The makeshift city: creating opportunity out of scarcity

Start date
End date
Virtual Conference

Creating opportunity out of scarcity:
conditions for resilient informal settlements in Nairobi

The EADI conference panel on the makeshift city scrutinizes how in the context of multiple crises, citizens survive and thrive in “haphazard and unplanned ways”.  The Smart & Frugal Project Research team introduces a discussion which questions if, how and under what conditions frugal innovations explain differences in the resilience of the two informal settlements during Covid-19: Mathare and Korogocho located in Nairobi, Kenya.

   If, how and under what conditions do frugal innovations explain differences in the resilience of two informal settlements during Covid-19: Mathare and Korogcho in Nairobi, Kenya?

Research Insights

The discussion is based on 120 in-depth interviews conducted by community researchers of Ghetto Foundation (GF) in a Collaborative Research Model. GF is a Community Based Organization (CBO) with over 20years experience in participatory research and action in impoverished/resource-constrained settings.

The findings reveal that three actors are most engaged in frugal innovations: households, informal firms and CBO’s. When a sudden need arises due to a crisis or disturbance, households and informal firms look for immediate, temporary, low-cost, makeshift solutions. The research team find that households and informal firms in Mathare have more and better frugal innovations than those in Korogocho due to the better location of the settlement, more agency, hope and creativity, and more capacity.

However, these frugal innovations are not enough for an informal settlement to become resilient. CBOs arise to take collective action. Governments and NGOs may be slower in responding to a crisis but play an important role in providing resources such as hospitals, roads, public transport and administrative services. Many of these external interventions fail and some even reduce the agency and aspirations of the local community. Therefore, CBO’s absorb external resource-rich but context-blind interventions and turn these into frugal innovations which better suit the informal settlement. The paper further reveals that CBO’s in Mathare have more capacity, alertness, cooperation, networks and knowledge exchange.

From the team's analysis, eight conditions for frugal and resilient informal settlements have been identified: location, multilevel agency, creativity, capacity, social capital, alertness, knowledge exchange and access to external resources. The historical analysis shows that these conditions emerge in interactive, nonlinear and indeterministic processes.

These and much more will be presented and discussed in the virtual EADI-ISS 2021 Conference which will run from 5th-8th July. The Makeshift City panel will be convened by Naomi van Stapele and Joop de Wit. This panel engages with urban development, governance and politics to explore multiple crises affecting cities. The institutional contributors of the work that will be presented are Ghetto Foundation, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) and Institute of Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS). , (both affiliated with Erasmus University Netherlands),  Vital Cities Citizens (VCC) and the Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa, Kenya Hub (CFIA). 

More information on the EADI Conference 

Smart & Frugal Cities

More information on the Smart & Frugal Cities Project