Cities have been rapidly growing, and there continues to be an ever-widening economic gap between cities’ fragments of formal and informal (UNHABITAT 2012). Accordingly there is always a great demand for creative and innovative initiatives to help better address unequal living conditions between wealthy formal neighbourhoods and the poor self-constructed neighbourhoods that occupy most cities in the developing world. This is in order to eventually eliminate this gap and the exclusion for the self-constructed neighbourhoods. (Gouverneur, 2014). Self-constructed settlements, commonly known as informal settlements, are the product of the negligence of the needs of the poor. They evolve with no prescribed planning, proper design or legal guidelines; they are the normal progression of the continuous disregard of their demands in having a proper human life with basic needs. Self-constructed settlements are in continuous transformation due to their easy adaptation to surrounding conditions. (Gouverneur, 2014)
According to the Participatory Development Programme in Urban Areas PDP report of informal areas in Cairo 2010, the difficulties the settlements dwellers face are interconnected on multiple levels of different platforms, such as economics, health, and socio-cultural issues. Despite of the many difficulties those settlements face, there are many more of hidden potentials that need to be dug out or better utilized in order to achieve stronger links between the formal and the informal city, whether physical or non-physical. To name a few of these potentials, Human Capital, Social Capital, Physical Capital, Financial Capital, and Natural Capital. Kanbur (2009) argues that formality and informality cannot be approached without the understanding of the economic activity on either side. For that purpose, the thesis is focusing on the investigation of an urban design spatial tool engaging those dimensions, and favouring entrepreneurship and economical value. Economic activities are a major factor in the intervention as many of these settlements act as business incubators, each specializing in a specific type of goods or service. The more the self-constructed settlement’s reputation for a specific range of products/services grows, the more these business networks extend regionally and consequently the upgrading of the other dimension will occur in order to cope with the economic growth.
Community participation is key factor in the proposed visionary framework for interventions. As the shortest way to make a successful upgrading is to engage all the stakeholders in the processes of determining their priority needs and problems, deciding on interventions, implementing the upgrading measures agreed upon and co-managing the improved community facilitates (PDP 2009). In this thesis, a visionary framework is proposed of what could happen if the community participation was taken into account. It will be approached from three different angles: a) empowerment b) defining the relation between the community input and the formal city, and c) individual motivations and behaviour. The thesis will provide a holistic understanding of the self-constructed settlements by employing an iterative analytical approach (shifting between quantitative and qualitative data). The objective of this thesis is to provide a sustainable livelihood through the concept of community participation, by utilizing the financial and market capital and identifying where and how to best intervene. The intervention framework is categorized into three stages: Upgrading accessibility (in terms of accessibility out of the settlement to resources and infrastructure, and accessibility into the informal settlement) and open spaces, Redevelopment of the business network within the settlement and its connection to the formal settlement, and Anticipating Growth of the settlement to fill in the in-between spaces.
Understanding Informal Areas:
For decades urban developmental and upgrading projects for informal areas took place focusing mainly on physical interventions based on the current physical conditions and quantitative data. However, it has become clear in subsequent years that sustainability of upgrading projects depend profoundly on the participation of its inhabitants and understanding their culture and background. Qualitative data is a necessity for the lasting of these projects.
The most important thing to acknowledge is the fact that there is a widening gap and mistrust issue between the community and the government. Some informal areas dwellers around the world commented that the fund that should be dedicated to the upgrading plans is not necessarily being spent on their needs (PDP 2010). This rather common issue is very important to consider as it highly influences the relations between the different community and the government stakeholders involved in the intervention processes. Corruption is discussed by many scholars addressing the contemporary society in most of developing countries with spreading informal areas (G.Amin 2009), and it is also reflected in daily life of many informal areas. According to the PDP survey, most of the interviewees of informal areas dwellers in Egypt mentioned the necessity to pay bribes to different officials in order to gain public services such as building licenses of electricity provisions in the house. It has been clear that the informal status of settlements is often being abused by government officials for additional benefit and at the same time hindering solutions to the local. That being said, the thesis will look into creating a diagram of officials and stakeholder responsibilities, which will include great involvement of NGOs in order to limit or keep the corruption levels to minimum levels. Moreover, marginalization is debated as one of the most challenging issues regarding informal areas (PDP 2010). Such communities can be considered “marginalized” in the sense of lacking basic needs. At the same time, they share in the working force of the society, playing significant roles in the market economy (Perlman 1979-2005). Their way of perceiving themselves as “informal” might be one of the motivators of some of their behavioural patterns (Davis 2006).
Values of Informal Areas:
Although commonly perceived as a burden on society and a source of problems and endless needs, being ignored and neglected by the government for a long time, residents of consolidated informal areas have been putting up with the lack of infrastructure and have been trying to compensate for the insufficiency of public services by relying on services provided by civil society organizations, charities or religious institutions. While there are many native images of physical, social and environmental problems associated with informal areas; there are also a lot of advantages of living in them that have attracted low and middle-income people to live there. To name a few, economical value, social capital, use value, human capital, building capital, and market value. These advantages make it worth improving the informal urban environment in which a big segment of urban population already lives rather than trying to move them to new housing developments, which can absorb future population growth. This does not encourage the creation of more informal areas. It actually calls for a strategic approach to try to stop the formation of new informal areas and providing more attention for the under privilege portion of population.
Economical Value of Informal Areas:
Informal areas have an economical value, which is underestimated and underused because of their illegal status. It was estimated in the late 1990s that the “dead assets” in urban areas in Egypt – land and housing informally registered and/or illegally developed – sum up to 195 billion US dollar in addition to 2.4 billion informal businesses (De Soto 1997). Informal areas host many small industries and productive activities that are interrelated to formal economic activities in cities. If the dead capital of informal houses and businesses were formalized through land titling and housing and business registration, it could raise the value of such assets and could be used in ways that increase the investment potential for owners, hence contributes to poverty alleviation (PDP 2009). The revenues and taxes collected from the formalized houses and businesses can be a source of funding for upgrading measures if they are kept locally. It will also contribute to increasing their market value. This thesis is focused on the support of these small businesses and providing more opportunities for starting new ones, maybe one day some of these will be bloom and grow regionally. After all, all big and renowned businesses started in garage houses.