Ikhayalami is non-profit organization whose primary aim is to develop and implement affordable technical solutions for Informal Settlement Upgrading. These are designed to be imbedded into a community-driven process and scaled up with the support of the State. I had the opportunity to listen to who I believe to be the founder of the organization, Andy Bolnick. Her lecture described a little bit of background into the population density in informal settlements and the problems in Cape Town that they present. For example it is estimated that 50% of the population of South Africa lives in some type of informal housing (although these numbers are hard to confirm). There is a huge number of people living in this type of housing and the numbers seem to be growing rather than diminishing.
Most government RDP housing in the past has been structured around a top to bottom approach and moving residents to newly built housing on secured land. The problem with this method is that most residents are forced to move from their current homes, wait for housing to be built, and then move into housing that is usually beyond their current economic means. There has been a shift in thinking in many organizations that realize that there are many problems that correlate to this type of thinking. Instead of having a top to bottom approach, many organizations like Ikhayalami, have started using a bottom to top method were the residents and community lead the developmental changes needed to take place.
Another huge shift in thinking has been the move towards incremental development and planning. Instead of entirely shifting and building new communities Ikhayalami aims to build from what is already standing. First the organization pulls the community together and asks them to help collaborate on a new layout for their shacks. The shacks are then re-blocked to allow for future infrastructure including; roads, electricity, and piping. The re-blocking also allows for public space, courtyards, and areas for people to feel safe to mingle and interact. Next the shacks themselves are upgraded. This type of incremental planning doesn’t displace people, can be quickly implemented, and gives the owners of the shacks the ability to slowly improve their homes and move toward ownership of the land.
Andy gave us a small tour of one of the largest and fastest growing townships in Cape Town, Khayelitsha. While in the bus, she pointed out the other projects that have included the idea of incremental development without utilizing the idea of re-blocking. The shacks were lined up in military barrack style. People were not given any room to hang laundry, relax outside, or areas for the children to play. The atmosphere in these communities seemed stark and devoid of interaction compared to the outside areas and the Ikhayalami developed community. The community that Andy showed us that Ikhayalami was involved in building included improved shacks but also a planned layout determined with collaboration from the community.
The planned Ikhayalami community had a different feeling to it than the other shacks I’ve seen so far in Khayelitsha. The first thing I noticed was the amount of public space now available to the residents. The shacks were set up in blocks or nodes with their own courtyard with a central road leading through the center of the community. The doors to almost all the shacks were open welcoming people to flow in and out. The blocks also allowed room for people to hang their clothing in more centralized areas. The courtyards in front of the blocks of shacks were full of children running and playing. The entire atmosphere seemed much more relaxed, safe, and inviting.
I like the idea of giving residents a feeling of pride and safety in the place they live. Allowing the residents the opportunity to help improve their own home, instead of the government handing out free housing, seems to give the residents a better sense of dignity. Handing a person living in poverty a free house doesn’t solve the problem of poverty. Free housing simply tries to fix one of the symptoms of poverty instead of thinking about solving the actual problem and its causes. Apartheid ended over 20 years ago, yet Cape Town is still dealing with some of its side effects. If this teaches us anything, it tells us that changes happen slowly and incrementally. It makes sense that the idea of shelter should be treated in the same way.