Smart & Frugal Cities
Knowledge File
Smart and Frugal Cities: the role of frugality in building community resilience

In this knowledge file you can read about the Smart & Frugal Cities research project which focusses on the role of frugality in building community resilience in the times of Covid-19 in two different communities in Nairobi, Kenya. 

This project aims to measure the impact of the pandemic on the health, safety and livelihoods of community residents. Keeping in mind that communities are not just passive beneficiaries of government interventions, this study examines whether there are opportunities for community empowerment in time of crisis.  

Project Description: Frugality, Smartness, and Community Resilience 

This study traces how historical processes result in different levels of community resilience in two of Nairobi's informal settlements. The team focuses on vulnerabilities related to health, safety and livelihoods. Not much is known about how and under what conditions evolutionary processes lead to resilience in resource-constrained informal settlements. 

The pandemic and subsequent government regulations accentuate existing urban challenges (health risks, safety problems), and give rise to new challenges such as the lack of access to online education and limited income generation opportunities. This project investigates how in order to cope with new challenges, given the backdrop of limited resources and insufficient government help, communities themselves apply a frugal and smart mindset that will allow them to better resist or adapt in anticipation of, or in response to shocks and vulnerabilities. The exploration of these concepts in Nairobi is particularly timely, as the Nairobi City County Government (NCCG) expresses a wish to change its top-down development approach, particularly in slums and informal settlements.  

The study also delves deeper into how communities not only use a frugal mindset to do more with less resources, but are also smartly capitalizing on these frugal innovations by connecting social networks to improve the resilience of their communities. Community resilience refers to the ability of a community to cope with shocks and vulnerabilities related to health, safety and livelihoods.

Furthermore, the study traces how historical processes result in different levels of community resilience in the four Mtaa’s (neighborhoods) located in two informal settlements in Nairobi. This research fills the void in understanding how historical processes lead to community resilience in resource-constrained informal settings. It also gives new meaning to the concept of smart cities and frugality from the perspective of informal communities building resilience from below.

The project is executed by the consortium consisting of the Vital Cities Citizens (VCC) initiative, Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa (CFIA), Ghetto Foundation and Institute of Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS). The project received funding from the VCC initiative and CFIA.  

Keywords: community resilience, frugal, smart, safety, Covid-19, informal settlements, Nairobi

Research Questions

Main research question
How do historically situated smart and frugal people, technologies and modes of governance explain differences in community resilience in Nairobi’s informal settlements during Covid-19?

The settlements differ in how they came into being and evolved over time. This is expected to inform local frugal and smart processes of people, technologies and governance and engender different levels of community resilience. 



Subquestions
- What is the level of community resilience in the four neighborhoods? 
- What health, safety and livelihood vulnerabilities of residents were addressed by community resilience initiatives, households and other actors before COVID19?
- What health, safety and livelihood vulnerabilities of residents prompted the emergence of new or adjusted initiatives in times of COVID19?
- How effective were and are the initiatives?
- How does their (lack of) impact relate to historical path-dependent processes of different levels of community resilience in (and between) the two settlements?

Research Insights: 

Read more about the Smart & Frugal research through bitsize pieces of Research Insights. Via a range of different formats such as Project Briefs, Policy briefs, Infographics, Interviews and Blogs we take our knowledge and insights out into the wider world.  

Consortium partners 

The project is executed by the consortium consisting of the Vital Cities Citizens (VCC) initiative, Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa (CFIA), Ghetto Foundation and Institute of Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS). The project received funding from the VCC initiative and CFIA.