JHONO BENNETT

South Africa,

Through 1to1 – Agency of Engagement’s holistic model, Jhono is guiding the creation of a movement that aims to facilitate spatial designers in addressing the systemic issues that cause the socio-spatially unequal residential areas in South Africa. He believes that this model should be led by the  development of an additional mode of spatial design practice that actively empowers inhabitants of marginilised residential areas to have a stronger role in the development of their own neighborhoods and homes, giving spatial practitioners a way of affecting real change in South Africa’s re-developing built environment.

This profile below was prepared when Jhono Bennett was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship .

INTRODUCTION

Through 1to1 – Agency of Engagement’s holistic model, Jhono is guiding the creation of a movement that aims to facilitate spatial designers in addressing the systemic issues that cause the socio-spatially unequal residential areas in South Africa. He believes that this model should be led by the  development of an additional mode of spatial design practice that actively empowers inhabitants of marginilised residential areas to have a stronger role in the development of their own neighborhoods and homes, giving spatial practitioners a way of affecting real change in South Africa’s re-developing built environment.




THE NEW IDEA

Through his co-founded organization  1to1 – Agency of Engagement, Jhono has developed a holistic model of working with and for residents of poor and/or unsafe areas in Johannesburg (such as informal settlements) to co-create spatial re-development  strategies while growing capacity to address the national challenge South Africa’s re-development. The aim of this model is to provide crucial short term support while simultaneously developing an additional mode of spatial practice in both the private and grass roots sectors. This dual approach to development support allows 1to1 to grow an institutionable mode of working that can be taught at universities  while being  scaled up for use by NGO’s, government entities and private sector practices to affect long term change in South Africa’s re-developing landscape. 
An additional mode of Spatial Design Practice
The model hinges on the development of an additional mode of spatial design practice, Socio-Technical Spatial Design, which is grounded in a critical, empathetic and systemic approach to design.  This mode of design practice actively supports residents to envision and co-design strategies that align the vision and needs of the neighborhood through a grounded and critical approach towards what inhabitants want their neighborhoods to look and work like while aiming to incrementally work within (or sometime against) larger development process that effect such areas.
The mode of spatial practice employs participatory processes that work with and for existing forms of leadership, community based organizations that are active in marginilised areas, while including relevant government departments as well university students (who are studying spatial design disciplines; architecture, engineering, planners e.t.c) to help with socio-technical support at key points in the process. By using this approach to design practice 1to1, aims to support residents to have a stronger role in working with the powers that be in order to strategically enhance the mobilization of social capital within vulnerable neighborhoods; residents are side-skilled to not only understand the process of spatial design and the dynamics in the development of underserviced areas, but how to further utilize the spaces and resources available to them strategically over the long periods of time that typically cripple bottom up development processes.   
In order to ground the model, Jhono aims to equip technically skilled individuals who show potential and interest in spatial design by training them with socio-technical skills and knowledge to become Neighborhood Designers. To support this ambition Jhono, through his role at various tertiary institutes, is co-developing a short course to allow these potential Neighborhood Designers access to academic certification as spatial design technicians, accredited by Johannesburg universities.  1to1 intends for these individuals to continue leading the process in their neighborhoods beyond  1to1’s involvement and additionally accessing work opportunities in similar projects across South Africa. The development of these neighborhood designers also allows critical grounded knowledge and experience to enter tertiary teaching and learning institutes in South Africa.  
The Aim
Jhono believes there is a dire need in South Africa for an additional type of spatial design practitioner, who are critical, empathetic and engaged while being an active part of his re-developing society, who not only provide technical services, but also assist in wider social and policy processes with and for  poor marginalised spatial groups in South Africa. 
Through 1to1 Jhono, alongside his partners, are leading  this new direction in the fields of architecture and spatial design with the aim of supporting the development of a new generation of architects and spatial practitioners who are  qualified and passionate about critical and engaged spatial design; socio-technical spatial design. This term has been defined in order to initiate a national dialogue that can effectively and constructively engage with the complexity of the built environment, specifically for areas such as informal settlements. 
For this reason 1to1, through the 1to1 - student league, engages and involves architectural students from various universities to not only assist in communicating and translating  the needs and aspirations of residents in vulnerable neighborhoods’ into strategic and impactful designs, but also to stimulate critique, interest and motivate young architects to consider specialization in this particular area of practice. Jhono is currently infusing these values into the academic architectural discourse while teaching within the post graduate curriculum at the University of Johannesburg’s ground breaking Graduate Programme in Architecture that has as one of its’ focusses socio-technical spatial design for dynamic and complex spatial conditions in South Africa. 
Jhono is still in the process of grounding this model and finding a productive balance between practice, training and knowledge sharing while ensuring that all three aspects (community engagement and capacitation, training local community members as spatial design technicians and creating an academic field architectural specialization in spatial designs for informal settlement) are well consolidated to form a supportive, holistic and scalable strategy. 




THE PROBLEM

The Situation

20 years post democracy, South Africa is still a country in healing. The vast contrasts in wealth and poverty intersect dangerously through the segregation of race and class in the public and private spaces. With this milestone of political freedom at our doorstep, these social scars of spatial segregation in South Africa’s built environment are arguably the most tangible legacy of our past and nowhere is this more evidently seen than in the plight of over 1.8+ million (census 2011) South African informal settlements dwellers. 

While there are many symptoms of this socio-saptial unequal society, informal settlements exisit as tacit symbol of our current condition. Informal settlements typically have poor infrastructure and facilities such as proper sewerage, health centers, schools or playgrounds as these are difficult to plan for due to the complex issues around governance, allocation of support and city wide spatial planning. Generally infrastructure, houses and other elements of informal settlements are placed or built through short term decision making by either top-down government entities (if at all) or bottom-up resident needs. 
However, the top down process: where the residents are not consulted and ultimately have no say on how they want their neighborhoods to look or work like or the bottom up processes: where individuals control of public or neighborhoods spaces, are problematic as they hinder safe growth and positive development of supportive neighborhoods.

A Problematic Approach 

Post 1994 (post democratic independence) South Africa has seen the new government of focusing on a top down and greenfeilds approach to addressing the government mandated delivery of houses to those affected by Apartheid regime. This approach sought to ‘eradicate’ and re-locate informal settlers to permanent settlement areas by providing a basic housing unit in areas far from crucial resources and social networks under the Reconstruction and Development Project (RDP). However, lack of capacity by the government alongside endemic institutional issues, combined with a rapidly urbanizing population has made it very difficult to ensure adequate housing and human settlements for all residents. While the South African government has provided over 2.3 million RDP homes in 20 years, the current housing backlog sits higher now than it did in 1994 – signifying that this approach is not sustainable. 
Similarly, many well-meaning non-governmental development organizations approach re-development with similar top-down approaches that provide and build support facilities such as day care centers, community halls, play grounds, health centers and other infrastructure wherever they find space and a willing ‘community’ without relating to the large scale and experiential spatial needs of the residents or leveraging existing government programs, mechanisms and large scale development strategies. This approach, while supportive in the short term, often underestimates the spatial needs and capacity of the residents or undermines the existing leadership’s ability to understand and take long term ownership of the development of their spaces.  
While the top-down approach ignores the inherent social capital such in re-developing neighborhoods, the promise of this high level and subsidized support often limits the mobilization of community groups to take complete ownership of their spatial futures.  As a result there is a stalemate of development and growth in many developable and capacitated informal settlements across South Africa. 
In regard to the private sector’s approach to the re-development of such complex spaces, the lack of good practice ethics, skills and knowledge required by spatial practitioners, particularly in the architectural field, is highly problematic. Spatial practitioners (architects, engineers, planners,  construction companies and other built environment professionals) have little exposure to effective practice or on-the ground realties and as a result often shortcut and undermine the existing social capital in areas such as informal settlements to reach very difficult client targets and time frames.
The Gap
Currently there are very few effective mechanisms in the South African re-development field to truly capacitate local inhabitants to take charge of the development or design of their neighborhoods and plan futures that support and encourage positive urban growth. 
But, while the national government has rolled out massive top down solutions through large scale tendered projects that do little to create sustainable humane environments that people need, and in many cases perpetuate the very spatial inequality the Apartheid Regime created.  Although this programme has produced many houses, many not built to humane standards, it has done little to address the root causes of poor or unsafe areas which require empathetic and participative processes of both understanding and design at a grass roots level – that speak from a neighbourhood (the true ‘community’ scale) to higher governmental and national scales.
To add to this deficit of integrated development, the South African national government has begun a shift in their approach to providing housing opportunities that will see the eventual discontinuation of providing new houses to beneficiaries as well as closing off the beneficiary list to those who they deem ‘were not affected by apartheid’. 
Jhono believes that the ‘housing issue’ is not a technical one – nor is it a monolithic housing issue: it lies in the social and spatial inequality that over 100 years of legalised racial segregation has allowed to develop, with one of the most tacit results of South Africa lacking empathetic and experienced spatial practitioners to address the complex re-development challenges we face in our built environment. This shift in policy and approach signals a new era of re-development in South Africa, and an opportunity to develop a better approach to co-development and co-design of such areas.




THE STRATEGY

The Situation

 

20 years post democracy, South Africa is still a country in healing. The vast contrasts in wealth and poverty intersect dangerously through the segregation of race and class in the public and private spaces. With this milestone of political freedom at our doorstep, these social scars of spatial segregation in South Africa’s built environment are arguably the most tangible legacy of our past and nowhere is this more evidently seen than in the plight of over 1.8+ million (census 2011) South African informal settlements dwellers.

 

While there are many symptoms of this socio-saptial unequal society, informal settlements exisit as tacit symbol of our current condition. Informal settlements typically have poor infrastructure and facilities such as proper sewerage, health centers, schools or playgrounds as these are difficult to plan for due to the complex issues around governance, allocation of support and city wide spatial planning. Generally infrastructure, houses and other elements of informal settlements are placed or built through short termdecision making by either top-down government entities (if at all) or bottom-up resident needs.

 

However, the top down process: where the residents are not consulted and ultimately have no say on how they want their neighborhoods to look or work like or the bottom up processes: where individuals control of public or neighborhoods spaces, are problematic as they hinder safe growth and positive development of supportive neighborhoods. 

 

A Problematic ApproachPost 1994 (post democratic independence) South Africa has seen the new government of focusing on a top down and greenfeilds approach to addressing the government mandated delivery of houses to those affected by Apartheid regime. This approach sought to ‘eradicate’ and re-locate informal settlers to permanent settlement areas by providing a basic housing unit in areas far from crucial resources and social networks under the Reconstruction and Development Project (RDP). However, lack of capacity by the government alongside endemic institutional issues, combined with a rapidly urbanizing population has made it very difficult to ensure adequate housing and human settlements for all residents. While the South African government has provided over 2.3 million RDP homes in 20 years, the current housing backlog sits higher now than itdid in 1994 – signifying that this approach is not sustainable.  

 

Similarly, many well-meaning non-governmental development organizations approach re-development with similar top-down approaches that provide and build support facilities such as day care centers, community halls, play grounds, health centers and other infrastructure wherever they find space and a willing ‘community’ without relating to the large scale and experiential spatial needs of the residents or leveraging existing government programs, mechanisms and large scale development strategies. This approach, while supportive in the short term, often underestimates the spatial needs and capacity of the residents or undermines the existing leadership’s ability to understand and take long term ownership of the development of their spaces.  

While the top-down approach ignores the inherent social capital such in re-developing neighborhoods, the promise of this high level and subsidized support often limits the mobilization of community groups to take complete ownership of their spatial futures.  As a result there is a stalemate of development and growth in many developable and capacitated informal settlements across South Africa. 

 

In regard to the private sector’s approach to the re-development of such complex spaces, the lack of good practice ethics, skills and knowledge required by spatial practitioners, particularly in the architectural field, is highly problematic. Spatial practitioners (architects, engineers, planners, construction companies and other built environment professionals) have little exposure to effective practice or on-the ground realties and as a result often shortcut and undermine the existing social capital in areas such as informal settlements to reach very difficult client targets and time frames.

 

The Gap

 

Currently there are very few effective mechanisms in the South African re-development field to truly capacitate local inhabitants to take charge of the development or design of their neighborhoods and plan futures that support and encourage positive urban growth. 

 

But, while the national government has rolled out massive top down solutions through large scale tendered projects that do little to create sustainable humane environments that people need, and in many cases perpetuate the very spatial inequality the Apartheid Regime created.  Although this programme has produced many houses, many not built to humane standards, it has done little to address the root causes of poor or unsafe areas which require empathetic and participative processes of both understanding and design at a grass roots level – that speak from a neighbourhood (the true ‘community’ scale) to higher governmental and national scales. 

 

To add to this deficit of integrated development, the South African national government has begun a shift in their approach to providing housing opportunities that will see the eventual discontinuation of providing new houses to beneficiaries as well as closing off the beneficiary list to those who they deem ‘were not affected by apartheid’. 

 

Jhono believes that the ‘housing issue’ is not a technical one – nor is it a monolithic housing issue: it lies in the social and spatial inequality that over 100 years of legalised racial segregation has allowed to develop, with one of the most tacit results of South Africa lacking empathetic and experienced spatial practitioners to address the complex re-development challenges we face in our built environment. This shift in policy and approach signals a new era of re-development in South Africa, and an opportunity to develop a better approach to co-development and co-design of such areas.




THE PERSON

Jhono grew up in Durban, South Africa passively benefitting from the inherited privileges of being a young white South African in a ‘post-apartheid’ democracy - oblivious to the high levels of inequality and social divide brought about by the inherited system of a racially divided society and government. Jhono enjoyed an adventurous childhood, growing up on the beaches of Kwa-Zulu Natal, while displaying an early love for innovation and design he, as a teenager, begun several small business ventures providing niche services such as carwashes at his school, being contracted by his classmates to design T-shirts for the matric leavers and even convincing a large private sector company to donate a ‘peak hat’ that Jhono designed and sold at Saturday rugby games in order to raise funds to pay his costs to internationalcompetitive sports events where he competed globally as a Junior Protea Sprint Kayaker. 

Jhono left home at the age of 20 after obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Architectural studies from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and moved to Cape Town where he started working as a junior architect for a high end luxury Architectural design firm in the city. During this period of practical training in the South Africa’s mother city he became critically aware his country’s endemic social-inequality while experiencing first-hand the harsh socio-spatial contrasts of Cape Town. This, combined with a forced lifestyle shift, initiated a reflective questioning period in his life around his inherited privilege and responsibility in his home country leading Jhono to volunteering his time to various NGO’s most notably Architecture for Humanity.

These questions pushed Jhono to deepen his understanding of what was really happening in the citizen sector of the re-development of South Africa and how designers worked in such contexts – marking the beginning of his journey to use architecture in a different way: as a tool for social development and a measn to be a positive part of his country’s re-development - and not just as a luxurious career option.

Leaving Cape Town to broaden his understanding of South Africa, Jhono met like-minded designers during his post-graduate studies at the University of Pretoria including a professor who had started her own journey of questioning in regard to the role of design and architecture in South Africa and began jointly working with the community groups in an informal settlement in south Soweto, Slovo Park. Although Jhono and his classmates started working with Slovo Park through the University curriculum, they quickly realized the various leadership groups had a much stronger understanding of how their spaces could be used differently from the professional’s initial ideas and ultimately possess the agency and tools to enact control their own development future, and that architectural designers should occupy a different position in such processes.

This opened his understanding further to the see the needs of people in such conditions and their visions of development are often undermined by the existing top-down ‘this is what you need’ approach that the government and other organizations use. Soon Jhono and his colleagues were working with the community members of Slovo Park beyond the university, building, funding and co-designing incremental structures that came from immersive participatory design/build processes.

As a student group they formed 1to1 as a way of sharing valuable lessons from this experience. This initial coming together of like-minded students laid the foundation for the methodology that has now been refined and lies at the core of 1to1’s approach within the model. By 2012, Jhono and his co-founders registered 1to1 – Agency of Engagement as an NPO aiming to facilitate community engagement for spatial designs for and with informal settlement dwellers. 

Jhono currently works as a part-time lecturer in architecture at three universities (University of Pretoria, University of Witwatersrand and University of Johannesburg) while managing the operations of 1to1 – Agency of Engagement. His engagement with the universities is critical for the success of his model as it provides a formal link to established academic institutions which enables him to create and institutionalize a new field of architecture for practitioners at the same time allowing him access to train and engage with architectural students in a different way.

He is currently refining this additional mode of spatial practice in architecture in academics at the same time looking at how a scaling strategy for his model to make sure that he reaches as many informal settlements as possible across Southern Africa.




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