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Participatory planning in African cities

Watch video interview Alexandre Frediani UCL DPU SLURC participatory planning African cities Freetown planning from below Slum dwellers international.
My name is Alexandre Apsan Frediani. I’m a senior lecturer at the Development Planning Unit, here at University College London. I’m also one of the founders of the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre, and at the moment, the chair of the board of SLURC. Participation in planning debates emerged as a means to make planning processes more inclusive and responsive to diverse needs of urban citizens. In the African context, there has been a variety of participatory planning experiences, recognising the role that marginalised communities can have in processes of city-making. Some of these experiences have emerged through strong community-led processes of social mobilizations and production and management of space in the city.
I will now articulate three different types of experiences of participatory planning that’s taking place right now in the African context that can help us to understand some of the debates behind this field. Some of these experiences have emerged through strong community-led processes of social mobilisation, which is the first type of participatory planning experience I would like to articulate. This has led to the production, the management of spaces of city-making in a participatory way. One of the most significant examples of this approach of participatory planning has been the work of various federations of the urban poor spread in the African continent, and networked through Slum/Shack Dwellers International.
Their work has involved self-enumeration processes, recognising that the urban poor can enhance their power to influence urban decision-making by generating, and owning, the knowledge about their living conditions. In Freetown, for example, enumeration exercises have led to the possibility of reblocking of informal settlements, where communities replan the settlements in situ, enhancing access to services as well as improving living conditions. The second type of participatory planning processes taking place in African context that I would like to raise is the pro-poor private public partnership. There has been a series of partnerships established by states, private companies, with organisations of the urban poor, recognising and enhancing the role of community groups in managing and delivering urban services.
These experiences have led to the development of various models of participatory governance of urban services. An example of this has been the delegation management model, implemented in informal settlements in Kisumu, for example, to deliver water. The water and sanitation parastatal company, called KIWASCO, agreed to supply water to neighbourhood planning associations from informal settlements, who then managed the water delivery to water kiosks and households. The system led to increased access to water while also strengthening the community representative structures of residents from informal settlements. The third type of participatory planning that has been taking place in the African context is related to a more rights-based approach.
Marginalised groups have also used the legal system to recognise their role in planning and their right to the city. Participatory planning, in this case, has involved the use of legal systems and constitutional rights to condemn violations of rights in the city, and open up opportunities to push for legislations and initiatives that can improve the quality of life of the urban poor. The urban social movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, which originated in Durban, has used direct action, as well as constitutional courts in South Africa, to stop evictions and advocate for more equitable access to adequate housing. The movement’s activities have also focused on the democratisation of governance in informal settlements, and improvements on the delivery of social services for the urban poor.
While these examples have been able to confront many injustices in city-making, studies have also highlighted limits and challenges faced by participatory planning processes. Participatory planning has often prioritised local actions, potentially leaving structural processes unchallenged. It tends to focus on consensus building, hiding social complexities, and leading to limited recognition of social diversity. And it can end up benefiting more organised and mobilised urban communities, leaving most deprived, fragmented, and marginalised groups behind. Therefore, recent work on the relationship between democracy and planning has called for a turn in planning thinking, and practise. Here are four points that have been discussed in the literature, as a way not to ditch participation, but actually to embed [it] in a wider process of transformation.
First, it needs to engage with the trajectories of oppression, by approaching participation in planning as a means to encourage historical memory of present experiences. Two, it needs to recognise and support grassroots efforts of city-making through everyday practises or their participation in the so-called invited spaces created by dominant urban planning stakeholders, but it also needs to recognise and support confrontations generated through grassroots oppositional practises, as they create spaces of negotiation in their own terms of engagement. Three, it needs to open up possibilities, scenarios, and opportunities for change, rather than look for agreements on the common denominators.
And last, it needs to move away from [a] problem-solving approach to planning, to one based on public learning and fostering solidarity through the construction of more socially and spatially just urban imaginaries.
In this video, Alexandre Apsan Frediani discusses three types of participatory planning:
  • The model promoted by Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) in several countries based on community mobilisation through savings groups and enumerations
  • pro-poor private-public partnerships, for example, the delegated management model for water delivery to informal settlements in Kisumu (Kenya)
  • rights-based approaches through the use of the legal system and constitutional rights to obtain favourable legislation for the urban poor or the protection of their rights, for example in Durban (South Africa).
While participatory planning is a fundamental component to achieve more just African cities, Dr Frediani explains some limitations that are important to consider:
  • The ‘local’ scope of participatory planning initiatives is often unable to address wider structural spatial inequalities (see the example of Nairobi’s spatial injustice in week 1)
  • These approaches are based on identifying consensus amongst communities, which often means that the aspirations and needs of the most marginal groups may not be taken into account (the issue of social diversity presented by Julian Walker in week 1)
Finally, Dr Frediani suggests four ways to ensure participatory planning contributes to wider processes of urban transformation.

Looking forward

One of the forms of participatory planning mentioned by Dr Frediani is the result of the social mobilisation model of the Federations of the Urban and Rural Poor supported by Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI). This process is very developed in Freetown.
A more extensive summary of SDI’s approach and practices can be found in SDI’s Practices for Change document.
In previous weeks, we have listened to the voices of the chair and various members of the Sierra Leone Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor. This week we listen again to members of the Federation as well as people working with them about participatory planning.
Next week, we will learn about what the Federation working with universities and other actors has achieved in terms of building more resilient communities able to deal with different types of urban risks.
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Development and Planning in African Cities: Exploring theories, policies and practices from Sierra Leone

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