Community-driven informal settlement upgrading: the SDI approach

At the Habitat III thematic meeting on informal settlements, held in Pretoria in April, one of the star presenters was Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and the SDI South African Alliance who participated in and hosted a number of side events. (A video of one of their presentations can be accessed here.)

SDI’s involvement at the event helped bridge the gap between politicians, officials and those living in informal settlements, and ensured that the voices of those living in informal settlements were heard clearly at this event.

This article summarizes the methodology SDI presented at the conference with regard to community-driven informal settlement upgrading.

The method used by SDI for informal settlement upgrading has eight steps, as shown in the following image.

SDI graphic

Image via SDI.

The steps can be explained through the example of the Flamingo Crescent upgrading project (FCUP):

  • Savings: The first step in this process is to develop savings groups, which primarily consist of women. In the FCUP, the aim was for community members to pay 20% of the value of their structures (with the money they saved), with the remainder been funded through the Alliance’s Community Upgrading Finance Facility. The goal of this, as explained at the thematic meeting, was to ensure the community was personally committed to the project, to develop the organizational & community structures (ie. social capital) needed to manage the upgrades, and provide funding for the settlement upgrade.
  • Enumeration and mapping: This is a community-driven process whereby socio-economic and demographic information is collected and analyzed, usually through a partnership between the community and an NGO. This provides the community with the data it needs to be able to make evidence based demands on the local municipality for services and upgrades, as opposed to the municipality driving the agenda. In FCUP, this was done through a partnership with the Community Organization Resource Centre (CORC) and town planning students from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).
  • Changes: This refers to community visits between the upgrading community and settlements that have already been upgraded. In the case of FCUP, this provided valuable lessons about the upgrading process, and assisted the community in accepting the need for a savings scheme.
  • Partnerships: The aim of this is to establish a multi-stakeholder project committee, allowing all relevant parties to have a say. Through the partnerships with CORC and CPUT, the community developed an upgrading plan which opened up courtyards and access roads, which in turn allowed for negotiation with the City of Cape Town to provide electricity to all households, and to provide a toilet and water point for each household.
  • Slum upgrading: This stage focuses on the implementation of the upgrades. In FPUC, this was done by breaking the community into seven clusters. During the implementation of the project, each cluster would stay with other households in the community while their shacks were demolished and rebuilt.
  • Women: The focus on women is specifically included in this methodology, as prioritizing women in leadership roles can assist in altering the male biased power relations within many informal settlements.

The SDI is and has been implementing this method successfully in a number of settlements in South Africa. It should however be noted that as this is a community based method, it might not work in every informal settlement given the reliance of this method on partnerships and extensive social capital. Still, for communities where these preconditions are in place, this approach presents a proven and innovative approach to informal settlement upgrading.

For more on the SDI methodology see their website and Vimeo page.

Stuart Denoon-Stevens is a professional planner, a junior lecturer at the University of the Free State, and a researcher focusing on municipal land management, with a particular emphasis on pro-poor approaches.

Photo: Slovo Park via

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