Umnyama Park: a community-led solution in South Africa

Umnyama Park: a community-led solution in South Africa

Camdeboo, South Africa, struggles to provide adequate housing for its low income residents and its emerging middle income gap market. How can a community-led approach contribute to the solution?

There is a backlog of approximately 5,000 homes and many families share a house. In 2010, Camdeboo decided to experiment with low income social rental housing, a product that didn’t exist in Camdeboo yet. They invited twinning partner Winterswijk Municipality and WeLoveTheCity (both from The Netherlands) to facilitate a participatory process to plan a new neighbourhood and to help secure Provincial funding for it.

Approximately 60 prospective tenants joined a series of workshops, representing all neighbourhoods in Camdeboo. Other participants included a major social housing institution, the Province of the Eastern Cape and representatives from local social organizations. In small groups, the participants discussed their ideas for the new community and presented their results to the others.

Input from participants influenced everything from the social vision down to house layouts. One of the key outcomes was a drastic modification of the housing programme. Participants expressed a strong demand for middle income housing and for a wider range of housing products, including self-build lots. Therefore, the starting point of 200 low income and 100 middle income rental homes, established during market research, was expanded to include more housing and additional unit types. Participants also asked for non-housing uses. The programme was therefore expanded to include a significant amount of community space, shopping and businesses.

Integrated community
Workshop participants also preferred an integrated community that mixed races and incomes. In fact, during the workshops they proposed the name Umnyama Park for the neighbourhood. In the isiXhosa language, Umnyama means Rainbow, an apt name for the integrated community that will straddle the no-man's land between the town's racially-divided communities. Participants provided many other suggestions regarding street patterns, public space design, architectural style and more.

Draft design
Information from the workshops was used to create a draft neighbourhood design, a detailed design for the first phase, an economic development strategy, a social services strategy and a project financial model. Stakeholder input resulted in a plan that was vastly different—and vastly superior—to what was envisioned originally. From the initial 300 homes planned, the community now had a comprehensive plan for 850 mixed income homes, 2,000 m2; of shopping, 40,000 m2; of local business and 9,500 m2; of community uses, all bound together by a grand new esplanade.

Umnyama Park will be a new multicultural neighborhood with 850 homes for those with the lowest incomes and for the 'gap market'. Construction of the 1st phase will start in 2016; this involves building of 250 homes that are comfortable and energy-neutral. In addition, every drop of rainwater is collected because the site is in the middle of the Karoo - one of the driest regions in Africa.

Success of community-led approach
The success of Rainbow Park demonstrates a viable community-led alternative to the current social housing approach in South Africa. Camdeboo’s foresight in bucking convention and choosing for a participatory approach resulted in a process that empowered the community. The heart of the process, the interactive workshops, helped direct scarce resources to what people really wanted and needed. This approach also contributed to the positive response from the Provincial government, one of the major supporters of the project, and also the social housing institution, the main delivery partner. Their participation in the workshops gave them confidence in the future success of the project and resulted in their commitment to invest in it.

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