The Kitui Learning Studio recorded yet another milestone, following a successful review session conducted jointly by Centre for Urban Research and Innovation (CURI), University of Nairobi and Shack/Slum Dwellers International-Kenya (SDI-Kenya). The review session was held on the 24th June, at the YMCA Statehouse House Road, Nairobi and was attended by project members from both sides of the partnership.
The review session was planned to evaluate the progress of the studio, review the outcomes of the situational analysis phase, and subsequently plan for the next phase, of data engagement with community and county government. The session began with a presentation by the project assistants and the studio students, focusing on outcomes of the data gathering phase that was done in March-April, 2016. The presentations were done in the form of pin-up maps and posters, and a power-point presentation. The presentation mainly addressed the following topics: location context, housing and tenure, infrastructure and basic services, food safety, social amenities, governance and environmental issues. These findings were drawn from analysis of data and information obtained through: settlement and marketing profiling activities, household survey data analysis, participatory mapping, and Focused Group Discussions. The presentation was followed by comments from the project leaders, studio coordinator and the studio facilitator.
It was observed that the studio team had gathered and analysed vital data on the town’s 5 informal settlements: Mjini, Mosquito, Kalundu, Majengo and Kunda-Kindu, 3 main markets (Kalundu, Kunda-Kindu and Kithombani) and profiled informal economic activities within the settlements and identified key street markets of town, as well as gathering basic information concerning the town such as networked infrastructures, land-use patterns and social amenities. Analysis of the data was done at the macro (town-level) and micro-level (settlement-level), an approach which the reviewers noted as commendable; thus advised the studio team to strengthen, especially aiming to draw out strategic issues and interventions for discussion with the county government and communities (informal settlements and informal traders). Besides, these two levels of analysis were emphasised as critical in scaling-up the studio work, in view of previous informal settlement upgrading interventions that have confined problem framing to the settlement level. Indeed, it was observed that informal settlements, combined, and the informal economy, define Kitui town’s character; hence, policy and urban planning interventions can effectively inform the transformation of Kitui, if they place emphasis on the dynamics that configure the town’s urban informality.
Reacting to the presentations, the project leader, Prof. Peter Ngau observed that urban informality virtually defines the spatial, physical and functional character of Kitui town. It is therefore critical for the studio to engage all key stakeholders in formulating policy and planning interventions that address the town as a whole, while still recognising and formulating specific interventions for individual settlements and various informal economic activities-recognising the critical role that urban space plays in creating opportunities, but also as a recipe for contestation where policy and planning has failed. He underscored the importance of effective communication of urban planning and design to the diversity of stakeholders in Kitui: county government, informal settlement dwellers, informal business operators, and formal business operators, as a way of building a common understanding of the issues.
Indeed, the SDI-Kenya administrator, Mr. Jack Makau stressed that establishing a town forum as a platform for government-citizen engagement will be useful towards building momentum for Kitui’s transformation. This is one of the key recommendations the studio intends to make to the policy makers in Kitui. The work of the studio and other recent planning interventions in the town forms a sufficient agenda for such a forum. He also observed that it’s critical to strengthen the understanding of settlement –specific challenges and opportunities e.g. tenure, variation in living conditions etc., and how that relate to the town-wide issues of development.
The studio coordinator, Dr. Mbathi, further observed that among the significant contributions of the studio to the Kitui’s sustainable urban development process will be recommending a set of implementable strategic interventions that are capable of generating the interest of both the community and government.
Baraka Mwau, the studio facilitator noted that so far the studio process, and particularly the data gathering phase and analysis, has been of great value to the students and young professionals participating in the studio. The phase did not only expose the team to urban informality in a small town context, but also presented the team with an opportunity to undertake research collaboration with communities who have lived experiences of the challenges and opportunities, that are so postulated in academic theory but less explored in actual urban planning and design practice in Kenya. He further noted that the situational analysis has revealed various vital aspects of the different informal settlement communities in Kitui, how they relate with urban space; in the process nurturing a sense of ownership, pride or discontent, and importantly, the strong relationship between livelihood means of households in the informal settlements and the town’s informal economy.
The studio will now proceed to finalise profile reports and the baseline report, and commence the process of data engagement with the county and communities in the coming month, before conducting a series of participatory planning workshops at select informal settlements in Kitui.
Baraka Mwau, Studio Facilitator.