both
by the availability of finance, and by experiences which have matured grassroots
approaches but are constrained by the complexity of multilevel government
engagement and highly professionalised developmental approaches. In Nairobi, SDI
groups have been successful in engaging with county authorities, especially in the
context of national legislation to support participation and a history of civil activism in
this city. As is the case in the other two cities, success at the local level through
‘projects’ has built the confidence of city authorities and made them more willing to
engage with grassroots networks. The county government’s announcement of the
Special Planning Area in Mukuru has led to a very specific challenge to scale up the
work of Muungano. We will research specific strategies and approaches to learn about
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their relative success, benefiting from the 20-year time horizon over which these
networks have engaged the state.
Third, in all three cities, scaling up activities from small neighbourhoods to bigger
neighbourhoods (ie Mukuru) and to the city level leads to new challenges particularly
around securing citizen participation both at scale and with depth. Gendered
approaches with a focus on women-led savings schemes and the strengthening of both
peerto-peer learning through community exchanges and vertical networks through city
and national federations have been effective in some contexts.
In South Africa, the
SDI South African Alliance helped to establish and has been working with the Informal
Settlement Network (Bradlow et al, 2011); the Network was introduced in part because
of high levels of politicisation in low-income neighbourhoods and contested political
party involvement. As noted above, the strategy has led to some tensions that have still
to be resolved, and the value of the dual processes is still being assessed. In
Zimbabwe there has been discussion about how to reach out to male-led traditional
organisations but no changes to savings-based organising have been introduced, as
the Federation has been able to expand its work within its current approaches. In
Mukuru, the Kenyan Federation are experimenting with augmenting the savings
methodology by trying to use savings as a catalyst to support a participatory planning
process that engages savers and non-savers alike. To date, academic research on
participatory planning has not engaged deeply with the organising modalities that
enable both depth and breadth to be established, such that high levels of involvement
across diverse groups can be secured. Further, there is a lack of attention within the
existing literature to the complex politics characterising such changes around scale.
We will engage with these themes.
Our action-research network, which brings together academics, community networks
and NGOs whose work includes innovative and collaborative local experiments in
participatory planning in Bulawayo, Johannesburg and Nairobi, seeks to address these
knowledge gaps. This network thus aims to develop the knowledge needed to move
from participatory community-led neighbourhood planning to city-scale planning
processes. The objectives are (1) to develop frameworks that build on effective and
context-specific modalities of community-led planning for informal settlement upgrading
at the neighbourhood level, and to scale these to the city level within the three cities;
and (2) to develop a grounded methodological framework for the co-production of
knowledge that enables the incorporation of community understandings and
innovations with professional and academic knowledge. Once these frameworks have
been developed locally and in exchange with the different network partners, this
grounded and inductive framework generation will then be fed back into academic and
practical debates around participatory and co-productive planning and inclusive urban
development. They will thereby permit the crafting of a broader research agenda that
Anna Muller, director of the Namibian Housing Action Group, personal communication. The
Namibian Federation has a membership of 22,200 households (SDI, 2016) with an estimate of
100,000 households living in informal neighbourhoods across the country.
Electronic copy available at:
can test and further develop this framework in the context of the cities in which our
network partners are based but also in other cities situated in the Global South.
The aim and objectives of our action-research network are critical to achieving inclusive
urban futures, particularly in Africa where more than half (63.7%) of urban residents
lived in informal settlements in 2010. In the African context, acute urban development
challenges include insecure tenure, inadequate access to basic services, insecure
livelihoods and lack of citywide integrated, holistic and participatory development. As
we have shown in this paper, existing planning legislation and practice remains
incapable of resolving such problems. Local residents try to address their own needs,
but such efforts are fragmented, partial and local despite emerging attempts at up-
scaling in some settings. Governments may at times seek to improve this situation
through legislative reform. Yet there remains a gap between legal discourse and
practice, particularly in contexts where government officials are under-capacitated, lack
adequate resources and/or follow different political priorities. Academic institutions
seek to identify new concepts and methodological tools for scaling up participatory
planning, but such efforts are often not grounded in city governance structures or
embedded in political processes. Only if all three groups collaborate can we address
the Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) commitments to ”leave no one behind”
and achieve the implementation of SDG 6 (water and sanitation), SDG 11 (inclusive,
safe and resilient cities) and the New Urban Agenda. Hence our initiative.
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... The literature clearly shows that Western models of participation are often applied in the Global South without enough consideration given to the differing socio-economic circumstances. Analyses of participatory projects in Asia, Africa and South America show that bias is stronger in more disadvantaged communities and in areas with greater inequalities (Halkatti, Purushothaman and Brook, 2003;Refstie and Brun, 2016;Horn et al., 2018;van Holstein, 2018). As the word cloud for this theme suggests (figure 3), the distribution of resources and power, economic conditions, institutional attitudes and interests all play a role in bias and pose limitations to participation. ...
... Political will and authorities' true commitment to participation are the key factors in developing and implementing interventions (Bonilla, 2009;Al-Nammari, 2013;van Holstein, 2018); weak local government institutions and lack of capacity among local authorities are also cited as important factors (Horn et al., 2018). In fact, throughout the literature social capital is deemed to be the most significant component in limiting bias, enabling activities and implementation and even mitigating lack of strong political will. ...
Conference Paper
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Urban Design and Planning worldwide have long been criticized for their lack of meaningful public consultation and participation in the process of shaping our built environment. Currently, the existing practices of consultation and participation are within the confines of council meetings, complex form filling and survey reports that often carry little weight towards the decisions made by the planning authorities; the latter are increasingly seeking for ways to encourage meaningful public participation in urban development decisions. This paper presents a systematic literature review on sustainable urban governance visa -vis participatory planning, in an effort to consolidate, evaluate and critique the various approaches on involving the public in decision-making process in relation to urban form in general and public space in particular. The literature/case studies presented are referenced across a scale of degrees of participation, referring to a range of influence that participants have in the decision-making. In its two extremes it can be viewed as no participation, where designers make assumptions of users' needs and requirements, and full participation, based on user-defined criteria of quality. The evaluation of many participatory research practices is somewhere in between the two extremes, focusing more on design with the users. However, the given theoretical process, might provide an insufficient degree of realism that designers need to cope with, due to time and budget constraints. If it is to remain grounded to the practice of design, literature should be able to cope with barriers, and seek understanding beyond its conceptual approaches.
... Citizen participation is one of the most crucial for local, city and town development [8][9]. It has long been recognized that helps understanding more about citizen needs and concerns as well as contributes to the empowerment of people [10][11]. Citizen participation can provide the government with valuable information on the state of well-being in their city and fosters a positive relationship between a government or agency and the public in project development by effectively communicating and cooperatively solving conflicts [12]. ...
... Unfortunately, these approaches and efforts in the case study area and many African cities (see Horn et al. 2018) are impeded by limited financial resources and the complexity of multilevel government engagement and highly technocratic planning, which have stunted democratic and informal grassroots approaches. Despite the partial success at the local level through community-led incremental initiatives and projects, informal settlements remain the most vulnerable and among the poorest urban spaces across African cities (Cobbinah 2021). ...
The proliferation of informal settlements and growing risks of climate change across African cities pose core questions to urban planning theory and practice. Where do informal settlements fit into future climate adaptation plans? What constitutes a 'just' climate transformation for African urbanization? And how does a 'just' climate transformation address the concerns of Africans in informal settlements? We conduct a literature review to highlight the importance of local, community-based knowledge production and action in addressing African urbanization and climate change. We show how informality and climate change impact each other across diverse African cities and conduct a detailed case study based on Accra, Ghana. We argue that national and global approaches to planning for urbanization and climate change are required to strengthen local community-based knowledge production and action.
... A number of proposals have thus been made by the seven consortia with these proposals feeding into the IDP, which is currently being developed. These proposals have been informed by the participatory and consultative processes that have underpinned the work of the SPA consortia (Horn et al., 2018). Under the Mukuru SPA public participation framework, locally generated knowledge feeds into the expert-guided processes to co-produce proposals and interventions aimed at addressing the various concerns identified by the Mukuru community. ...
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The Kenyan legal framework accords robust safeguards to private property rights. It is only in few cases that these rights may be limited. In Kenya, many informal settlements are on private land, which can limit the ability of residents to access life-saving basic services. Here, we explore how a public health emergency in Mukuru, one of Nairobi’s largest informal settlements, gave rise to a redefinition of private property, security of tenure and delivery of water and sanitation. We suggest that “everyday emergency” of public health threats in informal settlements offers an opportunity to ensure that property and planning norms deliver rights to both secure tenure and human health. Ultimately, we explore the place of public health in (re)negotiating for land rights in Nairobi, particularly to ensure that the urban poor can express their rights to health and well-being and assess what this portends for planners in their quest to upgrade informal settlements.
... The commitment to 'leave no one behind' highlights the importance and strengthens the significance of citizen involvement in urban planning processes, both in informal settlements and at city scale. One pathway for meeting the commitments of the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda is to scale participatory planning, defined as expanding participatory planning horizontally into other policy sectors and/or places (eg from one to another informal settlement or the entire city) and vertically into higher institutional levels (Gulyani & Bassett, 2007;Horn et al, 2018). According to Horn et al (2018, p 10), successful scaling processes should also "promote collective priorities and political voice, community self-organisation in the production of goods and services, and peer support and solidarity". ...
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The purpose of this paper is to contribute to debates on inclusive informal settlement upgrading through scaling participatory planning, with a focus on the Mukuru Special Planning Area (SPA) in Nairobi, Kenya. Our contribution is threefold. First, we provide an overview of previous efforts at integrating participation into urban interventions that target informal settlements in Kenya, highlighting how such efforts largely ignored the views of low-income residents. Second, building on this discussion, we outline the Mukuru SPA-a planning and upgrading process taking place in one of Nairobi's largest informal settlements which is situated on private land-and its potential to shift such trends. We offer a detailed documentation of the role of citizen participation in the different planning stages of the Mukuru SPA process. Third, reflecting on the Mukuru SPA experience, our conclusion offers wider lessons for scaling citizen participation in the context of informal settlement upgrading. In particular, we emphasise the importance of dedicating time and resources for community mobilisation and organisation to secure mass buy-in and ownership of the planning process by residents of informal settlements. We also highlight the importance of creating institutional and procedural mechanisms that integrate community participation into all stages of the planning process, allow for interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral collaboration, and integrate upgrading into city-wide strategic planning. Our study draws on qualitative data on the participatory process in Mukuru, including interviews and focus group discussions with planning stakeholders and community representatives, as well as observation notes from community meetings and planning events.
... This form of citizenship 'built from below' (Appadurai, 2001(Appadurai, , 2004Satterthwaite, 2001) has been successful in many cases (Boonyabancha & Kerr, 2018;d'Cruz & Satterthwaite, 2006). At the same time, scaling up interventions has proved difficult, and results have been highly uneven across contexts (Bolnick, 2016;Carolini, 2017;Horn, Mitlin, Bennett, Chitekwe-Biti, & Makau, 2018). Constraints and disparities in outcomes have predominantly been debated with reference to the transformative potential of various combinations of confrontational and negotiationbased civil society practices (Butcher & Frediani, 2014;Huchzermeyer, 2011;Millstein, Oldfield, & Stokke, 2003;Miraftab, 2009Miraftab, , 2012bRoy, 2009b). ...
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This article discusses how global ideas on co-production and citizenship built from below are translated into community mobilization and participatory planning practices in urban Malawi. It shows how limited national and local resources, disconnections from national and urban policies of redistribution, and a local politics shaped by both clientelism and democratic reforms create a glass ceiling for what global models of community mobilization and participation are able to achieve. It calls for a more systematic and empirically diverse research agenda to better understand how participatory discourses and practices embedded in grassroots organizing are transferred and mediated in place.
This paper undertakes a critical analysis of participation as employed in planning for the Mukuru informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2017, these settlements were declared a Special Planning Area (SPA) by the Nairobi City County Government, which triggered a participatory process aimed at developing an integrated development plan for the settlements. The SPA process, examined here as a mode of city-making, is understood as a political project that was aimed at reorienting power relations in the city and redefining the conditions of urban citizenship. It enabled the entry of the inhabitants of Mukuru into official domains of participation from which they engaged with other stakeholders in identifying pressing issues within the settlements, leading to co-produced interventions. The paper examines how participation was understood and tested in the SPA, its transformative aspects and some pitfalls that undermined the process.
Urbanisation is increasing the risk of mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria in cities, with resulting impacts on health and development. At the same time, cities worldwide are building and investing in urban resilience. It is not known to what extent and how cities are considering mosquito-borne diseases in their resilience strategies. This research uses a multi-site case study methodology, focused on Resilient Cities Network member cities Chennai (India), Paynesville (Liberia) and Medellín (Colombia), to understand the intersection between mosquito-borne diseases and city resilience. Data collection involved in-depth interviews with resilience representatives of each city and document review to explore perceptions of mosquito-borne diseases, their prioritisation in resilience planning and what resilience activities are implemented and how. Analysis showed that while mosquito-borne diseases are not considered explicitly as a resilience challenge, many resilience activities implemented by cities have co-benefits for mosquito-borne disease control or could be enhanced to realise this potential. For Resilient Cities Network member cities looking to integrate mosquito-borne disease control into their resilience approach, we recommend increasing awareness of interlinkages between city resilience and mosquito-borne diseases, leveraging multi-sectoral collaborations with co-benefits for mosquito-borne disease control, and engaging communities in urban planning and mosquito-borne diseases control efforts.
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The South African policy landscape regarding Human Settlement development reflects a progressive approach towards the in-situ upgrading of informal settlements. With the assistance of the World Bank and the Cities Alliance, the National Upgrading Support Programme (NUSP) was established in 2008 to facilitate the implementation of the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) which is further underpinned by the 2009 National Housing Code Part 3 Volume 4: Upgrading Informal Settlements. The policy intent is aimed at a holistic integration of informal settlements into the urban and socio-economic fabric of the greater metropolitan area with a strong focus on locally appropriate community participation (SA 2009:s 2(1)). Factors such as the careful maintenance of existing community survival networks as well as the harnessing of local knowledge and understanding of particular needs are given high priority in the development process (SA 2009:s 3(9)). Consideration of these matters is directly translated into the approach to the proposed township layout of a settlement, which must be done in consideration of community needs, current land use and densities and designing to minimize relocation (SA 2009:s 3(10)). Even in terms of the stand sizes and layout, the Housing Code favours an understanding of the existing conditions: Due to the informal layout of informal settlements it is not desirable to determine uniform or minimum stand sizes. Locally appropriate stand sizes should emerge through a process of dialogue between local authorities and residents. (SA 2009:s3(13)) In terms of the implementation of this process, the Housing Code makes allowance for the primary role players to be the state in its various functions. Resources are then included from the private sector by way of the professional services of engineers, town planning, land surveying, geotechnical services, Environmental Impact assessment (EIA) services and site supervision (SA 2009:s 2(5.3)). Along with the general provision for the housing process, the Act also allows for the establishment of a mediating body (Community Resource Organisations – CRO’s) that can offer a platform for technical assistance to the communities and financial accountability to the state. These can either be the municipalities themselves, Non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) or Community Based Organisations (CBO’s). The prerequisite is that they must be a legal entity through which the community may then apply for this funding. As can be seen from the short description of the policies relevant to the upgrading of informal settlements, a holistic and progressive context is established where the potential exists for a well-balanced involvement of state, civil society (private sector built environment professionals) and beneficiary communities in the development process. Yet, rising dissatisfaction among the urban poor has resulted in an increased level of service delivery protests (Tissington 2011), indicating an uncomfortable disjuncture between such policies and their implementation. This chapter focuses on two questions emanating from these policies: Firstly, given the apparently benign and progressive wording of these policies, wherein lies the Navigating hostile territory disjuncture with their implementation? Secondly, do these policies describe a potential role for architecture in this discourse and if so, how? In consideration of these two matters, the chapter will investigate the potential role of young architectural professionals to engage in the context of in-situ upgrading of informal settlements. Interviews conducted with Prof Marie Huchzermeyer (recognized publisher in the filed of informal settlement upgrade), Mr Steve Topham (director of NUSP), Prof Lone Poulsen (previous Dean of Wits School of Architecture) and Dr Mark Napier (previously of Urban Landmark and currently head researcher in Human Settlements at the CSIR) serve to situate some of the discussion in current discourse. Personal reflection on experiences in particular informal settlements further inform and contextualise the conclusions drawn in the chapter.
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Planning theory has shifted over time in response to changes in broader social and philosophical theory as well as changes in the material world. Postmodernism and poststructuralism dislodged modernist, rational and technical approaches to planning. Consensualist decision-making theories of the 1980s took forms of communicative and collaborative planning, drawing on Habermasian concepts of power and society. These positions, along with refinements and critiques within the field, have been hegemonic in planning theory ever since. They are, in most cases, presented at a high level of abstraction, make little reference to the political and social contexts in which they are based, and hold an unspoken assumption that they are of universal value, i.e. valid everywhere. Not only does this suggest important research methodology errors but it also renders these theories of little use in those parts of the world which are contextually very different from theory origin—in most cases, the global North. A more recent ‘southern turn’ across a range of social science disciplines, and in planning theory, suggests the possibility of a foundational shift toward theories which acknowledge their situatedness in time and place, and which recognize that extensive global difference in cities and regions renders universalized theorising and narrow conceptual models (especially in planning theory, given its relevance for practice) as invalid. New southern theorising in planning is drawing on a range of ideas on societal conflict, informality, identity and ethnicity. Postcolonialism and coloniality have provided a useful frame for situating places historically and geographically in relation to the rest of the world. However, the newness of these explorations still warrants the labelling of this shift as a ‘southern theorizing project’ in planning rather than a suggestion that southern planning theory has emerged.
Experiences of apartheid in South Africa have resulted in the association of shelter with citizenship, adding significance to the concept of “home”. This paper reviews experiences with grassroots efforts to make the government’s housing policy and programme more effective in addressing the needs of the urban poor. The experiences offer lessons relevant within and beyond South Africa. First, collaboration between state and civil society has been possible and has added substantively to the effectiveness of state programming. But, with a multiplicity of government agencies, the context is difficult. Housing construction has been constrained by delayed subsidy payments, and by a professionalization that limits opportunities for low-income residents. Second, community initiatives have had multiple incremental and positive influences on state policy and programmes, but substantive progress requires government adopting a more inclusive policy. Civil society agencies remain ambitious about the potential for securing substantive transformation, but this remains a work in progress.
Participatory governance has become a mainstream feature of city management, endorsed by governments and aid agencies as a platform for state-civil society engagement. Despite this popularity, criticisms are rife, focusing on agency problems of implementation alongside fundamental concerns related to structural power asymmetries. However, remarkable in its absence from these debates is the active role played by the urban spatial and temporal structural context in shaping citizenship experiences of participatory processes. Based on fieldwork in an electoral ward of Cape Town, South Africa, a geopolitical space that hosts a wide socio-economic range of citizens, the article demonstrates how the spatial and temporal landscape of the city is not a neutral technical backdrop for participatory processes, but active in creating and perpetuating inequalities that are institutionalised through processes of participatory governance. This ultimately produces a two-tier form of unequal citizenship.
Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) was created by the Indian Alliance and South African partners. SDI has affiliates in 33 countries and is probably the world's largest network of community peer-to-peer knowledge exchange in the area of slum/informal settlement upgrading. Common to the Indian Alliance's ‘Federation Model’ and the SDI methodology are a commitment to community organization and community-led upgrading that is undertaken in partnership with local government. In a context where it is projected that there will be two billion slum dwellers by 2030, the ambition is to enable tens of millions of households to obtain upgraded housing and services. This article questions the scalability and universality of the SDI methodology in Cape Town, where the SDI Secretariat is located. © The Authors 2016. Development Policy Review
Participation is promoted as the main engine for transformation in urban planning and slum upgrading in Malawi, despite the fact that most projects never get beyond the planning stage. Serious participation fatigue has been identified in many areas, but little is done to change the dominant script. This article comes out of an action research project with groups of urban poor and their organizations in Malawi. It analyses existing spaces in which participatory planning and slum upgrading take place, and reflects on what combinations of participatory spaces that might serve to enable change. The authors define political agency and locate potential transformation in agonistic spaces that open up for rupture and for people’s interest to be accepted as voice rather than noise. At the same time, participants in urban Malawi often wish to be included into existing frameworks rather than challenging them. The article therefore explores a third way between a programme of insurgent radical action and the more pragmatic consensus-based participation model practised in Malawi today. Here, the potential for transformation is to be found not within one group or one type of space, but in the ways in which different spaces of participation connect, overlap and partly constitute each other. To better understand the transformative potential of participation in the context of urban planning in Malawi, we thus propose a ‘trialectics’ of participatory spaces where ‘claimed’, ‘invited’ and ‘invented’ dimensions of participation connect, overlap, and open up for ways in which actors can meet.