Scene 2: Breaking Ground


The Flamingo team members were going into work for a normal work day. The team knew that it will be full of planning, since a week long break was approaching. Also, the night before we had been told that the contractors would be on site.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team
Flamingo Crescent Residents
City Employees: Estralita Kwalo, Reggie O’Brien, Leon Poleman
ISN Liaison: Terrence Johnson
CORC Liaison: Sizwe Mxobo


The Flamingo Crescent informal settlement.


On Tuesday, we drove up to the settlement and saw a man driving a pick axe into the ground. We knew that the contractors were going to be there, but we were not expecting much to occur. The contractor’s prior visit consisted of surveying the land and analyzing where the sewage system and road would be. However, this time they were actually doing manual labor. The man we encountered at the entrance of the settlement was searching for the current sewage pipe. The depth of the pipe was unknown to the contractors and they did not want to run the risk of hitting or wrecking the current lines. Although they did not begin further digging once the pipe depth was found, this was just the beginning of a day of important findings.

The sewer contractor determining the depth of the existing sewer main

The sewer contractor determining the depth of the existing sewer main

The contractors had finally begun their work and so had the community. The contractor  not only focused on the sewage depth, but the location of the new sewage lines as well. Therefore, as the team arrived and walked through the settlement, we observed big X marks on a few structures. This brought some unusual movement inside the community, as some residents will have to be relocated earlier than planned to accommodate the construction. One of the residents expressed his concern, as he did not have a place to go after his shack was demolished.  Later in the day, a plan was developed between Sizwe, Terrence and the community leaders in order to demolish the marked shacks and temporarily build a couple of them in the open space near the road. Even though they knew some improvisation might be required, all parties involved understood the importance of resolving the problem as soon as possible to guarantee the process’s success.

Meanwhile, when the CAD team went into Lenrika’s shack to begin their work for the day, a bulk of information was presented by the residents. Large maps were laid out on the table with the savings and potential shack arrangement of the respective households. The savings were quickly checked over as that was an overlay on the current spatial arrangement and were fixed where needed. The potential layout map however, began an animated discussion.

Due to the structural dimensions of the shack material  provided by Ikayalami, the shacks had to be shifted slightly from the cardboard map made by the residents earlier in the reblocking process. Elizabeth, a community leader, was very clear in her dislike of this new layout and presented to us that they wanted to be close with each other, specifically in the middle, so that they are able to close themselves off at night. Elizabeth, Lenrika, and Mark then went on to express their thoughts on how to change the layout to best fit the community.

They brought up the idea of opening more space in one of the back open areas to allow for a park that would be well removed from the road and would allow the children to safely play and be supervised. We were also enlightened as to who does not get along with each other and who would not be okay with the moves that we made in the layout.

When the residents were discussing enclosing their clusters with doors facing inward, Sizwe brought up the issue of having “dead space” on the road that would not be under surveillance from anyone. In response, the residents mentioned that they would put in a second door or windows on the road side to maximize the safety of the community. From this meeting the WPI students were able to get a better idea of what the community wants and how to please both them and the non-governmental organisations.


Showing up to Flamingo Crescent and actually seeing a man with a pick axe digging to find the sewage pipe made us look forward to our upcoming time here. When we had pushed for construction to start, the project manager joked about men coming in with pick axes. Now it was finally happening. The project was moving forward and showing us the community investment.  We were impressed by the lead taken by the community in that moment when they faced a challenge with the layout and need to demolish shacks immediately Through this day we also realized how valuable input from co-researchers can be. They were a great resource, a voice for the community, and they became part of designing a more suitable map layout.  Seeing the effort the community is investing makes us want to keep going, to give more and more of our time, and to seek out a way to help.