Urbanisation is one of the key challenges of this decade with 68% of the global population likely to be living in urban areas by 2050. This challenge is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa where future towns and cities will see an influx of residents living in spontaneous human settlements. As cities struggle to keep up with the speed of growth and spread of informal settlements, associated environmental challenges such as air and water pollution and waste management have been significantly increasing posing a health risk in high density settings. Using the case of Havelock informal settlement in Durban, the authors identified key challenges associated with poor environmental conditions, lack of basic infrastructure, and the implications for settlement upgrading. The study uses mixed methods combining transect walks, priority mapping, seasonal calendar, focus group discussions and household interviews to explore the households' most challenging environmental issues faced daily by informal dwellers. This paper seeks to make the case for targeted participatory environmental infrastructure and management delivery in urban settlements in South Africa. The research also highlights the value of adopting a holistic approach to infrastructure provision to effectively enhance the living conditions of communities. Targeted participatory processes are vital to ensure that holistic infrastructure interventions are acceptable, appropriate and embedded in local communities to create sustainable habitats.