Scene 14: Engineering the Future


Half of the project team went to a meeting with the City of Cape Town informal settlements department’s planners and engineers. The purpose of this meeting was to share our views of the project with the department and for them to share their goals with us.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team (5)
City Employees: Lutz, Gugu, Siraaj, Waleed


The City of Cape Town Civic Centre.


We arrived at the conference room in the Civic Centre for our first engineering meeting to find Gugu, Waleed, and Siraaj sitting around the table with a new person. This new face was introduced as Lutz, another city planner within the department. Through our conversation, we all gained a clearer understanding of one another’s intentions with the Spine Road Settlements.

The City’s main concentration was in improving 7de Laan in order to attract the residents of Plot 9, City Mission, and Masincedane to 7de Laan temporarily for up to five years.  At that point, the city would begin to develop formal residential housing to increase the value of the area.  The overall plan of the City was to establish formal, brick and mortar, housing in a currently unoccupied area above Spine Road for the current residents of the four informal settlements.

Previously, we were under the impression that residents would continue to live in informal housing until their names came up on the housing waitlist. However, the city instead says they intend to move all residents, regardless of their status on the wait list, to formal brick and mortar houses after this developmental relocation process.

While the city shared their intentions, we were able to grant the department some insight into the communities.  In addition to existing infrastructure such as electricity usage, water taps, and chemical toilets, we shared with them the community’s safety concerns and aspirations.  The community was concerned mostly for their children’s safety and future.  To this purpose, they ultimately wanted housing and jobs.  However, we stressed these goals would only be reasonable for a long term project.  More immediate concerns include a local playground for the children to play safely, a cross walk to cross Spine Road safely to school and work, more reliable public electricity at night, and social services.

Because the City’s plans could take more than 20 years to move residents to formal housing, Lutz brought up simple motivational and empowerment projects within the community. We explained how we had considered simple initiatives to maintain momentum within the community while the planning takes place.  Several ideas included a remedy to reduce flies, clean up projects/containers, recycling programs, social service days, a soup kitchen, a community garden, simple grey water management strategies and education, and the Litre of Light project.

We explained how established Plot 9  is in comparison to 7de Laan and City Mission and Lutz promptly saw an opportunity for self improvement and creation of jobs. If the builders from Plot 9 and other skilled workers from 7de Laan could begin improvement plans within the community, the residents might take more pride in the improvements and better maintain them.  This community based development was critical for the possible off-grid sanitation systems proposed by Siraaj and Waleed. As they put it, residents would feel more obligation towards the sustainability of a self-constructed facility.

Waleed and Siraaj then brought up several large scale improvements for the community including a WaSH and combined playground facility, roads, and grey water management alternatives.  Alternatively to the older WaSH facilties implemented in Langrug, new facilities would feature concealed pipes and more sustainable construction.  Although the specifics of these projects have not been determined, it was clear that there would be a significant job opportunity through these projects for the skilled residents in 7de Laan and Plot 9.

Lutz then promised to send us road codes, legal regulations, and other information concerning the building of these infrastructure aspects. The community also would not be monetarily responsible for any of the infrastructure improvements involving water access, sanitation, or roads. However, residents would have to contribute to the cost of the formal housing, and updated electricity since they have been using public city electricity that was not theirs for free.

If the community would like electricity services to be provided, the connection fee would be waived, however they would only receive 60 units free per month, a sixth of the average formal residential house.  The residents would be responsible for the minimum monthly payment if they wanted additional electricity and their rates would go up if their usage increased. The department stressed the Strandfontein project team could further investigate residents interest in monetary contribution through on site interviews.

In the discussion of a trash system, we mentioned the littered community and the lack of an organized trash system.  Gugu encouraged us to investigate interest into a potential recycling project in conjunction with a waste management program to employ community members.  Because the city would not pay for recycling, we could also contact the Recycling team to investigate Blue Sky’s interest in a recycling pick up in the Strandfontein area for a monetary compensation.  Additionally, bringing a recycling program to 7de Laan may be able to work in conjunction with the existing Strandfontein Village’s recycling program and help develop a relationship between the formal and informal communities.

 The city hoped that informal settlement improvements would help attract the other communities to consolidate. The improvements, both small and large scale, having only been meant to temporarily suffice the community as formal houses are at least 20 years away.  As a team, we will have to help clarify this with the community carefully as to not upset anyone.

The city did however feel there are several plausible large improvements for the community, including those we previously discussed. Infrastructural improvements such as individual flush toilet facilities to each shack personal water taps would be possible.

After the community meeting, we hoped to have a better idea of residents’ desires. In preparation, we would develop digital representations of the infrastructure layout for the meeting with our co-researchers after the community meeting.  Additionally, we would utilize these maps for further planning with the engineers and planners in a meeting we organized for next Friday at 8.  We would then discuss the demarcation of plots so there would be an understanding of where properties would end and could begin to know where public infrastructure would be planned. There would be no moving of shacks but water taps, toilets, and utility poles could easily be relocated to facilitate construction of roads and other public infrastructure.

At this point in the project, the city would like us to focus strictly on infrastructural improvements in 7de Laan.  They would like us to develop a proposal with several options for infrastructure reorientation so they could facilitate the construction of individual toilet and water facilities in addition to communal amenities including a WaSH facility, a soup kitchen, and a park.  Meanwhile, we would plan to use the small upgrading strategies to gain momentum.


This meeting was very important for the future of our project. We now feel we have a handle on what is expected from us and are looking forward to pursuing it. It was nice to be introduced to a more broad idea of what the project would eventually be accomplishing as it gave us a realistic goal of what to accomplish.