Perceptions of living environment and quality of life in Freedom Square after the upgrading process
Gondwe, Gift Maynard Makonyola
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Using a quantitative research approach and a longitudinal research design, this study investigates Freedom Square residents’ living environment almost 30 years after completion of the physical upgrading process. Freedom Square is located in Bloemfontein in South Africa’s Free State province. Though descriptively analysed, this longitudinal data analysis was considered appropriate, as it contrasts one-off case studies dominating informal settlement upgrading work. Thus, in addition to current quantitative secondary data, the study uses previous sets of work in the same area to evaluate the long-term effect of upgrading interventions on the living environment. Even though the initial upgrading approach in Freedom Square entailed orthodox private sector housing provisioning, the analysis finds a suitable case to evaluate, i.e., both the initial approach and flexible self-help housing that became prominent after 1993. The analysis of the 2020 study largely assents to the previous findings. This appears to be the scenario for almost all the questions regarding the changing demographics, socio-economic changes, and residents’ mobility. Residents’ self-assessed economic wellbeing, general living environment, satisfaction levels with aspects of housing and the location, changing needs, and social cohesion experiences have also assumed a trend similar to previous findings. The study undertakes a comprehensive literature review from both the international housing perspective and the changing South African housing policy. Subsequently, some recommendations that can inform in-situ upgrading processes involving gradual improvement of the physical infrastructure are proposed. Firstly, upgrading programmes must be long-term oriented, and move beyond quick-win outcomes. They must be implemented in an environment of sustainable municipal management, because effective, practical, and efficient provisioning of municipal services are the focus once the initial benefits from the physical infrastructural upgrading are delivered. Secondly, the realisation of expected informal settlement upgrading outcomes is adequately ascertained through housing sustainability. Upgrading processes must therefore be allied with broad economic development themes in the upgrading environment. These broad themes must be pursued along with holistic approaches regarding socio-economic sustainability, social integration, and globalisation. They must be backed by regulatory, social, and economic principles, all of which must speak one language. In this regard, municipal authorities need to institute upgrading methods through participatory and democratic housing governance, new investments for the marginalised dwellers, and equitable delivery of essential services. All these aspects guarantee resilience, and, therefore, long-term benefits. Thirdly, comprehensive municipal capacity assessments should complement upgrading programmes to determine the ability of the municipality to meet adequate service delivery beyond the current requirements. Lastly, it is essential that the planning of an in-situ upgrading process should endeavour to develop plans towards community, location, and labour force participation so as to nurture social cohesion as an important aspect of conducive living environment in an upgraded informal settlement.