In the summer of 2011, I was able to return to Nairobi, as a team member of Mathare Valley slum-upgrading program. I stopped by the Kambimoto upgrading project that I had documented in the summer of 2008, and found that it has continued to grow, adapt, and change.
The Kambimoto project was a result of many years of diligent work by Pamoja Trust working with a small slum in the Mathare Valley, north of Nairobi. The resulting housing was incremental, where each family started with a basic one bedroom, one-story space that could eventually be expanded vertically up to three stories. In 2008, the project was still under construction, although many units had been completed and families had moved in. In 2011, the entire project was still under development due to lack of funds, but many individual units had been expanded and the overall space had been transformed significantly.
Based on observation, about a third of the occupied units had added at least one story, if not two stories to their units. Additionally, color, and articulation had begun to appear on many units. In one case, neighbors worked together on colors, relief, and surface articulation to add identity and individualization to their homes, while still maintaining a collective identity. Gates and fences had been added in a number of cases to porches that were on ground level.
Generally speaking, most people followed basic design and material guidelines as they expanded vertically. In some cases, make shift additions and roofs were cobbled together with rudimentary materials, alluding to the slums and physical conditions that many of these families had moved on from. This was a concern from the beginning and a reason why the additions were supposed to uniform. Regardless, one of the architects working on the project remained proud of the project to provide low cost and accessible housing, but was frustrated that part of it was beginning to look trashy. Additionally, he mentioned that one of the biggest challenges was that people didn’t have incomes, and in many cases were unable to afford any additions or had to depend on very low cost and low quality materials.
The public spaces and interstitial spaces are surprisingly well-kept, clean, and inviting. Small plants and mini gardens have sprouted up, and because water and sewer lines were added and are underground, there are now walkways that provide solid surface which can be cleaned. The difference in the quality of space in Kambimoto with that of the informal housing one block away is quite extraordinary.
The only real criticism people living there have of the project is that the units were not designed to be able to rent out space. Accessing the stairway requires moving through the living room, so it makes it very difficult to rent out an upper room/floor and still maintain privacy. Fortunately, future projects that are in the works are being designed to allow the stair to have a separate entrance from the street. Finally, there is not enough space in the units to allow any businesses of enterprises to operate from inside. Consequently, the ubiquitous street stalls have popped up in one of the newly widened streets.
Overall, this project continues to be an inspiration and successful on many levels. It was great to return and see that units were expanding, and that the entire community, while still struggling, is maturing and growing.