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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

The costs and human benefits of an incremental approach to the upgrading of informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa

Ryan Alexander

The costs and human benefits of an incremental approach to the upgrading of informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa


This dissertation investigates an alternative approach to the upgrading of Cape Town’s informal settlements, namely the application of an incremental method to providing infrastructure and housing solutions to the more than 200,000 informal dwellings within the Cape Town metro pole.

Currently, the rate of housing delivery by government is struggling to simply match and keep pace with the rapid urbanisation that Cape Town, like most urban centres, is experiencing. As such, the net number of informal dwellings continues to grow, despite massive financial investment in an attempt to provide every household with suitable shelter by 2014.

In the light of this shortfall, incremental approaches to upgrading can provide residents with improved quality of life at a reduced cost and reduced time frame. Through a series of numerical analyses of City of Cape Town (CoCT) housing provision statistics, as well as water and sanitation reticulation infrastructure and housing costs, three alternative incremental service options have been considered: providing private water and sanitation only; providing private water and sanitation and a building materials package equivalent to the superstructure of a house; and providing private water and sanitation and a reduced building package based on utility gains from water and sanitation determining the monetary value of the building package provided.

By using City of Cape Town housing delivery statistics as a determiner of available funding, it is recommended that the reduced housing package with private water and sanitation option be marketed as a potential incremental upgrading model for the City to follow. It maintains ‘shelter’ as a fundamental aspect of the upgrading process while obtaining a farther reach in terms of households benefiting from the upgrading process. This implementation would be required to be carefully managed with large-scale community involvement and overall support provided by local government to ensure that the final upgrading process remains sustainable.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.