Approximately one-quarter of the world’s urban population lives in informal settlements today. Providing basic services and improving the quality of life in these settlements is a growing challenge that policymakers and researchers must address. It means that research is needed to understand the impact of past infrastructural interventions because this experience will contribute to future practices. More specifically, the objectives should explore what critical improvements were implemented and how they have affected the settlements. The in-situ upgrading approach, which entails providing local services and infrastructure to informal settlements, has been advocated by many researchers over relocation or resettlement. However, the outcomes derived from this approach are still understudied, making it a substantial gap in the research.
This research examines the impact of in-situ infrastructure provision and how this approach has adaptively responded to the trend of informal urbanization, especially by exploring the occurrence of “self-help” efforts led by neighborhoods. Accra, Ghana, the investigation site, is a city with a significant informal economy, law enforcement challenges, and contradictions of spatial plans and “actual development.” The city now employs in-situ upgrading to help its underserved areas catch up; it, therefore, provides an appropriate case study. A mixed-methods approach using both quantitative and qualitative investigation was used to explore the impact of in-situ infrastructural upgrading on informal settlements.
First, the research investigates whether informal settlements’ sustainability performance is correlated with their progress of infrastructure development. It examines the sustainability performance of Accra New Town, Shukura, and Madina-Zongo, three informal settlements that have experienced in-situ upgrading in a typical fashion (often granted with land tenure, provided with public taps for fetching water, and connected to the electrical grid based upon individual households). Through a household survey approach, the research quantitatively reveals the correlations between sustainability performance (including social cohesion and residents’ general satisfaction with different infrastructure services) and their current infrastructure conditions. Secondly, finding that one shared challenge to these informal settlements is the drainage system, I further focus on one drainage project, the Nima Drain at Accra New Town, asking how its implementation has affected the households. The research employs in-depth interviews with community representatives, spatial planning officials, and adjacent residents to interpret the origin, political movement, implementation process, and impact of the Nima Drain on Accra New Town.
The findings indicate that the perception and satisfaction level of infrastructural interventions vary not only because of different locations and stakeholders (involving informal dwellers, local opinion leaders, and local officials), but also due to the comprehensiveness of interventions, the fulfillment of maintenance and repair, and the timely upgrades of infrastructure and services for settlement expansion. “Self-help,” or smaller, supplemental drains built by residents that connect houses off the primary infrastructure to the drain, have been catalyzed by the Nima Drain Project. This project’s introduction has promptly improved its waterfront for pedestrians while eliciting many life-changing experiences in the neighborhood, such as redesigning their building frontage toward the drain for businesses. Thus, the Nima Drain is fundamental to Accra New Town and the other settlements because it represents a critical infrastructure project and an opportunity for the existing households to practice “bottom-up” responses benefitting the neighborhoods for their common good and shaping the settlements as they stand today. Accordingly, the evidence confirms that in-situ upgrading is a potential policy option for informal settlement planning due to its potential success in settlements transformation. However, regarding the problems that have occurred in the case of the Nima Drain, including its failure on flood risk reduction, in-situ upgrading should be adopted wisely to integrate people, systems, institutions, or programs for the sustainable development of human settlements.
Dissertation Examination Committee: Linda C. Samuels (chair), Samuel Shearer, Ian Trivers