One in eight people live in informal settlements, of which 80% is found in developing countries. In South Africa, around 50% of the population lives in urban centres, where more than 2,700 informal settlements exist. Informal settlements form a major challenge of the urban landscape, exacerbating issues related to poverty, inadequate infrastructure, housing and poor living conditions. Reflections on past upgrading efforts suggest that top-down policies have not been successful to date. By contrast, participatory techniques in planning and design, can be used to enhance community empowerment and a sense of local ownership. However, participation and collaboration can mean various things for informal upgrading and often the involvement of local communities is limited to providing feedback in already agreed development decisions from local authorities and construction companies. The paper explores ‘self-built’ approaches in informal settlement upgrading, using experiences and lessons learned from good available practice in the Durban metropolitan area. The research has two key objectives; namely:
• to identify the critical success factors in managing an upgrading project, discussing brief development, stakeholder management and project governance; and,
• to understand the various (formal or informal) forms of procurement, uncovering the need to acquire ‘the right resources at the right time’, exploring links with local industry and/or construction practice and considering the constraints involved in the process of complying with rigid municipality processes.
Empirical data are gathered in the form of semi-structured interviews, observations and focus groups with community leaders, NGOs, municipal officers and industry practitioners. The research aims to build capacity in local communities seeking to improve their quality of life and assist local authorities in enhancing their planning mechanisms. The findings can be also utilised by international agencies, policy-makers, implementers and practitioners working on upgrading programmes, plans and policies, particularly under the post 2015 UN SDGs and the Habitat III New Urban Agenda.