(Re) Defining Peri-Urban Residential Space Using Participatory GIS in Kenya

Francis Koti, Daniel Weiner


Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for African urban planning and research is now becoming a reality. But there is limited technical expertise and the necessary infrastructure to support local government efforts in data-poor environments. As a result, the creation of urban geo-spatial databases have tended to reside in the central government, large municipalities, research institutions, donor funded projects and individual research initiatives. To date, such applications have focused on observable and quantifiable aspects of the urban built environment while experiential information has remained peripheral. This paper employs a participatory GIS approach to integrate community local knowledge with traditional urban spatial data. Our objective is to populate urban-based geo-spatial databases for a more robust understanding of quality of life in Athi River town, Kenya. The Athi River GIS includes formal data and local knowledge on land cover, land use, hydrology, topography, infrastructure, industry, service provision, and housing. Community data was obtained through mental mapping, focus group discussions, GPS-based transect walks, social histories of exclusion, oral narratives of land use, and relevant archival material. The study concludes that GIS in Kenya is being introduced within an empiricist and positivist epistemological and methodological framework. With more focus on the visual and quantifiable aspects of the built environment, the perceptions of disenfranchised peri-urban communities are being excluded. In the paper, a place-based (re) definition of residential quality of life is achieved by integrating community local knowledge into a GIS as an information layer. In the study, local knowledge and expert GIS data are thus found to be complementary.

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