Better Living Challenge


Second phase of BLC launches with focus on upgrading of informal homes

Jun 30, 2017

The second iteration of the Better Living Challenge (BLC) was officially launched on 30 June at an event hosted by the Cape Craft and Design Institute (CCDI), Western Cape Department of Human Settlements (DoHS) and Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDAT), at the Nyanga Arts Development Centre, in Nyanga, Western Cape.

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The BLC is a project of the CCDI designed to surface local innovative solutions to pressing or persistent socio-economic challenges. The second iteration, funded by the DoHS and DEDAT, runs until 2019 and focuses on finding solutions to incremental upgrading.

Research shows that there are over 300 000 households currently living in informal dwellings in the Western Cape. Of these, 35% are living in backyard informal dwellings and 65% within informal settlements. In terms of location, among informal dwellings, 74% are located in the Cape Metro, and 95% of these households have incomes of below R6 400 per month. The scale of the problem is large and the need for solutions pressing.

The first phase of BLC2 consisted of an in-depth design-led research process involving a wide range of roleplayers and stakeholders including fellow development intermediaries and NGO’s, relevant government departments, academic institutions grappling with similar research, and community members.

Design-led research is typically multi-dimensional and multi-directional, focusing on desired outcomes and user needs. Methodologies used include amongst others appreciative enquiry, a broader approach focused on the end user, focus groups, workshops, a low cost dwelling architectural typologies study, and micro-finance ecosystem research.

The BLC2 research covered: consumer needs, access to finance, case studies and challenge methodology.

According to Kelly Arendse, the BLC Project Manager, the researchers put considerable effort into ensuring that the findings correctly reflected the real challenges and needs of those living in informal dwellings in the greater Cape Town area. This first-of-its-kind local research was released at the launch event.

To effect systemic and long-term change, with homeowners being key agents and drivers of change, four key themes emerged from the research:

1. The need for correct and accessible information;
2. The need for skills development and capacity building;
3. The need to understand the upgrading process;
4. And, the importance of place-making.

For example, this means:

Home-owners could be enabled to upgrade their homes through DIY (information-sharing and capacity building) which in turn requires improved access to affordable finance and appropriate financial products to make it more affordable for owners to build and upgrade their homes.

Informal building contractors functioning in this environment could have expanded opportunities for income potential by increased inclusion in processes, capacity building, skills and entrepreneurship development.

The public sector can support interventions in the eco-system that help unlock the inherent value in the second-hand construction material value chain and focus on supplementing initiatives in the market related to incremental upgrades.

Using the findings, BLC2 has been designed as a ‘cooperative challenge’ to explore ways of supporting incremental home upgrades – it emphasises cooperation, collaboration and participation. It will bring together people from diverse disciplines – in a range of activities – to surface existing and discover new innovative solutions.

The first of these activities began recently with a series of design-build workshops that culminated in the construction of a structure built from recycled materials in Nyanga. Future events will include co-design workshops and hack days, design-build labs and business modelling, entrepreneurial development and enterprise support programmes. Incubated projects, toolkits, product showcases, real case studies and other outputs will emerge throughout the process, presenting feasible responses to the needs of residents in informal settlements. This body of knowledge will be made widely available to anyone involved in the process of upgrading informal housing.

Erica Elk, Executive Director of the CCDI, said the Better Living Challenge is one of the key projects of the CCDI – it is part of the Western Cape Design Strategy developed in 2012 by the CCDI with a wide range of stakeholders including the Western Cape government.

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“The aim of the Design Strategy is to unlock innovation through design-led processes and thinking. This is a flagship project which highlights how good design can improve lives. In the first phase of the BLC, from 2014-16, we focused on product innovation that could improve the lives of people living in low income communities. It surfaced remarkable innovations. Just one of these is Lumkani which is an early-warning fire-alarm system aimed at reducing the damage and destruction caused by the spread of fires in urban informal settlements – the BLC support helped take the product further down its development path towards commercialisation. Today it is installed in over 9 000 homes nationwide, is integrated into an insurance scheme, and is detecting fires and having the prevention impact envisioned.

“Innovation using design-led processes and thinking methodologies is a big part of how the CCDI helps people develop solutions. It’s a user-driven approach – focusing on problem solving and solution finding for systemic change – and we are pioneering it locally to the benefit of communities through the BLC. This second phase of the BLC project follows a different challenge methodology process and will see a range of different activities rolling out with a wide range of roleplayers to really get to grips with how people upgrade their informal homes, and what impact can be made in the ecosystem to help people make their homes safer, healthier and more comfortable.”

Thando Mguli, Head of Department, Western Cape Human Settlements:

“We have a backlog of over 500 000 and the Department can only provide around 18 000 human settlement opportunities a year. We therefore need to find creative and innovative solutions to assist with the housing challenge.

“People in townships always find innovative solutions to everyday challenges. The Better Living Challenge (BLC) provides us with an opportunity to create innovative and affordable solutions for our people in informal areas. With BLC government moves from creative ideas to implementation. We want to see communities taking a leading role in their living environments – government will provide services and infrastructure. The citizens’ role is to use and convert infrastructure into a home.”

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Alan Winde, Minister of Economic Opportunities:

“We’ve just seen the devastating effect that disasters such as fires and floods can have on informal settlements, with many families losing all their possessions. This highlights the need for structures which are more resistant to extreme weather. As part of its objective to create opportunities for jobs and growth, the Department of Economic Development and Tourism is focusing on harnessing the power of innovation to find solutions to these challenges. Like a reliable and affordable public transport service, ensuring residents have access to shelter is also key to growing our economy. I am especially excited about making sure local entrepreneurs will be benefiting from the programme to improve living conditions in informal settlements. I am looking forward to the concepts we will see through this initiative, and would like to encourage innovative entrepreneurs to join us in shaping better living spaces for all residents.”

For more details about the user-centred research process, click here for the document or click on the cover image below.