As we saw from the introductive post on participatory methods for urban development, the current theme of residents’ participation in planning processes is not exclusively present in western cities or research institutions.

Indeed, in African, Asian and South American megacities, we assist to a strong spread of “bottom-up” participative initiatives, especially in informal districts, often physically built by the citizens themselves piece by piece.

In this article, we propose a review of interesting participatory initiatives of data collection: censuses, maps, pieces of information, collected and elaborated from the slum residents themselves; this is a necessary action, since very often, these districts are being ignored in the official maps and censuses (we recently talked about it in this article).

One of the most interesting aspect is the use of new technologies for these operations, indeed the use of drones or smartphone apps to map slums is not rare, and the collected data are later put on GIS technologies.

These methodologies and systems are still rarely used in European cities, both for the high technological level of these tools and for the levels of participation and engagement of the residents; so we need to abandon the stereotype that sees slums like hell on earth, in the grip of crime, famine and desperation, and to recognize instead that the vitality and dynamism of these districts can teach a lot to our way of design and live the city.

We begin our journey with two interesting experiences from Africa until Latin America, and we conclude with a method born in India but nowadays diffused worldwide.

Human City project

The initiative Human City Project had been developed in the slums of Nigerian city Port Harcourt from the NGO C-MAP – Collaborative Media Advocacy Platform.

The initiative has been conceived in response to repeated evictions perpetrated by the national army, and it is part of a bigger set of actions aimed at strengthening the residents’ communities through the creation of cultural centres, communication means, legal support, advocacy and lobbying.

The realization of “technology labs” allowed the formation of volunteers specialized in different fields and the development of customized apps based on open-source softwares like KoBo toolbox or QGIS.

At the end of the mapping and census a phase of data verification follows, developed by other teams, and finally the pieces of information are put on a GIS platform.

The diffusion of information on the project is strongly supported by radio broadcasts on the radio station created by the NGO itself, allowing the engagement of new volunteers and update the residents on the obtained results.

The C-MAP project has a broader view: the settlements mapping is indeed only a first step of an articulated and ambitious program of participatory planning and strengthening of the residents’ communities.

Here the C-MAP project website with information of the different initiatives developed by the organization.

Map Kibera

Developed in the homonymous slum of Nairobi from a residents’ organization supported by some local and international NGOs, the Map Kibera project has conceived a mapping, census, graphic rendering and participatory planning method that has been recently exported in other great slums of the city, such as Mukuru and Mathare.

Map Kibera is based on GPS tools and open-source platform OpenStreetMap, in order to realize an overall mapping; moreover, QGIS is used to produce thematic maps or focuses on specific aspects.

The difference between this project and other experiences is that this one’s objective is not the collection of data on residents, families’ composition and social profiles, but only to report the internal paths, services and public facilities of the slum.

Later on, also thematic maps are elaborated and shared on blogs and social channels where information on the facilities are share, for example in the category WATER & SANITATION, the position of public toilets and shared lavatories is reported, with a set of information that can be easily updated to report damages or problems.

The category SECURITY not only indicates police stations and anti-violence centres, but as well of night time lighting and even “dangerous spots” based on residents’ reports.

The mapping activities are the base for further initiatives of community advocacy, in order to allow a greater consideration of the Kibera residents when it comes to urban management and development.

On the MAP KIBERA website, all the different initiatives are described, and it is possible to browse through some thematic maps.

Ta no Mapa

The Ta no Mapa project has been developed by Brasilian NGO Afroreggae in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro with the technical support of Google, since 2013.

In this case it’s not an activity aiming at physically mapping the settlements (which already exists for most of Brasilian favelas, differently from the African and Asian context), but the objective is to offer a new image of the affected favelas, by valorizing the present commercial activities and services.

Groups of volunteers are educated at using the tools from the Google platform (Map maker tool) and the Android app “Map maker buddy”, that are used to map shops and services (associations, public offices, etc…) present in the different favelas.

During the site inspections is therefore possible, using GPS geolocalization, to insert the position and the relative useful information about every mapped facility, leaving also the possibility to the owner/manager to develop further data with other tools (for example Google my business).

The result is a service that is potentially useful for the residents, but most of all an interesting image of the liveliness, also economic, of the informal settlements.

Here is the website dedicated to the Afroreggae initiative.

Know your city

Last but not least the most interesting among the used methods, for its impact, diffusion and structure. SDI (Shack slum dwellers International) is nowadays the leading organization for slums residents’ self-organization; it is a reality created by a federation of local associations, that obtain visibility, more political influence and technical, economical and scientific support, shared between the different associates.

Thanks to SDI hundreds of slum in Africa and South-East Asia have been mapped with great care and precision, to the point that the data is often used by institutions and they are considered more reliable than standard censuses.

Apart from having promoted self-mapping among federated associations, the great merit of SDI, is to have progressively standardized the methodologies that were engaged from time to time, so that today the organization can benefit from a series of uniformed data that allow the detailed analysis of the mapped informal settlements.

The used tools have been developed from the association iteself, which produces simple learning kits for the volunteers, based on the Android app “ODK collect”, that is integrated with GSP tracker.

This methodology puts strong attention on the accuracy of the data, to the point that forms on the collection of settlements’ information have been created, that have more than 150 items and strict verification/validation procedures.

A further interesting aspect of the Know Your City campaign is the restitution of the main data on an online database that is accessible by everyone and proposes simple and catchy summarizing infographics that allow anyone to collect valuable information on a specific slum, analyse aggregated macrodata on a continent or country, and finally to confront some settlements.

This is the Know Your City website.

This is a simply a small selection of the different initiatives of self-mapping and self-profiling that underline the extraordinary liveliness inside our planet’s slums, places where innovative and creative methodologies are conceived and experimented, new ways of approaching problems and situations that traditional systems struggle to understand and solve.

Federico Monica

Architect and Urban Planner, PhD in Urban and regional planning. Founder of Taxibrousse studio, I’m specialized in informal settlements assessment, slum upgrading strategies, low-cost and low-tech building processes.

English version by Carla Procida – interior and service designer

Share this page


TaxiBrousse is a design and consultancy studio for international development, we works in the fields of engineering, architecture, urban planning and environmental protection.


Follow us

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *