Community-Centred Infrastructure Design Process for Resilience Building in South African Informal Settlements: The “Genius of Space” Solid Waste and Greywater Infrastructure Project

May 2018 |
Case Studies in the Environment
Lauren Hermanus, Sean Andrew

Due to a lack of adequate water and sanitation infrastructure, growing, unplanned urban settlements in South Africa and elsewhere have been linked to pollution of critical river systems. The same dynamics undermine local resilience, understood as the capacity to adapt and develop in response to changes, persistent social and ecological risks, and disasters. Water and sanitation challenges undermine resilience by causing and compounding risks to individuals, and to household and community health and livelihoods, in a complex context in which communities and local governments have limited capacity and resources to respond appropriately. Household and community resilience in informal settlements is drawing increasing policy focus, given the persistence of these kinds of neighbourhoods in citiesand towns in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa, in particular. This case considers whether bottom-up responses that combine public and private sector resources, including community participation, and use an interdisciplinary approach can support the production of novel resilience-fostering solutions.

This article presents an analysis of the case of Genius of Space waste and wastewater management infrastructure in the Western Cape, South Africa. While the process has been imperfect and slow to show results, this analysis reflects on the gains, lessons and potential for replication that this work has produced. The Genius of Space approach adds to a growing area of practice-based experimentation focussed on incrementalism and adaptive development practices in urban environments, particularly in developing countries.

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wastewater, green infrastructure