Joe Muturi and Charity Mumbi: Community Centered Slum Upgrading: Lessons from Mukuru Special Planning Area Project, Nairobi

An aerial photograph of slums with a few modern building elements

image / Muungano Wa Wanavijiji


Several upgrading projects have been financed and initiated by the Kenyan government and donors and civil society organizations alike. These projects have aimed to create real changes in the informal settlement areas. However, the situation has remained the same for over two decades now. Five years ago, Nairobi City County Government declared Mukuru, comprising of Viwandani, Mukuru Kwa Njenga, and Mukuru Kwa Reuben Settlements, a Special Planning Area (SPA) through the National Gazette Notice Number 7654, dated 11th August 2017. The declaration was a direct result of investments made by the Nairobi City County Government working with a consortium comprised of professionals and academics from the University of Nairobi, Strathmore University, Katiba Institute, SDI Kenya, Muungano wa Wanavijiji, University of Berkeley, and Akiba Mashinani Trust.

The declaration was important because it conceded that the conventional planning tool kit is insufficient to address the slum realities that exist in these three settlements. As a result, the declaration was a rare window to influence how slum inventions are designed and implemented not only nationally but globally. The Mukuru Special Planning Area (SPA) process is a rare, precedent-setting opportunity for participatory upgrading partnerships at scale.

  1. It demonstrates a significant concession by local government that conventional planning processes cannot adequately address slums' complex challenges.

  2. It recognizes the critical input needed from communities in improving their settlements.

  3. And it creates space to explore new, innovative, inclusive upgrading solutions over two years.



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Joe Muturi

Joe Muturi, President of the SDI Network, is a social activist and leader of Muungano wa Wanavijiji, the national federation of slum dwellers in Kenya. Muungano is the largest social movement in Kenya, which for over 20 years has campaigned against forced evictions and in support of secure tenure and improved services for Kenya's poor communities.

Joe has been extensively involved in government and city-led projects that affect urban poor communities in Kenya, working with donor agencies and academia to build strong relationships between such programmes and the residents for which they are intended. One of these is the precedent setting Mukuru Special Planning Area (SPA) project in Nairobi's Mukuru slums. Mukuru SPA sets in motion one of the largest informal settlement upgrading projects ever, aiming to transform a slum area of 650 acres into a healthy, functioning neighbourhood, improving the lives of people who live there.

Joe has for many years worked to assist communities to build consensus on strategy, budgeting, planning, and actual implementation of projects such as Mukuru SPA. He has been instrumental in building federations in East and West Africa, and has established partnerships with government and key stakeholders for Muungano and for the SDI network. He is also a climate change activist and resilience champion, championing awareness of the effects of climate change on urban slum neighborhoods.

A person standing in front of a grey background.

Charity Mumbi

My professional background is in Urban and Regional planning. Currently, I am also pursuing a Master of Science degree in Sustainable Urban Development. As I have always been driven by the desire to plan with the community, and not for the community, I joined SDI-K in 2018, as the organization fulfilled this want. My position within the organization is a projects officer. Among my core activities are: community planning, data collection and analysis, community mapping, research roles, providing technical ArcGIS skills, producing community led plans and designs, stakeholders’ engagements and coordinating projects inception to implementation. I am an inquisitive person, motivated by the impulse to seek clarity to execute my tasks effectively. I also love to hold witty conversations, and understand people around me beyond a professional level.

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