While South Africa is usually seen as a source of stability and prosperity in its region, approximately 7.5 million people live in informal settlements and the country faces an overall housing shortage of 2.5 million units. Arising from this context, Empower Shack is an interdisciplinary development project directed by U-TT and the local NGO Ikhayalami Development Services, in collaboration with the BT-Section community and associated local and international partners.
The ongoing pilot phase is focused on a cluster of 68 houses within the BT-Section of Khayelitsha. Through innovative design and organizational models, the project aims to develop a comprehensive and sustainable informal settlement upgrading strategy centered on four core components: a two-story housing prototype, participatory spatial planning, ecological landscape management, and integrated livelihoods programming.
Employing the socio-spatial “Blocking Out” process alongside new digital visualization tools and micro-financing, Empower Shack has created an interface between residents, professionals, and the government. Together, with its partners, U-TT is developing an approach that responds to contemporary social, ecological, and market dynamics, and which will provide incentives for the state to extend tenureship rights. This would create a legally durable foundation for future incremental upgrading, as well as a system that can dovetail with established policy mechanisms.
The physical upgrading of BT-Section will be complete by the end of 2017, at which point a year-long evaluation project will monitor the outcome and plan for future upgrades in the region. In the meantime, the City of Cape Town is supporting the program as a pilot project for potential replication.