Changing Young Planners’ Perspective on Inclusive City Planning in Uganda

A ground-breaking partnership between Uganda’s Makerere University and Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) is giving future urban planners firsthand experience in the important role communities play in development.

A ground-breaking partnership between Uganda’s Makerere University and Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) is changing the perspective of young urban planners in Uganda and giving them firsthand experience in the important role communities play in development.

The partnership’s activities are taking place within the framework of the Cities Alliance Country Programme in Uganda, known as the Transforming the Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda (TSUPU) programme, which seeks to empower organisations of the urban poor to actively engage in local development, among others.

Through the partnership, National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (NSDFU) members engage directly with students in the university’s planning department, take them into the field, and help them better understand the realities of planning in informal settlements. This practical experience exposes the students to forms of knowledge that are not included in their curriculums and helps them understand why inclusive development is so important.

“In communities we know the number of settlements, services and origins of the people. We know how they spend their money and how they would like to develop their areas,” said Federation member Katana Goretti. “You cannot plan from the office but if you go to the ground and speak to people and learn from them it can help you plan better.”

As planners we are taught that we are gods. The studio helped me to see that the gods are the community as they have the knowledge about their areas.”
--Makerere student Sam Nuwagira, who participated in the SDI Urban Studio.

The first of these four-month partnership workshops, called Urban Studios, was held between March and July 2012. It began with members of slum dweller federations coming to Makerere University and sharing their impressions of urban planning with the class. For the next step, students were split up into groups and accompanied the federation members on visits to informal settlements in Kampala, Arua, Mbale, Mbarara, Kabale and Jinja.

In these communities, students conducted enumerations, transect walks and mapping exercises—necessary steps taken by communities to provide data for planning. The students also met with residents and heard their stories about eviction, lack of services and housing conditions, seeing firsthand how these communities have been excluded from the planning process and it what it has meant for them.

The Makerere students then worked closely with students from the New School in New York to clean and analyse the enumeration data so that it could be compiled into reports.  On 5 July, the students accompanied the Federation members as they presented a report to each municipality in order to help the communities create awareness of the needs in their areas and leverage resources

A Resounding Success

The first Urban Studio was a great success on all fronts, benefiting each of the parties involved. Uganda’s future urban planners gained a deeper understanding of the realities faced by residents of the country’s growing informal settlements, a group that has not been included in traditional planning. They learned that understanding these realities—which are unique to each settlement—is integral to inclusive and effective planning, and that genuine community involvement must be at the centre of any effort to collect accurate information in slums.

The municipal councils, in turn, saw that communities are able to drive applied urban research. The efforts are already paying off—in each of the five TSUPU municipalities, for example, the municipality and its partners in the slum dwellers federation are using the report to identify projects that can be implemented with the TSUPU programme.

For their part, federation members deepened their capacity to generate information and engaged with the institutions of knowledge production in a very different way to help make local academia more relevant to the country’s planning needs.

Efforts are underway to ensure that the partnership will continue to impact Uganda’s future planners. The head of Makerere’s Architectures and Physical Planning Department, Dr. Steven Mukiibi, is committed to making sure that the partnership with the federation continues. The NDSFU and its support NGO, ACTogether, have worked with Makerere to design a competitive urban planning internship for 2013, which will be inextricably linked to the expansion of municipal forums into 9 new municipalities this year. Applications are presently being reviewed.

The next step is to figure out how the studio work will impact the planning curriculum. Discussions have been ongoing within the AAPS community about how this might be possible and how to overcome bureaucratic barriers within universities. Additional studios are also under consideration.

Sam’s Story: The Impact of the Partnership on One Student

It is clear that the initial Urban Studio is already having a profound impact on how Makerere’s planning students view their future profession.

Student Sam Nuwagira (far left) participating in the AAPS Conference in Nairobi, Kenya as part of the SDI delegation. Photo: SDI

One of the students who participated in the studio, Sam Nuwagira, was invited by SDI to accompany their delegation to the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS) conference in Nairobi, Kenya this past October. A recent graduate, Sam was selected because he stood out during the studio for his diligence, initiative, and willingness to work hard.

Upon his return, Sam—on his own initiative—wrote a lengthy report on the conference, how it reinforced the messages conveyed in the SDI studio, and how his thinking on urban development had changed.

Sam said he came to realise that the top-down approach to planning being taught at many universities ignores the realities of how cities are growing and contributes to the problem of slums.

“I came to understand that the current teaching curriculum is not practical to current planning problem-solving in most of the African countries,” Sam said.

“It is this teaching curriculum that is causing the rampant development of slums in these cities since the approaches are not applicable to the problems. For example, the top-bottom approach should change to a bottom-up approach if the problem of slums is to be solved.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

More Information

Makerere lecturer Peter Kassaija and New School student Mara Forbes wrote a detailed report on the studio and its implications for the future of participatory planning and education. Download the report.

For more about the studios and the SDI-AAPS partnership, please visit SDI’s website at