Scene 1: A Taste of Flamingo


Flamingo Crescent is an informal settlement in the suburb of Lansdowne, an industrial area of Cape Town.  The site was originally an abandoned lot, half of which was repurposed into a parking lot and the other half left empty.  The space was largely used as a squatter camp until 12 years ago, when the City relocated the urban homeless into one consolidated space.  The area has been developed by residents over the past 12 years into informal housing.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team
WPI Professors: Scott Jiusto, Lorraine Higgins
City Employees: Anneline Plaaitjies, Estralita Kwalo, Reggie O’Brien
ISN Staff: Terrance Johnson and Melanie Manuel
CORC Liaison: Sizwe Mxobo
Flamingo Crescent Residents: Lenrika, Mark, Elizabeth, and Aunt Marie


The Flamingo Crescent informal settlement in the industrial area of Lansdowne.


a taste of flamingo

A community member picking up trash in Flamingo Crescent

After touring another settlement, Bonnytoun, in the morning, our convoy pulled up onto the sidewalk in an industrial sector uncharacteristic of the city we knew and the informal settlements we had been to.  Anneline instructed our group to hide anything we wanted to leave in the car in the trunk and roll up and lock the windows.  We gathered into a tight group and crossed the street into an informal settlement called Flamingo Crescent.  We stepped over a low metal pipe signifying our entry into the settlement and into a puddle formed from a leaking water tap- the only tap we found in the settlement.  We moved as a single large group into the open space ahead of us, greeted by a member of the project steering committee, Auntie Marie wearing a floral dress and a bright yellow hat.  She led us through Flamingo Crescent explaining to us some of the general community concerns with the project.  As we approached her structure, she expressed her desire to keep what she had made her home, rather than attain a new shack like many residents would get through re-blocking. Constructed from a fire kit from the city, Auntie Marie had taken the time and money to personalize it.  From the outside we could see she lived in a cluster with a shared outdoor cobble stone court yard and painted exterior.

auntie marie

Flamingo Crescent community member Auntie Marie in Lenrika’s billiards room

Auntie Marie works several days a week at a spaza shop she owns in the train station, though she remains on a pension and doesn’t need to work. Instead of relaxing, she prefers to keep busy and make extra pocket change.  She has hopes to get a larger spaza shop and to open a second shop in Flamingo Crescent to sell pizza and other goods on the weekends.

Throughout our tour we saw Flamingo Crescent community members.  The community proved large (in comparison to the other settlements we’d been in) and diverse in age and race, but as we walked, the blank stare given to us, the group of strangers walking into their home with large backpacks and an obvious hesitant air, seemed a collective facial expression. There were many small children watching us carefully and following us around.  In contrast to the children in other settlements we’d visited, some of these children wore no clothing and most wore no shoes; their faces were streaked with dust and dirt and when not watching our group pass by, most were entertaining themselves with nails, wood, rocks and other common objects found in this more industrial settlement.

Many residents sat by their homes, washing clothes or cooking with hand-held grills over a fire in metal cans.  On several occasions, relatively young, well-dressed individuals clearly from outside the community visited briefly and promptly left.

Our tour concluded in one of the resident’s homes in the front of the community.  The home doubled as a spaza shop visible through a small T shaped hole in the wall large enough to pass goods and money through.  The house had a cement floor and wood walls decorated with laminated articles and posters.  We filed into the side room and stood around a pool table covered in two floral sheets.  The room was largely lit naturally through a strip of the roof made of transparent plastic, but it also contained two LED bulbs.  This is the only structure in the settlement with electricity.

Standing around the pool table, we each introduced ourselves to the four present members of the project steering committee, Auntie Marie, Elizabeth, Lenrika, and Mark.  Melanie asked “how can we work together?” We then discussed the community leaders’ visions for community development.  Most notably, they were interested in the special reorganization of structures to optimize open spaces. In these spaces they hoped to create a multi-purpose building that may be used as a crèche during the day, a home work space in the afternoon, a soup kitchen in the evenings, and a church on Sundays. While the community’s tangible goal was for a building, they expressed their genuine desire to better themselves. Our work and project was cut out for us.


Our first visit to Flamingo Crescent, while at times unnerving, was very exciting for our group.  Unlike 7de Laan, in Flamingo we had really found a community unified in a collective goal and willing to create a change for themselves and their community, ready to take the opportunities presented to them in the re-blocking project.  They have a more centralized process with elected leadership serving on the Project Steering Committee.  They had also already developed a relationship with key NGOs including CORC and ISN and already gone through enumeration processes, developed significant saving and is awaiting construction scheduled to begin on November twentieth.  Additionally, the community was in an ideal stage for our project as there are several areas that we could support the community in their upgrading by acting as facilitators throughout the construction process while also working with the community leaders on a few social initiatives.  As a group, after visiting the two potential communities, we decided our time would best be spent in Flamingo Crescent. We were eager to begin work.