The broader research project is funded through a National Research Foundation Blue Skies Grant and is managed by the Urban Futures Centre. The QRW informal settlement is one of nine research sites, where teams of researchers have worked with residents to explore issues of identity, belonging and neighbourhood in different types of state housing models.
Established in 1984, the QRW settlement is situated on the southern side of the M19 highway. It is located on the flood plain of the Palmiet River, 1.7 kms before it joins the Umgeni River and is divided into four sub-areas (Mcondo 1, Mcondo 2, MamSuthu and MamPondweni). The settlement has grown significantly over the past 34 years, with the greatest expansion taking place in the past five years. A recent household survey indicates that it is home to approximately 1 030 households.
Through the project, a team of researchers which includes UKZN’s Dr Catherine Sutherland, Ms Sibongile Buthelezi and Ms Dudu Khumalo worked with QRW residents to better understand life and narratives of home in the settlement.
A participatory action research approach was adopted, with photovoice used as a key method to provide residents with an opportunity to explore their own narratives and feelings with regard to how they define where they live, and what this means in terms of place identity and the construction of neighbourhood and community. They were able to explore the familiar environment of home through a different lens and to showcase what represents that space and its condition.
The research findings and the images produced portray a range of both positive and negative stories. Overall, residents enjoyed taking part in the project and some found the experience valuable in seeing their community in a new light. ‘I never thought there was anything good about living here, but this made me look at Quarry Road West in a different way, and I found that there are good things here,’ said one of the participants.
According to Sutherland, the process of place-making is a social endeavour, involving a relationship between residents, as individuals and in the community, and the place where they live:
‘State and private housing providers and related built environment professionals (planners, architects, engineers) cannot make homes and neighbourhoods – this is the work of the residents. However, the built environment they plan and design can promote or constrain the making of places that become good homes and neighbourhoods, especially for the urban poor.’
The research indicates that, despite its challenging conditions, QRW has many of the elements that contribute to the making of homes and neighbourhoods. The narratives and images produced by residents reveal that they have developed a strong attachment to the settlement because it provides a range of material, psychological and social benefits, which support their life in the city in both practical and meaningful ways.