Dencity 2016: Special Mention

We Are Europe

Entry by: Amy Thompson

“We want this community to be safe on this land, we want to work towards formality, we want people to know that we are Europe”

-Community elder Elliott, Europe, Cape Town 2016

This project aims to realize Elliot’s dreams for his community by valuing the role of informality within the city through inverting our current perceptions of slums and by investigating new ways of providing dignified human settlements through incremental, in-situ upgrade.

Framing the context – Slums in South Africa

South Africa is a country of extreme inequality and historic spatial segregation with impoverished slums pushed to the peripheries of more prosperous cities. The Constitution of South Africa enshrines the right to housing, secure tenure, basic services, materials, facilities and infrastructure. This places an obligation on government to deal with informal settlements which fail to deliver these rights.

This project works with the momentum of existing government policy to propose a new improved strategy for dealing with informal settlements, where cases are dealt with on an ad hoc in-situ basis allowing for an incremental move from slum to formal settlement over time.

What’s in a Name?

The case study site for testing this model is “Europe”, a well located informal settlement within the City of Cape Town. Europe is regarded to be well located as it is in close proximity to the CDB, a kilometre away from the Cape Town International Airport and situated along the commercial corridor of Klipfontein Road, in short it is a settlement of great opportunity. But despite the prime location of Europe the residents face uncertainty as the settlement is sited on a former landfill, has limited access to temporary services and is prone to devastating winter flooding.

The settlement grew up at the end of Apartheid (1948-1994), when the Xhosa speaking residents were allowed to migrate from the impoverished rural Eastern Cape into the city. The settlement is named by its first residents for its proximity to the international airport, as many planes were either from or going to Europe. The name Europe represents both an aspirational feeling among community members as well as a sense of pride and ownership over the land.

The unusual name prompted parallels to be drawn between the incremental making of the informal settlement and the characteristics of similarly evolved medieval towns in Europe proper, from which Camillo Sitte deduced his urban principles. This parallel between the two becomes an act of valuing the presence of informality within the city and viewing it as a process to be accepted (which in Europe proper led to the much admired towns and cities of contemporary Europe), rather than an element to be eradicated as emphasized in previous government policy.

The uncanny similarities can be seen in the 1878 Charles Marville photograph of a Pre-Haussmann Paris and current day photograph of Europe (We Are Europe Panel 1) and inspires the thought, maybe instead of regarding informality as a problem to be solved we should view it as a process that can result in exceptional urban form…

By superimposing the qualities of Europe within Europe design characteristics and principles for the making of public space can be identified. The process of collage, collision and juxtaposition creates points for acupuncture where public infrastructure is inserted into the informal grain. These insertions will serve two purposes, firstly providing public open space that is currently lacking within the settlement, accommodating the densities of the community and providing civic nodes. Secondly the spaces will be designed to function as flood mitigation and to allow for land rehabilitation to occur.

By challenging the perception of informality and providing socio-economic facilities the informal settlement will be connected to the surrounding area and the physical and symbolic boundaries separating the formal and informal parts of the city will be dismantled.

Catalytic Nodes

The socio-economic nodes that have been inserted into the settlement provide well needed open space and services for the area. The position of these nodes within Europe was determined by conducting interviews and public participation meetings with community members as well as site and desk top studies.

A strategy for the position of these nodes was developed. Firstly, because these insertions would be state funded and professionally designed they should be sited on the most dangerous and severely contaminated land, this will mean that the problematic areas will be dealt with by the state and the burden will not fall to individual residents. Secondly the areas must have an existing civic functions so as to work within the evolved community structure of the site. Finally, the nodes must be at an adequate distance from one another to allow for equitable access to amenities.

The question of an appropriate design type for the settlement borrows design ques from the evolved public spaces of Europe proper and the community structures of the settlement. The public nodes are designed to be catalytic elements promoting development and allowing the area to move from an informality to formality. These include St Marks, which functions as a gateway to the settlement and a commercial hub drawing elements of formality and informality together, Sienna which addresses an area of severe flooding by providing a plaza space to the community centre which functions as a catchment to a new storm water system, the church as an investigated of insertion into public space and nodes enhancing the existing community structures of street as public space.

A Place to Live

South Africa’s legacy of skewed property rights has led to great inequalities. In order to address this imbalance and integrate informal settlements into the formal economy the methods and provision of tenure need to be addressed. There are currently two models of tenure provision available for informal settlements in South Africa, tenure of security, where the community as a whole is allowed to live on the land without being evicted or tenure of conventional ownership, where the community is moved from the land and given a new house and formal title. Neither of these tenure provisions have proven successful as the first does not allow for the house to become a leverageable asset for the household and the second does not allow for the existing densities of the informal settled land. As an attempt to better realise the goals outlined within legislation, a tertiary model of tenure provision is proposed. This model strives to deliver social inclusion, poverty alleviation and reduce vulnerability.
The tenure proposal functions in two parts; tenure of community and tenure of individual ownership. The first phase of tenure allocation is tenure of community. In this phase the entire settled land area passes to a community trust. The community trust will be owned by city or government but residents will maintain the right to stay on the land whilst the provisions set out within legislation are then enacted upon it. The community is engaged to allow participatory planning of new socio-economic facilities. Within this phase the land is rehabilitated, flexible interim services and infrastructural systems are provided.

The second phase of tenure sees the land divided into individual erven. Title is awarded on an in-situ basis, meaning that land ownership passes to the existing residents, within 50m of their current siting. Erf lines are draw up in accordance to existing settlement patterns and negotiated land ownership, where no single erf can exceed 250m2 or be landlocked without the potential to connect to services or road networks.

The residents effected by the insertion of public open space will be given rights to sectional title developments surrounding the new facilities, within 50m of their original siting. The residents not effected will maintain ownership of their existing structures.
The two phases work in conjunction with one another on an ad hoc site specific basis to ensure equity in the delivery of rights. This method of tenure provision allows for the site to be upgraded and serviced whilst still enabling the community members within informal settlements to be awarded land and property rights that have traditionally been denied. This dual approach both responds to existing poverty and allows for potential development to occur by valuing the role of informality within the city by allowing the processes to become a part of the formal economy.

Reflection Notes

We are Europe is allegoric and didactic. We all need to learn to view informality as human, to revere the resilience and creativity of communities and focus on these settlements as process to be worked with rather than blight to be eradicated.

About the entrant

Amy Thompson studied Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, graduating from the Masters Program in 2014. She currently teaches Construction Technology in the department of Construction Economics and Management at the University of Cape Town.

Amy is interested in social justice and perceptions of informality within the city. She has been working with the community of Europe since 2014, her current research project, led by Dr Julian Raxworthy, is entitled “The Gardens of Europe”.