Cape Town Project Centre Context

The WPI Cape Town Project Centre was established in Cape Town, South Africa in 2007. The project centre primarily works with impoverished communities. Our group is working with the community inhabiting the informal settlement, Joe Slovo Park, in Milnerton outside of Cape Town. Our project is centred on supporting the community initiative for the reblocking of Joe Slovo Park. Reblocking is the reorganisation of shacks to promote a safer urban environment, improve services and access, and improve overall quality of life of the shack dwellers. The community, partnered with the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC), has begun efforts to Reblock Joe Slovo Park, and our goal is to work alongside key leaders to assist community members with a variety of issues including improvement of water and sanitation services, community services, and co-researcher development.

In order to better understand the conditions in which we will be working, and the interactions we may have in Joe Slovo Park, it is imperative to investigate the work of past WPI students in Cape Town since the Cape Town Project Centre’s inception in 2007. While most every WPI CTPC project has some context to our project, we will site a few key projects that will help us on a path to a better solution to informal settlement upgrading in Joe Slovo Park.

2007: The Search to Promote Sustainable Living in Cape Town Housing Practices

The mission of 2007’s project centre was to understand the basic needs and solutions that WPI students could address, and to set a standard platform of community influence for future project groups to build upon.  Based on 2007’s Communicating Housing Redevelopment Practices in the City of Cape Town Housing Directorate in Order to Build Healthy Communities project, the five categories of focus investigate areas including community participation, green technology, mixed-use development, community facilities, and interdepartmental information.  The main problems that the group found included job creation, social activity awareness, and basic services availability, which branched from landscape and forced reblocking difficulties.  Sustainable development is a critical issue and is summarized as the philosophy of creating a balance between economy, environment, and equity.  By utilising a community-based knowledge management system that government departments also had access to, the group raised awareness to primary stakeholders in the settlements of how to model their improvements on local success cases, and the proper contact information for bottom-up collaboration (CTPC Sustainable Housing 2007).

2008 – 2009: Informal Settlement Upgrading With Respect to Physical and Social Factors


The 2008 Building Team in Monwabisi Park examined the building structures in which the community members lived. The teams examined various shacks and gathered the considerations of the community members, as well as their cultural and social needs. They discovered a great deal about the housing issues that the community felt were the most crucial including storm water management, protection against sand storms, as well as heating and cooling. Through this process and their collaboration with Ecobeam, a building company based out of Cape Town, the team was able to come up with multiple cluster housing recommendations or ideas for the community to implement in the future with the help of Ecobeam. By identifying the simplicity, feasibility, and ease of construction of Ecombeam houses, the team was better able to directly note benefits of using these types of buildings over the current structures in Monwabisi Park. The Building Team’s work in Monwabisi provides our group with information regarding housing structures and the future recommendations we will provide to the community of Joe Slovo Park.  CORC will play a big role in our project, much like Ecobeam did with the building team, providing a wealth of information on informal settlement upgrading acting as guides for our work. The Building Team also examined different cluster arrangements of shacks, which will help our team come up with reblocking recommendations (CTPC Building Team 2008).

Mapping for Spatial Redevelopment, another 2008 CTPC team, also has strong implications on the work we will be doing JSP. The team again worked in Monwabisi Park, assessing and providing suggestions for spatial redevelopment in the park as a result of overpopulation of the informal settlement. Issues resulting from informal settlements include first and foremost – informality. Meaning residents illegally settled on private land where future plans of organisation of houses, roads and access to emergency vehicles were not taken into account. They lack the careful planning of a city which leads to issues like lack of road access, preventing emergency vehicles from navigating the settlement, as well and poorly lit neighborhoods, leading to violence and crime (murder, rape, drug use, etc). The team also noted that a majority of the population are younger than 45, with a many below the age of 20, the issue of childhood education and community centres is also a large concern when going through the informal settlement upgrading process. Due to limited open space within Monwabisi Park, overall relocation was ruled out as a feasible method of informal settlement upgrade. The group came up with the concept of “redevelopment seeds.” These “seeds” include crèches, community centres, and redeveloped roads. They also provided plans to reorganise the shacks into more effective patterns, freeing up land space. Joe Slovo Park lies in a similar state as Monwabisi Park and both communities suffer the same resulting problems of informality due to poor the planning of the settlements. Some of the informal settlement upgrade strategies adopted in Monwabisi Park can definitely be utilised in the reblocking and upgrade of Joe Slovo Park (CTPC Mapping Team 2008).


The Sustainable Redevelopment through Urban Planning and Mapping project group in 2009 focused their efforts on improving the layout of Monwabisi Park. One aspect of their project focused on reducing crime by implementing more streetlights. Crime was reported occurring mainly during hours of darkness, and streetlights help to prevent this crime. The challenge was where to insert them and what style should be used. Taller lights are more expensive but cover more area with light, while shorter lights cost less, but illuminate less area, although more brightly. In our project, Joe Slovo Park is experiencing crime, and communal toilets are unsafe at night. Implementing lighting in the area is a possibility to help maintain a safer environment (CTPC Mapping and Planning Team 2009).

The 2009 project group also created a topographical map of Monwabisi Park. Using this map and GIS they began the process of reorganizing the park to make room for emergency vehicles to access the entire park. The park could not afford to have standard width roads however as this would cut down on the amount of houses that could fit in the current area. Instead they chose to expand upon larger informal footpaths, and turn them into formal footpaths that were large enough for emergency vehicles to fit down. In our project, Joe Slovo Park is extremely dense with little access available for emergency vehicles, and no room for formal roads, so something similar could be executed (CTPC Mapping and Planning Team 2009).

2010: Incorporating the Analysis of Community Assets in Informal Settlement Upgrading

In regards to the community aspects of our project in Joe Slovo Park, the Community Assets Project from 2010 contains important background information about asset-based community development. The 2010 group focused on interviewing many community members involved in a variety of community assets including faith-based organisations, community halls, crèches, spaza shops and the local safety patrol. Within these assets the group created a “skill inventory” system focusing on the various skills present in the community at the time. The skill inventory was compiled of communication skills, leadership skills, entrepreneurial skills, cultural knowledge, caring, building, crafting, musical and engineering/automotive skills. It was important for the students and the co-researchers to work together on recognising the skills present within the community. This way, the co-researchers understood how each skill could positively impact the community’s in situ upgrading (CTPC Assets Team 2010).

The data collected by this group could be useful for our work in Joe Slovo Park when considering the role of the community in the reblocking process. Using the “skill inventory” programme created by the Assets group might help us organise the skills currently present in Joe Slovo Park and give us a basic understanding of how each skill could best be harnessed for maximum impact within the community. In order to use these skills, many community members will need to be interviewed, something that will probably require more time and effort than is feasible by our group in seven weeks. Thus, in addition to our reblocking efforts, emphasis needs to be placed upon continuation of community interviews by co-researchers once we leave.

Our project will not be as focused on community assets as the 2010 group was but portions of their methods will be helpful in order for us to better understand the community in Joe Slovo Park.  A challenge for our group will be the incorporation of these techniques while still assisting the reblocking efforts of our sponsors within the seven-week time limit. This project contains very important information regarding the various uses and diversity of assets within an informal settlement. Due to time constraints and sponsor clarifications, use of the Assets-based skills inventory will not necessarily be used in Mshini Wam but rather, while researching during the prep-term, considering the different types of skills and applications of those skills will be important for making headway on the ground in Cape Town. For instance, if the project in Mshini Wam is not reblocking but service provision, then the Community Centre could jumpstart using these assets based in the community.

2011: Sanitation and Responding to Community Needs

Innovating Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Upgrades in Langrug project speaks to several themes that are important to community development in Joe Slovo Park. The recognition of the need for community involvement and work is the most relevant. The authors address some of the issues derived from top down improvements or efforts that do not fully take into account community needs and desires. The multi-function sanitation stations also demonstrate the usefulness of combining necessities with things the community desires. For example, a community-meeting hall that also has bathrooms is less likely to be vandalised and destroyed (CTPC WaSH Team 2011).

In 2011, a valuable lesson was learned by a WPI project group expecting to work on toilet and sanitation systems upkeep. Upon arriving in the informal settlement of Langrug, the team spoke with community members and their project sponsors. Due to their focus on community input they were able to discover that greywater, or stagnate polluted water, was a far greater issue for the settlement. The team promptly refocused their project to reflect this.  Addressing Greywater Management Issues in Langrug Using a Sustainable Reiterative Process became their new project name (CTPC Greywater Team 2011).


Collaboration and community input are two critical factors

to the Cape Town Project Center’s sustainable improvements.