Mui Ho
Center for Cities

The Cornell Mui Ho Center for Cities transfers knowledge to action to build more equitable and sustainable cities today and in the future.

photo / Johnny Miller

Informal Settlement Upgrading

The project focuses on a transdisciplinary approach to informal settlement upgrading and more equitable access to core urban infrastructure and service.

Overview

A series of buildings made of sheet metal panels.

Housing as an Entry Point and Amplifier

Today 20 percent of the world's population live in inadequate housing. Housing is an entry point to address individual aspects of well-being as well as an amplifier of urban dynamics, such as inequality, segregation, and social exclusion. At the individual and household level, housing is linked to health outcomes and financial status. The location of housing affects access to core urban infrastructure and services, such as potable water, sanitation, energy, and mobility alternatives. At the community level, housing is related to public participation, social capital, and a sense of neighborhood attachment.

A series of buildings made of sheet metal panels.
A person walking along a path and pointing to crops.
A person walking along a path and pointing to crops.

Partnering on Informal Settlement Upgrading

Approximately one billion people live in informal settlements or slums worldwide. To work on housing, access to core urban services, and urban informality, the Cornell Mui Ho Center for Cities is partnering with Slum Dwellers International (SDI) to work on informal settlement upgrading in Nairobi. SDI-Kenya works directly with informal settlement residents and local government bodies in 21 counties in Nairobi to prevent forced evictions and to improve housing and living conditions in informal settlements. SDI is known for its community organizing as well as its community-led data collection efforts through the "Know Your City" campaign and informal settlements planning work. A key accomplishment of SDI-Kenya and Muungano wa Wanavijiji is the designation of Mukuru, one of Nairobi's largest informal settlements, as a "Special Planning Area." This designation led to the halting of forced evictions, allowed for flexible building and planning standards, and investment in core urban infrastructure and services.

People standing within a town.

A Multifaceted Approach

The partnership between Cornell Mui Ho Center for Cities and SDI-Kenya has several components. The Center supports two Cornell AAP student interns who work with SDI-Kenya in Nairobi for 10 weeks over the summer. It also supports SDI staff residencies as “reflective practitioners” with the Cornell Mui Ho Center for Cities in Ithaca, NY and it facilitates professional development through placements with other strategic partners. Currently, SDI-Kenya is analyzing solid waste data collected from informal waste pickers in Mathare. Based on this analysis, SDI-Kenya and the Cornell Mui Ho Center for Cities will explore how to co-design and implement a circular solid waste management model. In the fall semester 2024, AAP Department of Architecture Assistant Professor Felix Heisel will co-teach a studio course with faculty from the University of Nairobi and SDI-Kenya that examines challenges of solid waste management in informal settlements.

People standing within a town.
People standing around and sitting in chairs.
People standing around and sitting in chairs.

Cornell AAP Students Working with SDI-Kenya

Over the past two summers, four Cornell University students have had internships with SDI-Kenya. The students have worked on new community-led data collection and analysis methods in support of informal settlement upgrading. Students analyzed the built environment as well as social, economic, cultural dynamics to elucidate the challenges informal residents experience accessing core urban services and the 'poverty penalty,' where poor residents pay more for lower quality services.

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Strategic Partners

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