Informal settlements all over the world are in desperate need of redevelopment in more ways than one.  The people living within these settlements do not do so by choice, but by necessity. Many times the shacks in informal settlements are created for temporary housing because of new economic opportunities that can arise in large cities. The people who live in informal settlements are not uneducated. On the contrary, many possess the skill set to be competent in various jobs. Unfortunately, the temporary dwellings gradually transform into permanent residences as the economy fails to provide an adequate number of jobs. In the end, this unexpected shift from temporary housing to permanent housing brings forth some major, equally unexpected, issues. It is nearly impossible for a settlement to redevelop into a sustainable community without proper storm water management, lighting, sanitation facilities, and other important resources.

CT09Plan - Background 1Monwabisi Park in Khayelitsha is an example of a community that lacks these resources, which has caused problems and inconvenience to the community and has presented a major concern, and is one of 220 informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa. The city has implemented some improvements such as rudimentary water taps and bathrooms; however the majority of these are in a poor state of repair. This lack of infrastructure is due to a rapid migration to the township after apartheid. A 1999 census yielded a total population of 7,356 residents in Monwabisi Park (Sharp, Broadbridge, & Badstuebner, 1999), while in 2008 the population was estimated at 20,000 residents indicating that in less than ten years the population nearly tripled (WPI CTPC, 2008). This rapid population growth has reduced space for essential features such as community centers, public land, relocation housing, and most importantly roads.

Previous studies have been performed which have contributed to the redevelopment process of Monwabisi Park.  Some of these studies pertain specifically to Monwabisi Park, such as those covering areas such as laundry facilities, sanitation, alternative energy, building houses, economic development, crime reduction, and a baseline survey (WPI CTPC, 2008) &  (VPUU, 2009).  Despite the research that has been done in Monwabisi Park and the best practices found from other informal settlements around the world, there had not been a definitive plan for redevelopment acceptable to both the residents of Monwabisi Park and the City of Cape Town. A detailed, comprehensive plan that is possible for the City to implement and fully endorsed by the community at large must be found. As a first step towards accomplishing this goal, a better method of visualization would be valuable. Currently the park has only aerial pictures and hand drawn maps; such two dimensional representations are useful under many circumstances, but not sufficient for all purposes. Areas requiring topography (such as drainage or sewer systems) need more planning and visualization aids. Such aids could dramatically help with other problems as well, such as how to build roads in such a cramped environment. The construction of formal roads would aid in development immensely through increased commerce, safety, and accessibility. With these needs in mind, we have worked to propose improvements in as many areas as possible within our seven week time span in Cape Town.

One of the most obviously lacking elements within Monwabisi Park is roads.  The only two actual paved roads that the settlement interacts with are Steve Biko Way and Mew Way.  Within the Park itself, there are only a handful of dirt paths that are of a size relative to that of a formal road.  For the vast majority however, residents navigate throughout the Park via rough paths that weave between homes.  Most of these could not accommodate automobile travel, which makes navigation through the settlement extremely difficult.  Not only is this a burden to those who own automobiles, but it creates an even more serious problem for emergency vehicles.  Fires and medical emergencies are extremely difficult to address because emergency vehicles can directly and easily access only about 1/3 of the park (WPI CTPC, 2008).

CT09Plan - Background 2The lack of formal roads is strongly tied in to one of Monwabisi Park’s other problems, storm water management.  Heavy precipitation makes a quagmire out of many areas of the Park.  Footpaths and roads are prone to flooding which can take days to evaporate or absorb into the ground.  Some parts of Monwabisi Park are built upon rocky hillocks that have little or no absorbent ground. Previous efforts have been made to install traditional sewage systems, but the drains are constantly being used as garbage receptacles and often do not serve their purpose due to clogging.

As the quality of electricity is poor in the area, lighting is a constant problem.  Many of the paths and roads are poorly lit at night, and create havens for violence. After dark, many roads similar to the back road of the park become isolated and unsafe. According to park residents, over 55% of crime occurs between 6 pm and 6 am (VPUU, 2009).  High mast lighting is used effectively in some parts of the Park, but more must be done to make Monwabisi Park well-lit and safely navigable at night.

As mentioned before, Monwabisi Park interacts with two major roads, one of them being Mew Way.  On the Monwabisi side of Mew Way, the street is lined with businesses and path outlets entering the park.  Although it is essentially the commercial area of Monwabisi Park, no sidewalks exist and thus a dangerous environment exists for pedestrians.  The side of the road is well trodden, but also riddled with debris and prone to large puddles during poor weather. The flow of traffic on Mew Way is very fast, and consequently many fatalities have occurred because of reckless driving. An additional fact to consider is that many residents who live in the interior of the Park do own cars, and use these outlets to enter and exit the Park. The implementation of sidewalks will be crucial to making Mew Way safe for pedestrians and business owners.

All of the problematic infrastructure features seriously impact the overall safety of the park residents, whether it is sanitation, crime, or emergency situations.  However, like many informal settlements, Monwabisi Park has potential to become a formal settlement with a proper redevelopment plan.

Further Reading

In preparation for their two month project experience in Cape Town, WPI students spend seven weeks researching topics relevant to their proposed work. The following background topics represent our own preparation, supplemented by further research on-site.

PQP Proposal

Our proposal of what we would accomplish prior to leaving for Cape Town. Includes significant amount of background research as well as many preliminary ideas.

Synopsis of Spatial Mapping and Planning

Covers many past techniques of spatial mapping and planning all the way up to current techniques used today.  Also discusses the unique situation of urban planning for informal settlements.

Responses to the Informal Settlement in Hout Bay, South Africa

A case study about an informal settlement in Hout Bay, South Africa that was upgraded.  This section discusses the responses of people living both in and out of the settlement regarding safety and overall impact.

The Phola Park Informal Settlement

Phola Park is an informal settlement that shares many similarities to others in Cape Town, including Monwabisi Park.  It covers the redevelopment process and community issues that arose.

Infrastructure Design

Background information regarding roads, storm-water management, lighting and pedestrian safety.  Much of this information is central to our project and contains many important concepts.

Housing Organization

Information about the importance of housing design, the VPUU‘s housing proposal, and how housing layout affects the redevelopment process.

GIS Mapping

General information about GIS Mapping and using the computer as a visualization tool.  Also stresses the importance of GIS in urban planning and how it can provide many tools to aid in the planning process.

Topographic Modeling

General information about 3D and topographic models, and how they are useful in the planning process.  Also discusses ways to construct topographic models.