Pragmatic Planning in the Communities

Peter Ngau, Associate Professor, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Transforming the way planners are trained and educated is one way to promote sustainable urban development in developing countries. By bringing students out of the schools and into impoverished districts, new solutions to local challenges can found and implemented. Mistra Urban Futures and the African Centre for Cities (ACC) are making progress in Kenya and South Africa.

Peter Ngau is a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and Director for the Center for Urban Research and Innovations (CURI), at the University of Nairobi, in Nairobi, Kenya. He began working with the ACC in 2007, and continued that work starting in 2011 with the KLIP and Mistra Urban Futures.

Q: What is the purpose of your research and why did you start your collaboration with the ACC and KLIP?

A: Through CityLab and working with Mistra Urban Futures and the ACC, we were trying to really transform the way we train planners. Many schools train planners through what we call studio, often organized inside the university by way of simulation. They collect data and see how it will play out in the university setting. With ACC we developed the idea of taking the studio outside the university and into the community. This, to me, is the greatest innovation with Mistra Urban Futures. 

When we started in 2007, there was a lack of good centres interested in African urban research and in our region in East Africa. Starting with the Planning School’s initiative, in 2011, we incorporated ACC and KLIP into the projects we already had established, as part of a network to exchange ideas. We feel that this was helping us, especially when we established the African Urban Research Institute, to strengthen the centres of research.

We do this is by documenting and sharing with other planners that this is not a technocratic science only. If planning is to change communities, we have to make sure that the interests of the community are included as well. This is pragmatic planning.

Q: What projects are you working on specifically with KLIP?

A: We are working with a CityLab, part of the Cape Town Mistra Urban Futures activities, on sanitation, in Mathare and Mukuru slums (Nairobi) and Kiandutu (Thika). [This] CityLab is really an attempt to introduce integrated sanitation – to solve the lack of basic water and sanitation. Many civil society groups are putting in water and toilets. But from our applied research point of view, we wanted to introduce the idea that a waste centre could do other things – solid waste recycling, be a meeting place for youth, and other activities to improve livelihoods.

Q: Was it successful?

A: First of all the community was reluctant – they found the idea very strange. We worked with an NGO already in the settlement to give them examples of where this had been done, to demystify the idea – how can we have water in the toilet? It was also a matter of making the place clean and organized, and to tell them the place will have to be managed. The community will have to figure out how to maintain the place – otherwise some people would come and break the doors, and people would throw garbage all over. It would not be lighted at night, and women would not be safe.

The idea was to really make this a centre of their community – we don’t have the money ourselves but we share the ideas and they are able to get money. Now there are two of these sites.

We shared our findings at a conference in November in Cape Town, at the Conference of Association of African Planning Schools.  We are also sharing the idea with planning schools in Uganda and Tanzania.


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