Bricolage and improvisation in the process of everyday 'place-shaping': learning from informal settlements in South Africa and Lebanon

Authors: Stuart Denoon Stevens*, University of the Free State, Lauren Andres, University College London,Bartlett School of Planning, Paul Moawad, University College London, Bartlett School of Planning
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Geography, Higher Education
Keywords: Bricolage, improvisation, everyday place-shaping,informal settlements, South Africa, Lebanon
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 39
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Combining insights from large-scale projects in South Africa and Lebanon, this paper is discussing the challenges faced by urban practitioners in addressing the needs of informal settlements and tackling both bricolage and improvisation in various forms of insurgent urbanisms. Informal settlements are affected continuously by rapid adaptations to address everyday needs and survival. Such adaptative processes change quickly and are difficult to account for. This raises significant questions on how urban planners and architects can engage and account for bricolage and improvisation dynamics. More importantly, it involves broader discussions on what forms of learning and training are required for built environment professionals who work in contexts where skills and capacity are scarce.

We will critically discuss what the means of learning about informal settlements are for built environment professionals and the difficulties they encounter, in terms of skills needed, values required, and ethical positioning. This includes the ability to negotiate and change worldviews amongst overly complex political agendas; and how to recognize the bricolage of the poor, bridging their forms of improvisation with the imaginary world of policy which mostly sees such improvisation as illegal. We will be making the case that incremental approaches need to be negotiated, which may lead to various conflicts amongst dwellers, host communities and policymakers. The eventual solution might often be a subversion of policy to accommodate informality, which itself is a form of bricolage.

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