Redevelopment Tensions

Redevelopment Tensions

The redevelopment process of informal settlements is one that is often very complex and contentious. The information exchange between different parties is especially complicated, with strong cultural and political dimensions. A central theme of redevelopment is the issue of control over decision making, in particular the relationship between external parties and the communities. Non-government organisations (NGOs) in particular argue that community control over decision making is the key issue, and this has strong academic support (Huchzermeyer, 1999). However, it has also been argued that communities taking a bigger role in redevelopment could lead to isolation and fragmentation of the area (Abbott, 2000).

There is no definitive answer to who is right in this argument, but Abbott draws two conclusions from these conflicting points of view. First, if the ultimate objective of informal settlement upgrading is the sustainable development of informal settlements, in order to improve the quality of life of inhabitants and give them a more secure future, then it is necessary to be much more open in the exploring of development options. What this is basically saying is that in order for the redevelopment process to be a success, everyone needs to come together – community, government, NGOs etc. However, this brings up another issue of identifying the most successful approaches to move forward in the redevelopment process. Each party will most likely have their own unique ideas on how to proceed. Lines of communication are necessary to ensure the redevelopment process can keep moving forward at a reasonable pace.

Community Participation

The concept of community participation became very prominent during the 1980s (Botes and van Rensburg, 2000). While there has been some controversy over whether or not community participation is truly beneficial to redevelopment efforts, it is generally accepted that it has a positive effect (Choguill, 2009). However, there are a number of obstacles to prevent meaningful community involvement. Botes and van Rensburg claim there are internal and external obstacles. External obstacles include the role of development professionals,  the tendency among development agencies to apply selective participation, and their techno-financial bias. Internal obstacles refer to conflicting interest groups, gate-keeping by local elites, and alleged lack of public interest in becoming involved. It is clear that each obstacle has its own complexities and, when these factors compound, there could be a serious lack of community participation.

Botes and van Rensburg also propose 12 guidelines to help foster community involvement in redevelopment. They are:

  • Demonstrate an awareness of their status as outsiders to the beneficiary community and the potential impact of their involvement.

  • Respect the community’s indigenous contribution as manifested in their knowledge, skills and potential.

  • Become good facilitators and catalysts of development that assist and stimulate community based initiatives and challenge practices which hinders people releasing their own initiatives and realize their own ideals.

  • Promote co-decision-making in defining needs, goal-setting, and formulating policies and plans in the implementation of these decisions. Selective participatory practices can be avoided when development workers seek out various sets of interest, rather than listening only to a few community leaders and prominent figures.

  • Communicate both programme/project successes and failures – sometimes failures are more informative.

  • Believe in the spirit of ‘Ubuntu’ – a South African concept encompassing key values such as solidarity, conformity, compassion, respect, human dignity and collective unity.

  • Listen to community members, especially the more vulnerable, less vocal and marginalized groups.

  • Guard against the domination of some interest groups or a small unrepresentative leadership clique. This article pleads for a co-operative spirit and for a watch for oligarchic tendencies among community leadership.

  • Involve a cross-section of interest groups to collaborate as partners in jointly defining development needs and goals, and designing appropriate processes to reach these goals.

  • Acknowledge that process-related soft issues are as important as product related hard issues. Any investment in shelter for the poor should involve an appropriate mix of technological and social factors, where both hardware and software are developed together. In this regard many scholars recognize the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to project planning and development. The inclusion of a social scientist and someone with the appropriate skills from within the community, to work together with planners, architects and engineers is very important. A multi-disciplinary approach will only succeed if technical professionals recognize and include the contributions of their social scientist partners in the planning process.

  • Aim at releasing the energy within a community without exploiting or exhausting them.

  • Empower communities to share equitably in the fruits of development through active processes whereby beneficiaries influence the direction of development initiatives rather than merely receive a share of benefits in a passive manner.

Based on this list and obstacles faced, making a more active and involved community is a very daunting task. The effort made in garnering community involvement could actually take resources and time away from the redevelopment effort. However, it is clear that there needs to be some facilitation between stakeholders and community. Development in the full sense of the word is not possible without appropriate community participation (Huchzermeyer, 1999). In a survey done by the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, community leaders of informal settlements said that people need to be involved in redevelopment. When people feel part of the development, this is likely to speed up the process and ensure that the real needs are met in order to enable a sustainable development effect. For this to happen a “free flow of information” is important (Bolnick, 2004).The approach to community involvement is very delicate and will require motivated community members, stakeholders and redevelopment professionals.