Context-dependent interventions : understanding change through urban morphological studies of informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya
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Informal human settlements, often so large that they are cities onto themselves, have been absent from urban morphological study. As the population of the urban world grows, hundreds of millions of people live in informal settlements. This report attempts to present why it is important to understand how, why, and where informal human settlements form, as well as how they evolve, and conditions for their emergence and evolution. Each region and individual city has its own varied economic, political, cultural, historical, environmental and legal issues and concerns. Such issues in certain areas of cities, including slums, pose unique challenges for governments, non-governmental organizations, non-profits, and community-based organizations. Each stands to benefit from critical analyses that not only indentify and understand informal settlements more historically, sociologically, and spatially, but that inform plans that effectively harness limited national and international resources towards carefully targeted interventions. The focus of such interventions could include slum upgrading or assistance to secure land tenure, based on a deeper knowledge that increases efficacy. In Nairobi, one of the oldest and largest informal settlements, Mathare, provides an opportunity for historical analysis. Through seven interviews with researchers, government bureaucrats, and residents, visually observing villages in Mathare, and analyzing archival maps, this report has identified factors driving change and the resulting impacts on the urban morphology of informal settlements in the African context. Various factors dealing with cultural, environmental, political/economic, and legal/regulatory issues are discussed. These data substantiate land tenure, speculative investment, tenancy insecurity, and government administrative structure as the issues that most directly drive emergence and growth of informal settlements. These issues date back to the earliest days of Nairobi, where African workers lived on land owned by their employers. These workers were denied access to land ownership, tenancy rights, and dwelling improvement through legal, economic, and institutionalized prejudice and coercion. Little has changed, as colonial-aged government administration and systemic disadvantage still determine the development of Nairobi’s informal settlements.