Sep 2023  •  Side event at the Africa Climate Summit

Translating Lessons from Mukuru 

Opportunities and challenges for locally-led adaptation in urban informal settlements

I convened and moderated this side event at the Africa Climate Summit. For the panel discussion, I brought together an important cross-section of parties involved in informal settlement upgrading in Nairobi, a city that is pioneering groundbreaking practices for integrated, inclusive and pro-poor planning. We discussed whether upgrading is climate adaptation and what the opportunities, challenges and risks are when translating key strategies used in the Mukuru Special Planning Area to other settlements in Nairobi and cities across Africa. 

Debrief article on the panel discussion


The shape and scale of the problem is well known but too little discussed in mainstream climate talks: As Africa rapidly urbanises and climate change accelerates urbanisation, the poor, most vulnerable and least culpable are bearing the brunt of the colliding climate and urban infrastructure crises. This collision is taking place where 60 percent of urban Africans — and one billion people worldwide — already live, in urban informal settlements. 

Luckily, innovative solutions have been pioneered right here in Nairobi, by the residents of Mukuru and their local government and civil society partners. Known as the Special Planning Area (SPA), partners co-developed a plan for investing in climate resilience in Mukuru. The SPA process represents a unique degree of political will spanning local-to-national government and holds promise as a model for locally-led climate adaptation in African cities. And, unlike many other plans, implementation is already underway. 

In addition to its promise for adaptation, locally-led informal settlement upgrading also represents a pragmatic pathway for low-carbon urban development, meeting the majority of current (and future) urban residents where there already are — in compact, mixed use and pedestrian-dominant neighbourhoods, often near existing job centres and transit. 

Lessons from the Mukuru SPA can support local, national and international champions in undertaking locally-led, multisectoral and inclusive upgrading to build climate resilience in cities across Africa. But, what are the challenges in translating those lessons to other urban poor settlements? To other cities and countries across Africa? 


Beatrice Hati Gitundu, Research and Urban Development Associate, International Centre for Frugal Innovation – Kenya Hub 

Marion Rono, Chief Officer of Housing and Urban Renewal, Nairobi City County 

Dorice Moseti, Community Mobiliser, Muungano wa Wanavijiji 

Bosibori Barake, Planning Associate, Kounkuey Design Initiative 

Kilion Nyambuga, Lead Programme Officer, Slum Dwellers International–Kenya

Vera Bukachi Legros, Cities & Resilience Lead, Arup East Africa

Brock Hicks, Urban Planner & Researcher (moderator) 

Key framing questions 


Framing informal settlement upgrading as climate resilience offers many opportunities for improving infrastructure and services but may also pose risks — what exactly are those opportunities in concrete terms? And what are the risks? 

How can upgrading practices go beyond addressing existing gaps in service provision that build resilience to confront future climate risks? How can it build on resilience to invest in adaptation? 


Building off lessons from the Mukuru Special Planning Area (SPA), what are the opportunities, challenges and risks of translating key strategies to other informal settlements in Nairobi (i.e. Kibera, Mathare)? And in other cities across Africa? 

Nairobi offers a unique lab for refining the lessons from Mukuru and drawing new ones from the Mathare Special Planning Area Research Collective-led process and the two SPAs declared in Kibera — what should the research agenda be? Led by whom? How can these new and refined lessons be brought back to Mukuru, Mathare and Kibera to benefit residents themselves and not just other cities? 


As a pathway for low-carbon urban development, what role should locally-led informal settlement upgrading play in climate mitigation investments in Africa? And how can it gain greater prominence in climate mitigation discourse and financing?