The Infrastructure Research

During the preparatory term, the WPI Infrastructure team centered their research on how to best approach the informal settlement upgrading process.  After extensive research, seven main steps of informal settlement upgrading were agreed upon.  Since informal settlement upgrading is not a linear process, each step overlaps the other steps to a certain degree but the following order is the general order of the upgrading process.  The level of depth that our team had time to go into for each step varied, some of the more in depth steps being mobilisation, roads, stormwater management, and reblocking.

Step 1: Mobilisation

The first step in the upgrading process is the identification or development of a meeting space.  This meeting space serves as a neutral ground for all parties to communicate.  In many cases, a community building may already be in place, otherwise one may be constructed.  Not only will its building unite the community through a common project, bridging the community together and developing a working relationship with community workers, but it will also create a literal meeting space in which relationships may be built hence forth.  It is a place for the community members to feel safe discussing opportunities for their settlement with stakeholders and for residents to offer their input and be heard. Additionally, it will provide a neutral space for interviewing community members through the enumeration and savings plan process.  Eventually, the meeting space can be used to model upgrading strategies for individual implementation.

Step 2: Roads

When upgrading roads it is important to evaluate the existing conditions of the roads currently in place.  The following is an example of the five rapid evaluation focuses that our team devised.


Existing roads and pathways should be evaluated for their current usability and efficiency as a road.  Key physical characteristics should also be assessed. Some of these characteristics include surface condition, roughness, width available, slope, curvature, drainage utilities, and foundation.


Natural environmental factors should be looked at during the evaluation process.  Terrain, rainfall patterns, soil, material availability, and sensitive areas are all factors to consider.


When assessing roads, surveys can be done to gain topographical information.  Unfortunately many times these can be inaccurate and include human error.  An alternative method would be to see if GPS data is available for the area from the local Public Works Department.


It is important to know who is currently in charge of the construction and design of roads when anticipating building or replacing new roads.  It is also important to gather information on who currently maintains the roads of interest.


Social Roads contain a certain social element due to the nature of bringing people closer together.  It is important to analyze current land-use patterns and user characteristics of the land near roads.

Step 3: Water and Sanitation

Water and sanitation access for informal settlements is a direct link to the health conditions of the community making it a priority when upgrading.  Greywater (from dishwashing, bathing, cooking, etc.) and blackwater (sewage wastewater) are two of the primary types of wastewater that need to be managed.  Our team researched different toilet alternatives (chemical, composting, low flow) and sewage alternatives (septic, on-site removal, sewer) that could be implemented in informal settlements.

Step 4: Stormwater Management

Our stormwater management research focused primarily on drainage strategies and prevention strategies.

Drainage Strategiesswale

  • Swales/Channels
    • Channels and swales provide a space for water to drain away from a community either into a wetland or an area where that water is allowed to soak into the ground.  Channels can vary from simple trenches to vegetated to stone and cement channels. Swales are similar to channels, but rather than merely redirecting water swales tend to be wider, lined with rocks, and vegetated on top.  This encourages water to seep into the ground while it is being redirected
  • Barriers
    • Barriers are methods that prevent water from entering households.  Some common barriers are fencing, rocks, and sand.  These strategies are effective in that they prevent the entrance of water into homes, but they do not help with the absorption of water into the ground.
  • Wetlands
    • Wetlands offer a location for rain and runoff water to flow towards.  They are often large areas of land, filled with vegetation, so that significant amounts of water can be contained and absorbed.  This creates a location for water to collect outside of the settlement in a safe environment while also creating an area for many various plants and animals to exist.
  • Soakaways
    • Soakaways can be as simple as planting vegetation in strategic locations to encourage the absorption of water via roots.  More complicated soakaways can include drainage systems with perforated piping encouraging the gradual absorption of water into the ground

Prevention Strategies

  • Stiltingstilting
    • Stilting involves raising the house onto stilts up to a few feet in height so that water can flow underneath the floor of the house
  • Palletspallets
    • Pallets are similar to stilting in that they raise the elevation of the floor, only to a lesser extent.  Pallets are also cheaper and more easily available
  • Concrete Flooringconcrete
    • Concrete flooring is an effective way of preventing seepage.  Concrete can be expensive though and concrete will be cold during the rainy season
  • Sandbag Methodsandbag
    • The sandbag method involves lining the perimeter of the house with sandbags and raising the interior floor level so that the sandbags can prevent it from being washed away

Step 5: Reblocking


Community members looking over a reblocked CAD layout

Reblocking is a process developed by Shack Dwellers International (SDI) based primarily on the spatial reconfiguration of shacks in informal settlements.  Through reblocking, shacks are rearranged and reconstructed slightly to maximize open public space in the settlement while minimizing residential disruption.  In this way, reblocking is considered an in-situ process due to its minimal disruption of resident’s lives throughout the duration of the project.

Reblocking is a pivotal part of informal settlement upgrading because it envelops many of the other strategies including roads, and stormwater management.  The improved arrangement of shacks allows for optimization of service delivery and emergency vehicle access to the informal settlements by increasing the public space for wider roads.  Reblocking also works in conjunction with stormwater management techniques in upgrading shack foundations on raised platforms and the settlements graded to prevent flooding. Reblocking is made possible by the commitment and manual labour of community members, a bottom up strategy that gives back to the community through not only residential upgrades, and the creation of jobs but also the development of skills.

Step 6: Electricity

Our team did not focus on the Electricity step but did find that not all informal settlements have electricity access.  One of the goals of upgrading is to provide a fair distribution of electrical services.

Step 7: Community Centre

A community can benefit from a community centre because it provides a common area for the community to gather hold certain functions.  Some uses of a community centre can include but are not limited to:

  • WaSH facility

    community center

    An example layout of a community centre

  • office spaces
  • crèche
  • library
  • garden
  • park
  • fencing
  • recycling collection depot
  • composting facility
  • spaza shops