Water as Living Structure: Exploring Water Routines in Mathare, Nairobi

Water as Living Structure: Exploring Water Routines in Mathare, Nairobi

type—master thesis—London School of Economics and Political Science, MSc City Design & Social Sciences [LSE Cities]
location—London, UK

Water is a natural resource essential for life to happen; not only for maintaining the metabolism of human bodies, but also for sustaining the wider system of social living. Historically one of the most unequal cities in the world, Nairobi provides arenas of water abundance and scarcity, where the routines of endurance and survival are demanded for many. Just like food, water has adopted a character of both biological necessity and key economic commodity, and is prone to a centralized bureaucracy and engineering control systems (Swyngedouw, 2004). In cities that historically lack appropriate water supply systems such as Nairobi, this resource becomes particularly symbolic of political, economic, and social forces manifested at different scales.

‘Nairobi: Living with Water’ addresses this issue using a story of water crisis and community response in a dense, poor, inner-city locale. The struggle for water in the Kosovo Village in the Mathare informal settlement has made way to fascinating processes of community and household assemblage that help us understand the role water has to play in the contemporary African city.


Water as Living Structure: Exploring Water Routines in Mathare, Nairobi

Water is a good servant, but it is a cruel master. John Bullein, 1562
Instead of network and organism, the new infrastructure creates enclave and impasse: no longer the grand récit but the parasitic swerve. Rem Koolhaas, 1994

Water is a natural resource essential for life; not only for the maintenance of human metabolism, but also for sustaining the wider system of social living. For centuries, water has drawn spaces of social and cultural interaction, both in the private and public spheres of daily life. At the scale of the city, water forms intricate power relations that weave through its urban tissue and delineate tangled geographies of economic, social, and ecological processes. Historically one of the most unequal cities in the world, Nairobi contains arenas of water abundance and scarcity, where routines of endurance and survival are demanded for many. Just like food, water adopts a character of both biological necessity and key economic commodity, and is prone to centralised bureaucratic and engineering control systems (Swyngedouw 2004). In cities that historically lack appropriate water supply systems such as Nairobi, this resource becomes particularly symbolic of political, economic, and social forces manifested at different scales. Meticulous power relations arise from historically contested dynamics of water usage, from the global, to national and city governance, to neighbourhood and household arenas. In the ‘Global South’ these dynamics are ever more powerful and complex because of often highly unequal water management in urban areas (Bakker 2007, pp. 444). This thesis addresses the powerful synergies at play in the African city surrounding water and water scarcity.

    In the 19th and 20th centuries, urbanisation and industrialisation made nature and the city increasingly woven into a ‘messy socio-spatial continuum’ (Kaika 2005: 4). From spaces of production to those of consumption, water has embodied changing attitudes towards urban development and participated in the creation and metabolism of urban space in different ways in high-, medium-, and low-income territories. In the context of Nairobi, there is a fundamental contrast between water abundance and extreme scarcity. This infrastructural contrast is deeply rooted in historically composed urban spaces and harsh social demarcations, and current external (global) and internal (urban) forces. In a city that almost entirely exists beyond its architecture, a mysterious gap appears between the production of water and its highly ambiguous patterns of distribution and consumption. This void seems to be deeply rooted in historical planning and other recent social formations such as the divergence of the political nucleus from the majority of the population. The latter lives in informal settlements, which might be understood as socio-politically ‘peripheral’ cities within the city, and where a ‘collective unconsciousness’ of how to live the urban is inevitably formed (De Boeck 2004, Simone 2004, Amin 2010). In face of lack and political neglect, residents have little choice but to retrofit situations of uncertainty and insecurity, using valuable capacities in surviving rather than creating new living and business opportunities. This highlights the importance of infrastructure in the city.

    The Kosovo village is located in the Mathare settlement just 3 km from the capital’s Central Business District (CBD), and is particularly representative of liquid socio-political forces at play. Through a story of water crisis and community response, the struggle for this natural resource in the Kosovo village has made way to fascinating processes of community and household assemblage. Water makes its way through visible and invisible, public and private spaces of formality and informality, of order and disorder, riddled with legal and illegal processes, and it ultimately emerges in an atmosphere of ambiguity (Simone 2004). My aim is to cast a light on the complex systems of living in the city and the individual and collective energies and routines that emerge from the daily strive for water. In analysing the patterns of water usage in a locale of ‘urban periphery’, I set out to find decentred meanings of what the city is, and seek the energy and creativity in the strategies of ‘being urban’ in a landscape of abundance and deep deprivation, along with social, spatial, and political fragmentation.

    I explore the theme of water in Nairobi, and particularly in the Kosovo village in the Mathare settlement, by mapping the different scales at which water infrastructure is organised (fig 01). I broadly explore the role water has to play in the contemporary African city, specifically in Nairobi, through a more detailed lens on a dense, poor, inner-city locale. In understanding the city’s urban formation and political and social situation, a clearer image arises as a basis for analysing the dynamics surrounding water flows in this context. At the level of Mathare, I carve out the geographies and routines drawn by water, and finally recognise the strategies of endurance and survival, and practices of order in the Kosovo settlement. 

    I structure my narrative into three scales of introspection: the city, the informal settlement, and the village. Nairobi serves as the set back to which Mathare finds itself, and is going to serve as a basis to understanding the fluid realities of this particular settlement. An ethnographic study of a few selected streets and alleyways in Kosovo compels us to better grasp the complex social and spatial realities of this place through water. Through intense research and observation, I intertwine my written argument with formal and informal interviews carried out in Nairobi, with actors from different spheres of influence in the urban fabric. I will also include photos, maps, and diagrams to illustrate the overarching rationale.


01 The Role of Water in the Contemporary African Metropolis:
The Case of Nairobi

A friend once told me that in the African city one can always reinvent him/herself and find opportunities in unexpected places, as opposed to the case of the hyper-vigilantist state, more commonly encountered in the West. Indeed, Africa retains an atmosphere of possibility, vitality, and imaginary; an air of ‘work in progress’, resulting from extremely dense social and spatial interactions, and at the same time making available space for creativity, innovation and appropriation (Simone 2004). Water becomes part of both the visible and invisible infrastructures of the city, becoming a necessary metaphor to grasp certain socio-political realities that might be perceived as extremely complicated and illegible otherwise.

    In an increasingly urban world, the large majority of population growth in the past decades has been absorbed by developing countries (fig 02, 03). Indeed, Africa today is in a state of rapid transition, demonstrating the highest annual urban growth rate in the world (UN-Habitat 2006). At present, and predicted to continue in the next decades, this growth is taking place almost entirely in informal settlements. Even if these areas accommodate large portions of urban populations, they remain marginalized from urban services such as water and electricity. Borrowing the term from Charton-Bigot (2010), the African city is characterized by ‘urban fragmentation’, marked by social and spatial patterns of segregation and economic crisis. In other words, the city seems ‘incapable of creating a real society’ (Boursquet 2010: 121). Simone (2004) argues, however, that although cities like Kinshasa, Lagos, Dakar, and Nairobi seem to be ungovernable, they ultimately survive. As water is central to the production and metabolism of urban space (Kaika 2004, Gandy 2004), embodying physical, socio-political and cultural realities, it is an essential medium through which to understand the contemporary urban African metropolis.

01.1 Water in the African City

    The process of urbanisation has fused nature, society, and water together, giving rise to systems of participation and exclusion that are particularly interesting in the context of middle- and low-income cities (Swyngedouw 2004). As water ceases to be a service and is increasingly treated as a commodity, processes of water production, distribution, and consumption in these contexts become even more critical. Cities of the Global South have for decades only partially managed their water flow, as opposed to the modern metropolises of the 19th century, where for a long time complex systems of networks have supported the abundant flow of water and the city (Kaika 2005). The use of water in the West in private spheres gradually changed, giving rise to the ‘hidden city’ of pipes and sewers and turning nature into a mere source of leisure and decoupling it from urban production of space (Gandy 2004). In the Global South something quite different happens: water networks have been affected by entirely different factors such as colonization, prevailing socio-spatial patterns of segregation, and administrative, environmental, and technical constraints. The metabolic circulation of water between the natural, the urban, and the domestic spheres therefore reveals different attitudes towards urbanity, especially in poorer contexts both globally and within cities. Understanding systems of water management in these contexts is important to unveil not only the living nature of the city, but also water’s capacity to organize individual and collective livelihoods in the city.

01.2 Water Privatization: Public v Private Provision

    Water is a non-substitutable resource necessary for life that bares both political and territorial importance, and is essential for the fulfilment of functions including agricultural, industrial, drinking, environmental, etc. An ongoing debate on whether water should be treated as a right or a commodity has been paired with the debate on water privatization. On the one hand, the need for relatively expensive infrastructure projects and mobilizations prone to monopolistic control justifies public sector involvement in water management (Bakker 2003). On the other hand, private sector involvement sees private capital being inserted on behalf of public sector: it sets markets as allocation mechanisms. In cities such as Nairobi water distribution has long been privatized but is a citizen’s right according to the new constitution. The vast majority of urbanites, however, remain infrastructurally disconnected partly because most of them aren’t part of the formal market. Satterthwaite (2006) argues, however, that too much emphasis has been put on whether water should be privately or publicly distributed, rather than focusing on actual water provision for all.

    In the Global South water distribution has been considered highly inefficient because of its rapidly expanding ‘unplanned’ urban zones and the technical and political difficulties entailed to extending infrastructure to them; to weak institutional involvement, and to state pressures geared towards globalization, liberalization, and deregulation (Bakker 2003, Gandy 2004). On top of historical precedents, as water has become a ‘marketable commodity’ rather than a real public good, water access in developing countries is very much correlated with income, spatialsing into particularly segregated territories. Indeed, in cities in the South, many historically unplanned but sprawling, and invisible but dense poor neighbourhoods, that make up the majority of the city, remain disconnected from the main water grid. Lagos, Mumbai, and Nairobi are amongst the fastest growing cities in the world experiencing an infrastructure crisis, demonstrating high water disparities and dilemmas (Gandy 2004)

01.3 Nairobi: the Past Today

    Sitting approximately 1800 metres above sea level and at the eastern edge of the Rift Valley, Nairobi was established in 1899 by British colonialists as a supply depot on the Uganda Railway en route to the Indian Ocean. In time, the city witnessed shifting socio-political dynamics that influence the way it is today, drawing a landscape that is at the same time paradoxical and full of possibilities.

    The city grew according to particular forces directly and indirectly based on functional separations – industrial and residential – and brutal racial segregation (Médard 2010: 27). Nairobi’s air of possibility has for decades attracted people not only from Europe and Asia, but also, and mostly, from all over Kenya. Even though British rule sought to discourage ‘natives’ of moving to urban areas, Kenyans saw unprecedented opportunities in city life. This led to European and Indian populations being allocated residential areas designed in a ‘garden city’ typology, from which the majority of the urban population was excluded (fig 06). The city’s rejection of its Kenyan population made it that informal ‘villages’ accommodating most of the urban population growth spread in precarious sites - i.e. around railway lines, old quarry sites, steep slopes, dumping sites, etc- within and around the ‘colonial city’. These areas seemed to be chaotic and ‘too much of a threat to certain kinds of order and processes’ known to the powerful classes (Simone 2010). The contrast between the planned and unplanned city was increasingly emphasized by the difference between those areas connected and disconnected from resource provision, such as water.

    This particular trajectory of expansion is fragmented both in its social and spatial compositions. The stark demarcation between the planned city and the unplanned, informal city was carved deeper in the period of Kenyan post-independence. In fact, 90% of Kenya’s growth in the 90s was absorbed by informal settlements in Nairobi and Mombasa (Davis 2006). Today the city faces different challenges linked with a rapidly growing population, rising urban poverty, harsh infrastructure disparities, unclear issues of land ownership, traffic congestion, environmental degradation, and global economic turmoil. Illustrated in figures 07 and 08, in a study comparing the living and infrastructure conditions in informal settlements in Dakar, Nairobi, and Johannesburg, the authors concluded that even though Nairobi’s slum residents have jobs and comparatively high levels of education, their living conditions are extremely bad (Gulyani 2010). Still demonstrating uneven levels of connectivity and high levels of inter-city inequality, Nairobi remains a fragmented city. Water infrastructure illustrates decades of socio-political shifts that have affected the patterns of flow within the city, drawing a disjointed geography of resource provision.

01.4 Understanding Nairobi

    Nairobi has an increasing population of just over 3 million people (fig 09), which accounts for 40% of the total Kenyan population (KENSUP 2008). These figures are quite unsure not only because the informal settlements, which still hold the largest share of the population, are difficult to collect accurate numbers from, but also because of volatile rural-urban linkages, undercover international migration, and rapid natural population growth. 60% to 80% of the urban population lives in informal settlements, which occupy a mere 5% of the total urban area (UN-Habitat 2006). At the same time, apart from the CDB area, a smaller segment of the population enjoys residential neighbourhoods with oversized garden compounds. In 2000, the population density of Kibera, which is Nairobi’s largest informal settlement, was 100 times denser than Muthaiga, which is known for its higher income residents (UN-Habitat 2006).

Like many countries in the Global South, and especially in Africa, Kenya’s political class has for decades been faced with ongoing dilemmas between being held subject to global flows of capital, resources, and migration, and prioritizing internal possibilities of wealth production (Robinson 2002, Watts 2004, Beall 2009, Rao 2010). With the majority of Nairobi’s population living in ‘slums’, where 70% live under the poverty line, a good example for the sate’s schizophrenic attitude towards development is the £9.1bn project for ‘Konza Techno City’, aka ‘Africa’s Silicon Savannah’, deemed to become a ‘world-class technology hub’ just 60km outside of the capital city (KOTDA 2013). Like most Sub-Saharan African cities, where 78% of all non-agricultural employment is in the informal sector (UN-Habitat 2006), Nairobi’s formal economic sector has been unable to absorb a rapidly increasing labour force (fig 10). In the case of Nairobi, this situation has been translated into densely populated inner-city locales, such as Kibera and Mathare, that escape the scope of formal activity but bare extremely high levels of human energy.

    These contrasts demonstrate the city’s long-term inability to properly accommodate population growth and prevailing levels of inequality. They also suggest state priorities geared towards an economic growth that encompasses only the formal sector of the economy, from which the majority of the population remains alienated. Concentrations of political power are challenged as they flow through spaces of ‘invisible infrastructure’, into centres of informal commerce in ‘the peripheral city, which is the real city’ (De Boeck 2010: 28). In this dissertation the process of constant spatial contestation is embodied by water running from the formal to these peripheral cities.

01.5 Water in Nairobi

‘Water is in the visible and invisible dimensions of space’ Gandy 2004

    Nairobi gives way to complicated socio-political and economic dynamics that are made clearer through water, spatialising and arising in ways that make transparent certain societal realities. Mechanisms of water flow (in high- and low-income areas) and of water usage (industrial and every-day use) highlight disparate ways of ‘being urban’. Ironically, the name ‘Nairobi’ has its roots from the Maasai word meaning ‘source of cold water’. And indeed, the city is dissected from the northwest by numerous streams and rivers that were once a rich source of water. Taking origin in Mount Kenya and benefitting from Nairobi’s high altitude position, the main rivers running and branching out down through the city are Nairobi, Athi, and Ruiru rivers. As they cut across most of the city’s 200 informal settlements, today these rivers are highly polluted and contaminated. 

    Clean water irrigates Nairobi from four main water production reservoirs: Kikuyo Springs, Sasuma Dam, Ruiru Dam, and Thika Dam (fig 12). There is a clear divide between water production, which in theory could be abundant thanks to Nairobi’s geographical position, and between its distribution, whose deficit takes precedence in a series of socio-political factors (fig 13). Confirming the age-old inability of authorities to provide clean water to the whole urban population, by 1940 the production of clean water to the city was already insufficient (Bousquet 2010: 123). Indeed, according to a report on water scarcity carried out by UNEP (2008), Kenya is amongst the countries with lowest freshwater provision per inhabitant. This gap is widened by a series of factors that aggravate the situation for most citizens in less favoured areas

The latter is described by Bousquet (2010: 122) as a ‘water apartheid’, where, historically, ‘the skin colour determines the type of access to water’. In the period of colonization, European areas would be supplied with modern sanitary standards; whereas planned native estates settled with either a collective water point or, for a small minority, a private water tap; and unplanned areas remained basically cut off. To a certain extent, this pattern of provision has prevailed. Even if experiencing sporadic water shortages in high- and middle-income areas, less than 22% of residents in informal settlements have a private water tap (UN-Habitat 2007). Keeping in mind that the majority of the population lives in these settlements with high population densities, urban authorities persist to fail to extend urban infrastructure evenly to informal settlements. The result is multiple scenarios where residents spend their time making up for insecure and provision livelihoods, keeping them from economically maximizing their capacities and from creating new possibilities for work, education, social welfare, and leisure.

    The Nairobi City Council (NCC) and the Water and Sewage Department (WSD), through the Nairobi Water Company (NWC), are responsible for the production, distribution, and supply of clean water in the city (Bousquet 2010: 122). However, thousands remain disconnected and reliant on expensive alternatives. In these cases, most depend on NGOs, community organizations, and other micro-networks to manage water. In an interview with infrastructure manager at the European Union (EU) Delegation in Kenya, Sanne Willems held responsible problems of trust, accountability, and investment for the aggravated problem of water in Nairobi. From the water company’s perspective, in historically planned areas where the middle- and higher-income population lives, the water company may be confident not only that households consume higher amounts of water and that water bills will be paid, but also that investment in water infrastructure –which is easier to carry out because of the organized nature of these areas – will be profitable. On the other hand, unplanned areas not only have unclear landlords and tenants (payers) that might not guarantee regular payment, but also are areas much more difficult and costly to build water infrastructure in.

The Kosovo-Mathare water model, mentioned in further detail in the forthcoming sections, proved to be the first of its kind in Nairobi, where a water project was successfully carried out between different institutions and in a locale full of uncertainties.

Water demonstrates to be a ‘brutal delineator of social power’ (Gandy 2004), deeply rooted in historical precedents and in socio-political and economic dynamics. In one of the most unequal cities in the world, water underlines geographies of spatial contestation, social separations, and political inertia. At the same, unique forms of expenditure, circulation, and consumption are developed in those locales cut-off from most formal urban services. Rejected and alienated from the formal system, individuals develop methods of living and surviving, reminding me that water in an essential resource for life to happen and questioning mainstream notions of urbanity. The case of Mathare is a captivating one that compelled me to seek other facets of ‘being urban’; other modes of living based on water-drawn routines.

02 What are the geographies (social, spatial, temporal) drawn by water in the informal settlement?

Mathare is the oldest informal settlement in Nairobi, and the second largest after Kibera (fig 16). The tactical abilities of Mathare’s residents and the amount of transversal engagements between them and the rest of the city ensure survival for the thousands living in the settlement. Mathare demonstrates high concentrations of bodies, buildings, and activities; the density of movement and interactions is so that it is fair to say that this is a city within the city. Running parallel but separately from the formally planned areas of the city, the settlement has developed according to its own notions of growth. Like many other places where most urbanization is happening today and is likely to happen in the next few decades, Mathare functions in ways perhaps unrecognizable to Western actors: many processes remain silent, invisible, unnoticed (De Boeck 2010).

    Mathare’s first residents established themselves around 1920, after which the settlement grew according to a series of geological conditions and stories of population eviction and relocation. Rapid population growth took place in the 60s and 70s as a series of construction companies took advantage of Mathare’s location near the city centre, building dense housing for the poor. This construction boom, however, was not accompanied by the provision of land titles or basic services such as water and electricity, contributing to a phenomenon familiar to many other cities in the Global South called urbanization of poverty. At the present date the settlement occupies approximately 73 ha of the Mathare Valley and, along with other informal settlement in Nairobi, absorbs a large share of urban population growth, having a total population of approximately 188.200 people spread over 13 villages with different population densities (Corburn 2010, Pajoma Trust 2009)


02.1 Spaces and People of Mathare

    Arising from a conflictual temporal trajectory, Mathare has a dense spatial and social fabric. The physical nature of the settlement today has largely to do with the settlement having been a quarry site in the 1930s-50s, and for it occupying the steep slopes of the Mathare Valley. Mathare and Gitathuru rivers traverse the Valley, acting as central features for life in the settlement, as they are used for water run off and for activities such as washing and cleaning. As the soil is quite rough and most villages sit in slanted land, the number of open spaces with flat surfaces and spaces dedicated to agriculture is limited. In fact, one of the first expanses of land made available by the government for cultivation was a plot next to the Kosovo Village, allowing the community to make a micro-business by growing, consuming, and selling their produce. In other parts of the settlement waste deposits replace empty spaces, this generally being the case in inner-settlement locales near the water (fig 17).

    Accessibility and mobility has an added value in a physically challenging locale where one needs to move in order to eat, drink, trade, learn, play, socialize, negotiate, and, essentially, live. Most people rely on walking everywhere through Mathare’s often sloped, dirty, rough and bumpy surfaces. The presence of cars and trucks is very limited in part because vehicle circulation was little included in Mathare’s path of physical growth, and in part because quarrying activity left exposed rock and removed top soil, leaving rough terrains throughout the settlement (Corburn 2010). Most paths and roads also act as drainage canals, making movement increasingly difficult for children, the elderly, and infirm ones. 

    Although the population is difficult to count, the number of people living here is increasing annually. Community-based organisations, women’s groups, savings and credit schemes, and youth organisations, are amongst the resident-established associations.

Borrowing De Boeck’s (2010) ‘hunter’s logic’, setting Mathare as a ‘forest’, residents seize opportunities and know how to generate profit to keep capital in constant circulation in a locale of bare resources. People engage in a range of economic activities, 61% of which happens within the settlement. 87% of these activities happen informally. This fact, combined with the lack of physical infrastructure, leads to households having unpredictable levels of income and often falling short of the average monthly household expenditure, which in Mathare is calculated to be 91 USD (fig 19). However, people engage in different modes of production and exchange, and construct highly mobile and interim possibilities for how to live in order to endure in this urban landscape that is almost like a ‘forest’, highly versatile and challenging.

    In presence of these trans-local movements and sheer density of skills, needs, aspirations, and willingness, Mathare might sometimes be perceived as a brutal place. Nairobi and other Sub-Saharan African cities provide a series of enclaves where life is increasingly problematic mainly due to political neglect and the absence of urban infrastructure. In a setting like Mathare, the combination of heterogeneous social activities people partake in becomes an essential lubricant for city life. Simone (2004) advances the concept of ‘people as infrastructure’, where survival in face of resource scarcity is enabled through a series of flexible networks between people, markets, objects, infrastructures, ideas, etc.

    Although Mathare seems to stimulate a demanding and sometimes tough lifestyle, the settlement’s population is growing faster than ever. In Kenyan history, rural-urban linkages are very important, prevailing even after very poor rural household members move to the city. Indeed, moving to a place like Mathare is the first step out of poverty, providing constant economic opportunities, which outcomes can then be brought back to rural homes (Tacoli 2004). It is naïve to believe that informal economic activity is confined to the setting it takes place in, and it is important to recognize trans-regional, national, and global linkages of any market.

02.2 Water in Mathare

    Many people in Nairobi experience daily struggle for water: less than 22% of informal settlements’ households have a water connection, leaving 65% relying on water kiosks and stand points (UN-Habitat 2006). Much like Nairobi, Mathare denotes intra-settlement inequalities with contrasting patterns of water access and usage between its villages. The scenario drafted by water is one of scarcity, unreliability, informality, and contamination. 91% of residents don’t have in-home piped water, significantly highlighting the importance of water in every day life (fig 22). 76% of residents live within a 50 metres walk from a water point. I visited a standpoint located next to a garbage deposit area that over 1000 people relied on - emphasizing that one of the biggest issues in Mathare is that the number of kiosks and water stand points is not proportional to the number of people they serve. Barriers to water access persist (fig 21), varying between long wait, high cost, long distance, contamination, and, most importantly, unreliability (Muungano Support Trust 2012). Furthermore, the burden for this daily errand often falls on women and children, and the concept of distance is no longer one measured in ‘metres’ but one calculated by ‘safety’.

    Upon my visit to the settlement, residents had infinite stories about water. A resident related what happens in his apartment building: there being only one water tap per floor, when the landlord is gone many are those from the outside who come and take water - one might call this stealing but for this man this was a largely accepted practice. Another story recounted was the existence of underground organisations – or cartels - that you can pay to cut off your neighbour’s water pipe and reconnect it to your house instead. The result is the prevalence of high numbers of illegal connections, and indeed when I visited the 4B Village in Mathare, it was difficult to understand which were those connections which were legal and those which were illegal, and when people were paying for water or getting away with getting it for free. Water cartels also wilfully come in with soaring water prices when there is a general shortage of water. These stories can be paralleled with De Boeck’s (2004) narration on Kinshasa, where material infrastructure is there to be taken advantage of. This might happen because of a lack of sense of responsibility for the city, a feeling that Nairobi is not fully ours and that the city does not serve us righteously. Interestingly, only 3% of the population of Nairobi in their 60s had been born there (Charton-Bigot 2010) and a large majority of people living in Mathare are tenants and not owners.

Other accounts on water in the settlement concerned schools located on the top floor of company-made concrete buildings, where the floor’s tap cannot be used whenever one of the downstairs taps is being used. On top of this, when there is a water shortage –which happens frequently-, some girls refrain from going to school because it’s that time of the month when they cannot go without cleaning water.

    In addition to unintentional pipe leakages caused by low infrastructural maintenance, the access to clean water is further made uncertain by its physical closeness to open sewage canals and dump sites, frequently resulting in water contamination. Most people cannot afford to buy kerosene or charcoal to boil out any malicious bacteria from water, being left with little choice other than to rely on dirty water and being increasingly subject to water-borne diseases.

    These are just some accounts of water in Mathare, and they display an incredible amount of energy being spent on the daily acquisition of water. The contrast between scarcity and abundance is emphasized by the communities’ wiliness to improve their water systems. A fundamental mis-step, however, tends to happen between community and NGO-level of participation, and top, administrative and governmental level of implementation. Pieterse (2013) writes about the need for bottom-up participatory actions to understand political processes as being essential for the real concretization of urban projects, especially in contexts of political instability, resource scarcity, and inequality. In this way, the Mathare-Kosovo project was a successful bottom-up project, which inserts itself in the sequence of the 2007 water crisis that took place in Mathare.


02.3 2007 Water Crisis: Deconstructive-Constructive Processes

    Prior to 2007, Mathare’s water dissemination was controlled almost entirely by gangs or cartels that were not only stealing and selling water for almost 10 times the normal price, but were also terrorizing and exploiting residents. In an action aimed at breaking these gangs’ control over the settlement’s resources, the Nairobi City Water and Sewage Company and the Kenya Power and Lighting Company disconnected all legal and illegal water and electricity supplies to the settlement (Water Services Trust Fund 2010). On this day in October of 2007 and for the following days, chaos broke out as residents struggled for electricity, and, most importantly, for water. Even if human right activists condemned this manoeuvre and the politicians urged for water and electricity utilities to reconnect Mathare, the organized gang-movements’ economic base was destroyed, and despite the current situation being still one of blurry boundaries and uncertainties, residents today express the positive impacts of the 2007 water crisis.

    With little institutional anchorage and financial means, delicate procedures can be manoeuvred to attempt at correcting erratic and chaotic infrastructure. One of the projects that arose from this critical scenario was the Mathare-Kosovo water model, where the community got together and, with he help of an NGO and a Trust Fund, reached out to NWC and obtained formal water provision. Today, the contrast between the water pipes network in the Kosovo village and in a village like 4B is staggering. The former shows a gridded service provision, while the latter reveals a ‘spaghetti network’, much like the rest of Mathare and other informal settlements across Africa. The project itself, and an ethnographic account of the impact it had on Kosovo’s population, offers a perspective over a form of implementing urban ventures in a multidisciplinary, inclusive, and ‘creatively political’ way.


03 What are the strategies of survival and the practices of order in a locale of extreme scarcity and informality?

Kosovo is one of Mathare’s thirteen villages, however, unlike most of them, its 6000 or so inhabitants benefit from basic structures that make it a truly ‘urban village’: a hierarchical web of roads, along which lies a complete water and sewage pipe network laid out in a gridded pattern, four water kiosks, low-rise residential ‘shacks’ and blocks, and commercial and institutional facilities. A Community Organisation ensures residents of some kind of political representation, which has greatly contributed towards the integration of this part of Mathare into the city. The village sits on Mathare’s North-West most corner, stretching along 700 metres of its riverbank, and bordering the Mathare Mental Hospital and the Police grounds.

    Before 2007 Kosovo was controlled by the Mungiki gang, who are considered to be one of the most dangerous and aggressive gangs in Kenya (Reuters 2009). At this time, the village stood out as a particularly violent place, and in fact the name ‘Kosovo’ comes from the village’s precedent as a place of war. Since the expulsion of the Mungiki gang and the implementation of the water project, the village’s population has been rapidly increasing. Kosovo today has about 2800 households, and is known for its security in terms of non-violence and the relative absence of other conflicts. Furthermore, its attractiveness is increased by its geographical position in relation to job areas and the rest of the city.

    As I walk from the recently built water kiosk at the top most corner of the village down to the river, I am taken through what appears to be the busiest street in Kosovo. This thoroughfare is bustling with people of all ages exchanging goods, services, and the day’s news and gossip. Some are building and refurbishing new and old structures, others cooking, washing, socialising, minding their own business, or even just staring at the passers by, seemingly waiting for an unknown opportunity to spontaneously arise. The sounds of the settlement are not of motor engines and car horns, but rather of people chatting and music playing. As characteristic to the African city, one witnesses the impressive effect of the intense proximity of hundreds of activities. The energy encountered just in this strip of land seems to confuse most media accounts of what the ‘slum’ is: a dystopian place of violence, dirt, and chaos (Jones 2011).

    Even if certain infrastructural and political shortages prevail, Kosovo tells a story about water that invites us to revisit the assumption that the slum is a place of scarcity and overcrowding. Rather, through the cyclical nature of water, this story illustrates the possibilities of politics through design and vice-versa, and demonstrates the village’s praxis of living. New and creative forms of being ‘urban’ arise, while tactics for living are drawn in the struggle for water. In this section I explore strategies of survival and endurance, and practices of order represented by water in a locale of extreme scarcity and incredible dynamism and vitality.

03.1 The Mathare-Kosovo Water Model

    Kosovo is a relatively young addition to Mathare, dating back to 2001 when the residents of Kwanduru were evicted from their land and relocated by the government. Unique to Mathare and other informal settlements in Nairobi, Kosovo was laid out in a gridded pattern, it became an ‘informally planned’ village (fig 25). As previously narrated, in October 2007 the water provision to the whole of the Mathare settlement was cut. In the ensuing chaos a series of smaller socio-political networks were formed in order to ensure survival for thousands through water infrastructure and provision. In this event, unlike the rest of Mathare, the village was already equipped with the basic systems for it to accommodate a new type of informal water provision system: it had been recently planned with a relatively rational spatial layout, and a few members of its community had organised themselves and strongly advocated for the formalisation of water in the village. Amongst multiple scenarios that arose from the water crisis, despite tribal and societal disputes within the village itself, the Kosovo community united and formed the Federation. They embarked on a four-year long process to organise, finance, and extend water infrastructure to Kosovo.

    The Mathare-Kosovo water model surfaced in 2009, and it was a pilot project for informal water provision through a partnership between the Kosovo community, the Mugaano Support Trust, which is an affiliate of Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) in Kenya, and the NWC. This negotiation process took a lot of time and energy due to a deep mistrust between the institutions. Not only were the residents wary about the project’s real aims, but also NWC’s experience with Mathare villages was one of non-revenue, unaccounted-for water, and informal - and therefore corrupt- forms of water governance. Jason Waweru, secretary of the Kosovo and Mathare Federations, admitted that social relations between people and institutions was the biggest impediment to implement the aimed of formal-informal system of water provision. The project proved to be a challenge to both the residents, who put trust in these ‘unknown’ formal institutions, and for the NWC, who, in an attempt to decentralise water provision, risked repeating financial loss.

    Today the NWC provides piped water up until the four water kiosks on the Northern border of Kosovo, from which points it is redistributed throughout the village following the existing circulation paths and built tissue. With its own governance system, the community Federation is accountable for maintaining the successful management of water and mediates the relationship between the NWC and its customers, which includes helping out with bill payments, loan systems, reporting illegal activities, fund-raising, accountability, and representation. 

    It is important to acknowledge that in the context of the Mathare and many other informal settlements around the globe, this water model is considered to be highly successful. However, the Kosovo-Mathare water project’s ultimate goal is to provide water to every household in the village. Joseph Kimani from Muungano Support Trust states that despite the fact that individual connections to the water system are cheaper in the long run, most people still rely on the four water kiosks in the village. The number of households connected to the grid is increasing, however most households remain disconnected mainly due to issues with land tenure.

03.2 Water Beyond Water

    Issues over water extend to and are an extension of other important urban matters such as land tenure, sewage, sanitation, health care, education, demographic growth, etc. Sanne Willems from the EU expressed that land tenure is one of the principal issues to tackle when developing water infrastructure projects. According to Sanne, there are three levels of land ownership that slow down upgrading processes: the government is the formal owner of the land; secondly, the shacks and building blocks are owned by ‘structure owners’; and thirdly, large majority of these structures are rented out to tenants. Often structure owners are either absent or won’t commit to investing in infrastructure improvements, especially if they do not own the land. In fact, 85% of Kosovo’s residents are tenants (Corburn 2010), which results in a large majority of households staying disconnected from the water system. Furthermore, even if the water system in Kosovo is highly commendable, serious problems with sewage prevail, proof being that waterborne diseases make up the majority of healthcare problems in the village (Corburn 2010). 

    Water makes apparent many limitations within urban systems, and its importance lies not only in individual and collective lives, but also in the realms of politics and economics. The presence of water has changed drastically in the past few years for the thousands living in Kosovo. Much like many other places in the settlement, a perceived atmosphere of ambiguity still arises from extremely dense temporal, spatial, and social networks. However, I recognise the energy put into new ways of contributing to urban life that have previously gone unnoticed. From production and exchange, to consumption, water patently delineates individual and collective daily routines. The presence of water in the village illustrates interesting dynamics that blur the boundaries between what is formal and informal, ordered and disordered, just as the notion of what is visible and invisible, private and public becomes increasingly subjective. In this context one is confronted with a stark contrast between the abundance of human energy and scarcity of a resource. Even if an impressive collaborative project has been in action since 2009, water remains to be the structure for living, emerging as various forms and activities.

03.3 Water-drawn spaces and routines

    A satellite image reveals Kosovo’s orthogonal physical nature, suggesting spaces of systematic order and regular intervals (fig 26). A governor surveyor drew Kosovo’s road network and plotted the village, allocating 4 x 6 metre plots for each household. Today, these plots have been sub-divided and have different tenants and uses, forming a much more complex and dense urban landscape. To a certain extent echoing Koolhaas’ understanding of New York’s grid as a blend of ‘fantasy and pragmatism’ (Dunham-Jones 2013), Kosovo is at the same time chaotic and planned. The village hosts a certain collective unconsciousness resulting from stories of struggle and capacity building. The ‘ordered’ aerial view of the Kosovo village is somewhat dissuading: water emerges in a landscape charged with people, infrastructures, personal and collective ambitions and beliefs that assemble into complex daily routines (Simone 2011).

    The village is articulated by three principal elements (fig 27): the four water kiosks that sit at the highest points of Kosovo (fig 28); ten main roads that run downwards perpendicular to the Mathare river (fig 29); and a maze of narrower streets, or alleyways, that run discretely off to those wider and busier roads (fig 30). The spatial qualities of the village are a precedent to the way water flows. The natural resource is present in different ways in the water kiosk, in the main thoroughfares, in the narrower streets, and in the thresholds between them and the rest; demonstrating the abundance of energy and the multitude of strategies in acquiring, processing, and consuming it. However, the sheer density of uses (eg. water pipes, taps, toilets, and sewage) and activities (eg. work, play, and live) neglects essential ‘negative’ space. The absence of real public spaces is replaced by ‘community clubs’ where people gather, socialise, etc. Other absent spaces are those for the most pre-mature residents, such as playgrounds, toilets, surfaces to crawl, etc. 

Water demonstrates complex geographies of every-day life as it surfaces in different forms, in a locale of multiple actors and complex interactions. Similar to De Boeck’s (2004) account of life in Kinshasa, Kosovo’s residents live day after day attempting to capture different opportunities that will enable them to expend less or more on water, food, and other short-term investments. They build up an ability to seize opportunities and expend profits in order to survive.

    In acquiring their daily amount of water, which is set to be 20 litres per day per person, most inhabitants rely on the kiosks. Some private households directly linked to the water infrastructure have made it a small business to make available their taps to the community at a fee of 0.03 USD/20 litres, as opposed to 0.02 USD/20 litres in the kiosks. This cooperation between people and between formal and informal systems of water dissemination proves to be successful. Micro mechanisms for water provision ease the potential burden of daily water collection, just like micro credit systems aid people overcome financial instability at the moments of collecting water. Unlike electricity, water is a commodity that one cannot go without.

    Even after its formalisation, much like the rest of Mathare, one of the main barriers to water in Kosovo is still unreliability. However, the spatial distribution of water points makes that distance becomes less of an obstacle, and is replaced by high cost. Unlike the period pre-2007 and in the rest of the settlement today there is no possibility to negotiate or reduce the official price of water. The residents tackle this by taking short-term loans. Nancy Waithera, whom I spoke with in my visits to the settlement, confessed that her income was so low and unpredictable that many are the days when she cannot save 0.06 USD for her and her children’s daily amount of water, when she is forced to take up short-term loans from her friends.

03.4 The Water Kiosk

    Four kiosks garner water coming from the mains, marking the points from where water pipes irrigate the rest of the village downwards. While the water kiosks sit at the North-most border of Kosovo, the Mathare River – which is a constant presence throughout the entire settlement - runs along the bottom of the Mathare valley, bordering Kosovo on the South and serving as a communal sewage outlet.

    Yellow jerrycans are mostly used to collect water, which takes place for the majority at 7am and 7pm. This is will be mainly used for drinking, cooking, and washing. The fact that the kiosks are at the top of mountain slopes makes it an arduous journey necessary every day. However, the scale of water collection is increasingly being broken down by private connections previously mentioned. Still, the burden of collecting water for the family often falls on women (Chant 2013). In an interview with 19 year-old resident Jacinta Wangli, she stated that the reason why she is the designated person in her family to fetch water every day is mainly because she is the youngest who can do this in her family. Even if this task can be an encumbrance, Jacinta cheerfully admits that it is the time at which she socialises with others on a daily basis. Yet, conflicts still arise from some people skipping queues and using other unruly strategies to bypass long waiting times and distances.

03.5 The Main Roads

    An incredible amount of energy in encountered surrounding the water kiosk. However, the ten primary roads that run down to the river are essential structuring elements to the village, as they act as a backbone to the smaller alleyways where most people live. These streets are approximately four metres wide dirt roads with elevated paths on both sides. These measures vary according to different plot and building divisions and requirements. At times surfacing in the bumpy track roads, water pipes run along beneath them, as well as drainage channels carved out on both sides from the ground. 

    The main roads are more than mere connectors between alleyways, water points, the Mathare River, and ways out of settlement. They serve as nucleus for people and activities, as well as accommodating the majority of the residents’ businesses, community groups, and other institutions. Elevated walkways on both sides of the streets provide a threshold between the main throughway and the buildings, handing over a space for individual businesses and community groups to expose goods for sale or attract visitors and costumers, for people to cook and wash, or simply serving as parallel circulation routes. The street is fronted on either side by porous façades that are productively used to lure visitors and at the same time provide a visual platform for colourful signs and catchy slogans.

    This assemblage of activities and bodies might confuse the outsider; the combination between different intensities of movement and actions, and what is static, offers an extremely lively landscape. Unlike the water kiosks, which are at their peak bustle only at certain daily hours, these streets are constantly active throughout the day. Essentially, life happens in the street.

03.6 The Alley Way

    Six kilometres of pipes form a rational orthogonal network of water infrastructure, unprecedented in the Mathare Valley. Flowing from the water mains, to the kiosks, through to the primary roads, the pipes extend to narrow alleyways that weave in between the main roads. These paths discretely branch off from the primary roads and remain mysterious, introverted, and ‘publicly private’. The alleyway spans across 2 metres in between opaque façades that house most individuals and families. The material generally used for construction is corrugated steel sheets, mud, wood, and cement, lending the streets with colourful façades and changing textures, and very few window openings. The typical house is dark and is comprised of 2 rooms. The contrast between the dim light in these alleyways and the bright daylight above is stark.

    Similarly to the main streets, an approximately 0.5 m high concrete floor area offers a threshold between the main level of the alleyway and the houses. The roofs cantilever beyond the front façades; bridging over between what is private and public. Together, the concrete elevations and the cantilevered roofs demonstrate a space with a degree of introversion, and at the same time of ‘collective privacy’, expressed in the highly versatile and ambiguous thresholds between ‘indoor’ and ‘outdoor’ spaces. It seems as though the houses are treated as spaces of intimacy and introspection precisely because most activities remain in the collective space of the village. Offering a crucial moment that connects the private from the public, the threshold is appropriated in various ways for sitting, working, playing, contemplating, socialising, washing, cooking, etc. Its use is not explicit and it is constantly being reinvented, however, it remains a vital part of the alleyways. The space between the houses is often filled with lines of clothes hanging dry, making the experience of walking along the alleyways a playful one, retaining a degree of ‘welcoming mystery’.

    Less positively so, too often a large depression occupying quasi the whole width of the street leaves little to walk on except the sewage. This feature of the alleyways and sometimes of the main streets eliminates scenarios where children can freely play in the street. Jason explained that sewage is the next urgent issue to deal with in Kosovo: many are the cases of people wanting to build toilets but refraining from doing so because of the lack of adequate sewage. Frequently kids have to satisfy their body needs in their clothes because they are banned from public toilets and harassed from urinating and defecating in the bushes. 86% of households in Kosovo don’t have a toilet (Corburn 2010), and the ratio between adults and children is 2:3 (Pajoma Trust 2009). This is a matter more of waste run-off than of water-resource, however its consequences are quite troubling. 

    Even if lacking of locales for certain activities, the liveliness encountered in these streets is a different one to the main streets and the water kiosk. The inner alleys complement those other spaces of higher intensities by maintaining an atmosphere of tranquil vitality.

03.7 One Day in the Life of Nancy Waithera

    Nancy is 30 years old and rents a two-bedroom house in a quiet alleyway just off the main street of Kosovo. Her house is made out of iron sheets, however large linen sheets with colourful patterns cover the house’s interior walls. She lives with her three and six year-old children who sleep in the main room of the house, which also serves as living room and kitchen. This 4 x 6 metre home feels warm and dark on the inside, opening up to a lively and bright outdoor space. When I arrived to Nancy’s place she was washing her family’s clothes to blasting music just outside her house, where her neighbours and friends also carry out household activities. She greeted me in a lively way even if we had only met one time before.

    Like most people in Kosovo, Nancy wakes up every morning at sunrise and proceeds to fetch water for the day. She picks on average 5 jerrycans every day, the equivalent to 100 litres of water, either from a private water tap nearby, or from the water kiosk about 10 minute walking distance away. Nancy realises that if she had a private water connection she would save money in the long run, however, because there is no land tenure security, her landlord is not interested in investing in such an infrastructure. She remains dependent of her neighbour’s fees and the kiosk’s prices. Most days Nancy would rather pick water close by, however this depends on whether her neighbours are home or not.

    On the days when she cannot afford to pay 0.1 USD for 5 jerrycans, she is left with the choice between settling for less water or borrowing money from either her neighbours, friends, or Ontero, who is the manager of the nearest water Kiosk.

    After two or three journeys to the water point, she prepares her children for the nursery. There are many day care centres spread around Kosovo, and this is where her kids will spend most days from 9am to 3pm.

During that period of time, Nancy needs to earn the minimum amount of money for her and her family to survive that day. Her daily income varies, some days she braids people’s hair, other days she sells goods she bought in a market in another village of Mathare, and other days she is left with insufficient money. Her day is also occupied with household tasks such as cleaning the house, washing clothes and preparing food. Even though being a stay at home single mom is a tough job in itself, Nancy confesses that she would like to have a ‘real’ job. She blames the government for neglecting the needs of Nairobi’s poor, blaming political classes for not providing enough jobs for women like her.

    It is ironic that the Kosovo-Mathare project is considered a successful project, but that Nancy criticises for her obligation to pay for water at a fixed price, every day. Surviving on a daily basis, Nancy engages in practices of seizure and expenditure to ensure both her and her family some kind of quality of life – leaving no room for capital build up or any form of surplus.

    The study of livelihoods like the one of Nanacy Waithera shows the plurality of ways to tackle limited resources and earn just enough to sustain oneself and family. It seems necessary to undertake ethnographic exercises to understand a place like this one, so complex, full of uncertainties yet packed with energy. It seems naïve to suppose that, in face of lack, the urban poor merely engage in ‘creative processes’ to bypass poverty. Nancy employs different strategies to earn just enough to buy food, water, and other household expenses, while her neighbour does so by renting out a 2 x 2 metres space nearby where he sets up a barber shop every day. Their investments are made on a day-to-day basis, rather than on long-term speculative basis more common in traditionally wealthier contexts. Such manipulations are not only imaginative ways to respond to poverty, but they are also another manner of living the city, and millions across Africa share this method. Beyond geography, architecture, engineering, politics, and sociology, a holistic account of the way people relate to and deal with a resource essential to life like water uncovers diverse fields of motion that challenge mainstream assumptions of cityness.

04 Concluding note

In a recent Guardian article, Alejandro Zaera-Polo (2013) highlights all that can be learnt from informal settlements, about society, life, and economy of resources. While photographers, filmmakers, and academics have tended to create ‘neat’ portrayals of what the ‘slum’ is, most journalistic accounts of informal settlements seem to portray places of shortage, dirt, crime, and chaos (Jones 2011). In these locales where so much occurs, it is indeed difficult to render a clear image of what is really happening. For decades, the urban poor seem to have fallen short of abilities to ‘make it’ in the city, and have consequently found various creative ways to bypass scarcity. Having said that, rather than being recognized as contributing to ‘remaking notions of urban life itself’ (Simone 2011: 357), residents are still seen as solely manipulating ways to survive dire situations. Limiting imaginative ways of conceptualizing the contemporary city in these parts of the world where most urbanization is happening, the urban poor – which in cities like Nairobi make up the large majority of urbanites - have remained in the ‘urban periphery’ (Amin 2013, De Boeck 2010). 

    In my research I set out to look at another facet of water; not the one a minority portion of the world is familiar with, where its presence is embodied as a commodity and its abundance is taken for granted. I am interested in the way water is the origin of so many struggles for the many living in places like Nairobi, and how it has the power to inscribe meaning, ritual, and order in locales of extreme complexity. Following the course of water from its natural state, through the cracks of the city, to domestic realms, I attempted at understanding the wider dynamics surrounding it; the societal realities it embodies, and its historical and current political precedents. Water demonstrates to have the capability to either limit or permit households to engage in various activities that might broaden the scope of possibilities for individual and collective livelihoods. This proves that water is a structure for living, and that it becomes both political and key to certain economic processes.

    The Kosovo-Mathare water model teaches valuable lessons. Its implementation resulted from rigorous mapping and GIS studies, highlighting the key role of technology in collecting, researching, and representing information. Mobility is another lesson, teaching that a mobile society is one that can lead a livelihood across space, as an attempt to catch different employment opportunities and sources of income. In an increasingly mobile society where flows of commodities, businesses, population, and resources happen in a transnational manner, a regional approach to urbanism is also essential (Simone 2010). Infrastructure is therefore a central urban service essential to maximize people’s capabilities to engage in productive activities and lead better lives. The tendency in Nairobi has been to invest in visible, tangible infrastructure like road and building projects, rather than invest in more invisible and long-term services such as water and health. This puts added pressure on infrastructure to serve an increasing mobile and trans-border population, and emphasizes the need for innovative tools to map and represent these trans-border processes.

    The lack on infrastructure in places like Mathare makes it that a game is set up between visible, acknowledged, formalized processes of living the urban, and invisible, volatile, informal processes that form a certain kind of ‘collective intelligence’. In his extended definition of infrastructure, Amin (2013) calls this the ‘collective unglamorous’, while Simone (2011) introduces the concept of ‘people as infrastructure’. Water demonstrates to be an infrastructure essential for citizens’ lives and identities, but remains outside conventional social, political, and economic discourses. 

    The Kosovo-Mathare water model is a propitious project to examine as means to understand both residents’ relationship to water, and the political context in which this scheme was placed. One of the most important lessons that the Mathare-Kosovo water project taught me is the need for an inter-disciplinary approach to both academic research and professional practice (Gandy 2013). Concepts about architecture, urban planning, politics, and livelihoods should be widened, just as mainstream assumptions of what economy is should be challenged. With a diverse team of actors who might participate in city making, it’s important to keep in mind both trans-local understandings of the city, and political mechanisms (Pieterse 2013). The Kosovo project was essential for its residents, but most importantly it is inserted in a slowly growing willingness to extend infrastructure to previously politically absent parts of the city. The Kenya Slum Upgrading Program (KENSUP) is a nation-wide program engaged in doing this, while worldly/elitist projects like the one of Konza Tech City remind me of the state’s prevailing schizophrenic attitude towards growth.

    In my study of water routines in Mathare, I have attempted to understand diverse forms of being urban. Especially in a context as paradoxical and uncertain as Nairobi, water embodies and represents current urban assemblages that are most interesting. In moments of scarcity like the 2007 Mathare water crisis, water reminds us of its role not as a commodity, but of its importance for every day life, having the power inscribe meaning and identity to communities and individuals. The Mathare-Kosovo water model lends us an original look on urbanity, and highlights flaws and virtues of a historically fragmented city.

Letter from Portugal: we chart the country's new wave of architecture projects <small><i>[Wallpaper* magazine]</i></small>

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Mulemba House

Mulemba House