" You can really find everything you need in Kibera. Fresh kale, tomatoes, onions and all kinds of grains are available just outside your door 15 hours a day, seven days a week. "
There's a hardware district including a lumber yard, stocking everything you might need for an emergency repair or a new addition. And a convenience store, with various sundries, is never more than a few steps away.
Everything a family needs is right in reach, so when 600 of Kibera's families were relocated to "upgraded housing" - a complex of several multi-story towers with only a few small variety shops to serve them, it's no wonder that they began to complain.
One resident saw this move not as a problem but as a tremendous opportunity.
His new home was a ground floor unit near the complex's main entrance with an open patio facing the primary circulation route.
Quickly, he seized this market opportunity, and converted his patio into a sundries store that residents say, sees more business than the "official" stores in the new development.
What's the secret to his success? It's not exactly high design, ground-breaking advertising, or even a careful business plan.
To demarcate his shop, he recycled an old street banner for shade and he uses the patio wall as a service counter. But, he meets the needs of the community.
He now stocks everything from aspirin to toilet paper and keeps the wide range of store hours that the residents of the complex need.
While the official shop keepers have to close up to go home, elsewhere, to care for their families, this resident has found a way to do both at once - to stay at work and be home with his family.
So he opens his doors earlier and closes them later, and has thus become the most reliable shop in the neighborhood.
When you pass by his shop, his trick seems simple and obvious.
Good design is more than the physical shape of a place, it's the integration of the very specific social and cultural aspects of a unique community into a building or open space.
This resident discovered and capitalizes on a design opportunity that the architects did not.
Through his patio shop he reminds us that design can and should be a catalyst for economic empowerment, and that in Kibera, like everywhere, location matters.
Thursday, June 30, 2011