B for Blocking-out


Blocking-out “describes a design and implementation process that is driven by the community and involves the reconfiguration of a settlement layout into one that is more rationalized allowing for the creation of demarcated pathways or roads, public and semipublic spaces all of which opens access for emergency vehicles, the provision of infrastructure and basic services which were not previously taken into account.” (iKhayaLami)

The Story

It is a harsh reality that urban poor settlers are often susceptible to systemic calamity; be it epidemic out breaks, abrupt demolition of housing or the wiping out of communities due to disasters such as fires and floods. However, the fragile nature of a slums physical urban fabric does not reflect the will power of the numerous South African communities iKhayaLami NGO have partnered with. This is a story about challenging the notion of top-down slum upgrading initiatives and the incremental shift towards innovative participatory projects.


In the Cape Town suburb Langa – Joe Slovo informal settlement (a product of zoning segregation during the apartheid era) lost approximately 150 homes due to a shack fire in March 2009. The Informal Settlement Network (ISN) and iKhyaLami had been working with the local community leaders and shared plans illustrating the blocking-out mythology. The success of this socially focused in-situ upgrading resulted in the rebuilding of 125 homes, acknowledgment from the City of Cape Town’s Informal Settlement Department (ISM) and the adoption of this emergency response and prevention technique across South Africa.


The Application

IkhayaLima provides cost efficient, fire resistant materials to low income communities and trains locals to construct the housing units themselves. One may question whether individuality can be embodied within this seemingly simplistic modular system. It is however evident that contextually adaptive solutions and a sense of integrity are realized because of hands on involvement. The NGO has subsequently adopted a financial model based on micro-loans where an individual can rebuild their home of 25sqm for approximately 900€ payable over a one year period.

It appears that the success of the blocking-out and upgrading projects lies within forming partnerships and networks at various levels, while implementing solutions that are familiar to the community in question. The intent here is not to propose permanent housing as such, but to securing tenor, empowering slum dwellers and fostering what Diana Mitlin and John Thompson refer to as ‘the collective planning of new settlement designs’. (1995, pp 242)

Mitlin, D & and Thompson, J (1995) Environment and Urbanism. Participatory approaches in urban areas: strengthening civil society or reinforcing the status quo?

Further Information Sources

Transforming Minds and Setting Precedents: Blocking-out at Ruimsig Informal Settlement

Informal Settlement Upgrading Towards an Incremental People Centred Approach



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