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Welcome to the second edition of the Best Practices Monthly Feature. Our first feature was well received by a wide range of audience. In case you missed it, scroll down to find a link.

For the month of May, we feature the winning initiative for the Best Practice Award in Participatory Slum Upgrading category. The project ‘Empower Shack, an integrated development approach to informal settlement upgrading' incorporates an innovative design and organizational model to upgrade informal settlements through the development, implementation and evaluation of three core components: a two-story housing prototype; a participatory spatial planning process; and an integrated livelihoods programming approach.

Each month, we feature one of the Best Practices winners from the 11th Cycle of the Dubai International Award endorsed by UN-Habitat and Dubai Municipality. We hope that these best practices will inform and inspire you on initiatives that are making effective interventions to improve the lives of urban residents around the globe. The 11th cycle comprised of the following categories:

WINNER for Best Practice Award in Participatory Slum Upgrading

This award category aims to recognize impactful initiatives by national and sub national governments, local authorities and organizations including those at community level that significantly transformed the living standards of slum dwellers. Taking into account the estimated one billion slum dwellers living in the world today, this award seeks to promote initiatives that demonstrate positive change in slums achieved at community, city and national levels.

Name of Organization: Urban-Think Tank, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology

Title of Best Practice Initiative: Empower an integrated development approach to informal settlement upgrading

Country: Switzerland

What is Empower an integrated development approach to informal settlement upgrading?

This is an initiative directed by the Urban Think Tank from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) in collaboration with Ikhayalami Development Services, the BT-Section (Site C) community of Khayelitsha, the City of Cape Town and associated local and international partners.

The project is located in Khayelitsha, a predominantly informal settlement south east of Cape Town. The pilot project community have occupied the site for 28 years and the site is characterized by inadequate housing quality, a lack of basic infrastructure and services, environmental risks including flash fires, flooding and predatory violence. The current population of the pilot site exceeds 280 persons occupying approximately 4000m square.

What is the implementation process?

The urban upgrade methodology combines a multi-story building prototype, inclusive spatial planning, and integrated livelihoods programs that encompass micro-financing, renewable energy, water management and skills training. This ensures dignified housing while addressing entrenched inequalities by catalyzing mixed-use development led by local residents shut out of existing markets. The planning methodology supports the redistribution of single storey informal settlement units into a new fully serviced double story housing prototype.

The project's comprehensive upgrading strategy is a unique combination of effective engineering and design, participatory urban planning, integrated livelihoods programming, innovative digital planning technologies and renewable energy and water management.

The various unit sizes are determined by affordability and user demand and are designed to receive government issued "fit-for-purpose' certificates that allow residents immediate access to dignified habitation. The distribution of existing living units to two floors ensures that no resident is displaced in the upgrade, it also results in 50% saving in land area and associated infrastructure costs.

New digital planning tools have been developed to allow planners to optimise layouts based on predefined parameters and resident inputs: preferential neighbours, unit sizes, affordability, location. The choice of cluster neighbours minimizes disruption and maintains existing social cohesion.

A feed-in tariff solar installation based on shared infrastructures allows the potential for future income generation while catering for the existing free energy allowance. Recycling greywater from hand basin to flush toilets, and bio-filters to manage urban storm water and communal wash station greywater offer innovative solutions to alleviate stress on municipal infrastructure.

How has the initiative improved the living environment?

The housing component of the project is a sustainable and cost effective two story housing prototype that results in a land readjustment capable of ensuring all residents can remain on site. The structure offers secure personal living space distributed over two floors and responds to the demand for dignified resilient housing with basic services. The prototype unit is dimensioned to receive future off-shelf components for incremental upgrading over time. This allows low cost housing to meet the fundamental needs of residents who currently live in makeshift, precarious shelters prone to overheating, flooding, fire, water ingress, rising damp and draft. All materials are locally sourced.

The evaluation framework has been designed to offer insights and measure the impact of the development through themed indicators such as: baseline health and economics, security, perceptions of value, and are measured through both multi-choice questionnaires and qualitative structured interviews.

The project aims to reshape the approach to informal settlement upgrading by offering an innovative, accessible and inclusive methodology for the fair distribution of public space, a safer urban environment, delivery of basic services, and an urbanization scheme that combines housing upgrades with new economic and social possibilities

In the previous feature, we highlighted the Best Practice transfer initiative in local implementation, urban redevelopment and redesign of urban spaces. The project 'Courtyard System for Management of Public Spaces' entails an innovative community-driven approach for the rehabilitation and management of public and semi public spaces is being implemented by the Dandora Transformation League (DTL) in Nairobi, Kenya.

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