The Slovo Park Project – The start of 1to1

Jhono Bennett 1to1 Blog

In 2010, a group of postgraduate students from the University of Pretoria were given the opportunity to analyse and understand the needs, problems and opportunities of the Slovo Park community during their Housing and Urban Environments module.

They soon discovered that this community was grounded by a strong, established and open-minded social structure, which gave the residents the confidence and awareness to recognise their own problem areas within the settlement and more importantly their potential to be self-empowered.

The community were open to the idea of having a relationship with the students, which allowed for an intimate type of research engagement to start taking place. The outcome of this mutual contribution identified the need to upgrade the community hall.

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For the full 2010 story, please follow this link: Slovo Park Project 2010

Slovo Park 2.0 – 2012

The residents participated during all stages of the Slovo hall process, including analysis, problem recognition, conceptual problem resolution, design resolution and finally implementing and building of the chosen design intervention.

The process of upgrading Slovo hall has ensured that the Slovo Park community has a designated place to meet. More importantly, it has shown the residents of Slovo Park that they have the ability to come together and work towards making the changes necessary in order to improve their quality of life and achieve their long term goal of community upliftment.

In 2012, a new group of postgraduate Architecture students were introduced to the Slovo Park community and were given the opportunity to further document and research their needs.

The pre-established intimate relations with the residents and thorough research undertaken in 2010, enabled the students of 2012 to focus on attaining and defining a long-term vision of community upliftment, self-sustainability and development.

Involvement of the community, especially the Youth forum, during this research period directed the students towards the realisation that further development of Slovo Hall was necessary in order to accommodate new needs:

A positive social growth since 2010 could be seen through the expansion of after-school activities run by the Youth Forum together with the need to provide for more occasions of community gathering.

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The Research

Due to the success of the 2010 Slovo hall project and the enthusiasm and encouragement which it installed in the Slovo park residents, the 2012 student group decided to follow a similar process of analysis and understanding to that of the 2010 group. Thus a sensitive and holistic approach to researching and documenting enabled a more comprehensive understanding of the complex socio-economic context of Slovo Park.

Participating in guided tours organised by willing community leaders, provided students with access to specific site community activities and created suitable opportunity for interviews with other community residents to take place.
Interviewing residents and members of the Community Development Forum was the best way to gain insight into the complex and developed social structure.

It is here were the foundation and strength of the community was realised.

This important information was documented and conveyed into a more accessible format using an organogram: A suitable way to visually portray the different sectors, portfolios and relationships within the Community Forum structure.

This had a direct influence on the analysis and mapping exercises completed. Five key research themes were defined and used to synthesize the intangible social knowledge recognised together with the more literal aspects of the settlement.

Research themes: Infrastructure, Meeting places, Business, Safety and Children helped to categorize and map the needs, problems and potentials found within Slovo Park.

Each theme was mapped independently and connections and relationships between research themes began to unfold.

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Framework Proposal

blog-framework-proposalOnce a comprehensive understanding of the community’s needs, potential and opportunities was achieved, the group focused its attention on urban framework strategies, the aim and outcome of which was to determine and define a vision for the Slovo park community.

During the mapping process, an interview with the Community’s Business Forum leaders revealed that the community was already contributing to the process of problem solving on their own.

They shared their ideas and goals of initiating and maintaining a sustainable economic structure within Slovo and discussed which resources were available.

In order to ensure that a relevant outcome was achieved and that the community experienced a sense of inclusion within this process, it was important for the 2012 students to consider and expand on the business Forum’s ideas.

Defining a vision which recognised the importance of a sustainable economy, access to public amenities and opportunity for partnership was important.

Community Vision

Slovo Park, a self-sustaining/ empowered community, independent from government which collaborates with NGO support.

Proposals derived from the framework exercises, adopted the concept of implementing strategies in stages or incrementally. Basic infrastructure would provide the foundation and potential for further development and activities to be generated:

Phase 1: Focus on infrastructure and street upgrade: water drainage infrastructure, sewerage (flushing toilets on street edge), electricity (solar panels, street lighting) and river rehabilitation.
Phase 2: Developing economic opportunities: defining and expanding on current commercial and industrial business initiatives within streets and on edges associated with main activity and transport nodes. Defining a safety route for children in streets based on business development above using recreational activities.
Phase 3: Developing meeting spaces and recreational areas relating to business activity as well as defining potential areas for urban agriculture, recreation and sports facilities near the river
Phase 4: Building infrastructure – relating to the existing warehouse and property development as outlined by Slovo Park’s business Forum. This entails the re-use of industrial buildings, using their potential for storage and shelter for business opportunities and health care or clinic facilities.

These framework strategies implement the five research themes through streetscape intervention in order to achieve the Slovo Park vision. Here after the individual designs and programs were required to support the overall vision and goal for social, economic and environmental community sustainability.

The group focused on overlapping the individual programmes to ensure a sustainable network and integration of activities. Although there was a common objective, each programme responded differently. Some interventions could be used as primary catalysts to initiate development and provide stability. Others could only be considered in time once a founded development was established.

Presenting these concepts was well received by the members of the community. They did however challenge the students to identify and realise what could be implemented in the short term and whether it could support the growing activities of the Business and Youth Forums. After attending another meeting with the Business Forum, the enthusiasm over the work completed by the students ignited the idea that this research could be translated into another built intervention.

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The Built Intervention

Although it was not required of the students to complete and build a designed intervention for the University module, the students together with the Community Forum realised the need to address some of the current problems.The first issue that was raised by the community was related to the current community hall. This was not sufficiently providing for the Youth and Business Forum activities and could not comfortably accommodate the residents and government officials when meetings took place. The second was the need for lockable storage. Finally, the vandalism of Slovo hall by the children confirmed the lack of recreational facilities.

In order to complete adequate research which focused on these community requests, the students and residents which were willing to complete this task had to set aside time during the University holidays.

The community’s consistent and willing participation during the stages of problem analysis, design brainstorming and construction was testimony to Slovo Park’s drive for achieving upliftment and independence.

More importantly the students’ lack of practical knowledge was made up by the skills gained by the community during the building experience in 2010. Residents who had any building skills were also present during the design process. This gave the team foresight into the execution of any desired design ideas.

The community members supported the idea that the design be determined by the existing materials available on site and the needs defined above.

Fortunately there were several large window frames which had been stored in the post boxes on site for the purpose of expanding on the existing hall structure. Making use of all the frames would minimise the need for additional material such as brick and concrete and maximise on natural lighting.

These could be incorporated into the design for the purpose of closing the current open structure. This would ensure that the hall could be locked and sealed and thus suitable to store goods.

Hinging the frames would allow for a flexible structure which could be opened and aired during hot climates and provide larger openings when larger quantities of people are present. This considered the comfort of the user.With the strong social network present, the hall and surrounding public space needed to accommodate the growing number of attendees. Hence the idea of shading the existing gum pole structure, adjacent to the hall, become relevant.

As the main users of the hall, most of the community members pointed out the need to raise the roof in order to maximise the use of the structure and better accommodate the users and activities.

It was announced that there were other willing University students who were available to participate in a building exercise during the last week of the University holidays.Although many of the students were nervous of the idea, the residents with building experience were confident in this decision and believed it to be manageable.

With this in mind, the current team comprised of students and Slovo Park residents decided to take up the opportunity and complete the build over the one week period. This meant that any funding and obtaining of necessary materials had to be completed during the few weeks remaining prior to construction time.

With limited available resources on site this was somewhat challenging. The students were supported by the university of Pretoria’s JCP module. This added to the arrangement that would have the students staying with host families in Slovo during the construction week:

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Day 2

Julia and her team prepared lunch at Maparas and at 14:00 we had fried chicken and pap.

The confidence and productivity of the team seemed to attract the interest of other community members and soon we had many willing volunteers.

With an increase in helping hands and availability of resources (especially that of a much needed generator!) numerous tasks began taking place simultaneously.

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Day 3

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Day 4

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Day 5

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Day 6

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Day 7

With the late-night push for completion, the hall took on a different image on Saturday morning. Yet again, work was off to a slow start, despite the imminent hand-over. This was largely due the late-night, and that some of the principal volunteers operate taverns until late night on weekends.

The energy was great. Bonga, Frank and the rest of the Slovo Khayalami Youth Forum set up a DJ set and the music attracted many children and unfamiliar faces. Julia offered to make us pap and Mohau and I drove to Kliptown for some meat to end the day off proudly South African style, with a braai.

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Slovo Park – The Birthplace of 1to1

blog-slovo-park-birthplace-of-1to1Although the idea to create a platform for students and community members to engage with each other and learn and develop in a mutually beneficial manner, began during the Slovo Park 2010 Project, its final conception took place during this project.

Here the students, NGO’s, community members, professionals and academics came together in a way that that exemplifies the values of what 1to1 is about.

The distinction between 1to1 Student League and the 1to1 – Agency of Engagement were put in place to extend this platform from just an academic exercise into a practical and sustainable vehicle to navigate the dynamic and intimate world of Socio-technical design and development in South Africa.