Coronavirus: An Israeli student’s dream to help slums through urban design

An Israeli urban design student is working to create architecture solutions to alleviate the suffering of those communities, focusing on a 45,000 people strong slum in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Rendering of urban design project in Kliptown by Osnat Pavese (photo credit: OSNAT PAVESE)
Rendering of urban design project in Kliptown by Osnat Pavese
(photo credit: OSNAT PAVESE)
For many people across the world, the coronavirus pandemic has meant learning how to live in a new normal, confined at home with limited opportunities to leave and faced with various challenges, whether economic, social or mental. But how is the crisis impacting countries and societies that already were struggling with extreme poverty and all the difficulties this condition entails?
An Israeli urban-design student is working to create architecture solutions to alleviate the suffering of those communities, focusing on a slum with 45,000 people in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she was born and raised before moving to Israel.
“I have been exposed to informal settlements for my whole life, with a clear idea of the distinction between the very wealthy and the very poor areas of my city,” Osnat Pavese, who has a degree in architecture and is currently enrolled at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, told The Jerusalem Post. “Slums are a growing challenge all over the world. As an architect and an urban designer, I feel it is my responsibility to intervene.”
Pavese has been working on this topic for her year-end project at Bezalel under the supervision of Prof. Els Verbakel and Prof. Elissa Rosenberg since before the coronavirus crisis began. She also started considering the additional challenges presented by the pandemic. In her research, she has focused on a slum called Kliptown in Soweto, a township in the Municipality of Johannesburg, where people live crammed in one-room shacks with no access to sanitary facilities or healthcare.
Children in Kliptown, Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Ilan Ossendryver)Children in Kliptown, Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Ilan Ossendryver)
“Kliptown is a slum of 45,000 inhabitants,” she said. “People live there in very high density. The unemployment stands at 72% in normal times, and since COVID-19 started, it has reached almost 100%.”
Pavese’s goal was to create what she called “a set of toolboxes” through urban design to help the residents not only with the challenges of the current situation but also in the longer term.
“I came up with three ideas, the first focusing on the issue of lack of infrastructure that would require the government’s intervention in order to provide sanitary infrastructure to the area,” she said. “The other two are related to topology and agriculture and are more readily implementable.”
Many people in the slum know how to build because they work in construction and can apply their skills to rebuild the structures in the slums that are periodically damaged or destroyed by flooding, which represents one of the challenges the area faces, or even employ other techniques to prevent the devastation in the first place, Pavese said.
“As for agriculture, it is important to equip people with independence so that they do not have to rely on food stamps from others, especially in a time of crisis,” she said. “With the coronavirus emergency, the residents are now relying solely on donations to buy food. I myself have collaborated in a fundraising project. For this reason, I believe in an open agriculture toolbox encouraging them to employ all sort of available surfaces to grow produce, which might also allow them to develop skills to maybe find an occupation.”
“Using these design tools might help the residents develop knowledge, and knowledge is power,” she added.
Regarding the coronavirus crisis, Pavese is considering how to encourage the residents of the slum, many of whom know how to sew, to make their own face masks. She is working with people in the field and is constantly in touch with some residents to understand how the coronavirus crisis is developing and what is needed.
Pavese’s goal is to find partnerships and funding to implement the project she created, starting from the parts of the plan that can be initiated immediately.
Over the past few days, the World Health Organization cautioned that Africa could become the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. South Africa has about 3,200 ventilators, compared with the 5,300 it might need, according to a study by the Imperial College of London, Reuters reported. However, most of them are in private hospitals and are inaccessible to most citizens.