The Production of Space and Place in Informal Settlements

A Case Study of Mukuru Kwa Njenga, Nairobi

  • Peter Ngau University of Nairobi
Keywords: Informal settlements, place, slums, socio-spatial dynamics, space


The paper seeks to understand how the space and place are conceived and used in NairobiĀ“s informal settlements. Using the case of Mukuru Kwa Njenga, the study explores three questions around the production of space and place; first, whether in informal settlements there exists abstract or conceived space, second, whether the space responds to a structure of power in the area, and third, how do people use day by day the different categories of space (public, semi-public and private). Fieldwork was carried out in seven 100 x 100m sample areas across the settlement. Data was gathered through structured and non-structured interviews and focused group discussions. The use of space was registered through structured observation of the spatial characteristics, activities and socio-spatial interactions at three different periods of the day: morning, afternoon and night, in different locations. The study finds that, informal settlements indeed have internal structures that resemble the formal city, although in a less systematic way. Ownership of resources and the internal structures of power play a major role in the conception of space into an informal functional space. But opposite to the formal city, there is a large scope for the free action where creativity is reflected and retained, and where the structures of power rarely intervene. The study concludes that understanding the spatial dynamics in the informal settlements and creation of flexible spatial solutions that allow low income people to have a space and place in the city may be the way towards an inclusive transformation. The study recommends multi-functionality of urban space for low cost income dwellers.