Informal settlements represent a salient feature in the socio-spatial organization of cities and major towns in Ghana [1
]. In the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA) (the capital area) alone, about 60 percent of the population resides in informal settlements [3
], which is higher than the national average of 37.9 percent [7
]. For local authorities, informal settlements are characterized by a lack of land tenure, poor housing conditions and inadequate access to basic housing and community facilities and services [8
]. From these defining characteristics, about 78 settlements in the GAMA are considered to be informal settlements and require necessary improvements in physical, social, environmental and economic conditions [8
The Abese quarter, in the La Dadekotopon Municipality of GAMA, the focus of this paper, is considered to be an urban informal settlement. This quarter, in addition to seven other quarters, constitutes the historical core of the La Township [10
]. Unlike squatter or migrant informal settlements in the Municipality, this area is an indigenous quarter composed of natives with strong ethnic, social and cultural practices. The quarter is in one of the relatively wealthy, cosmopolitan, and rapidly-modernizing districts in Ghana [10
]. However, residents identify and differentiate themselves from other settlements by exercising distinct spatial, social, and cultural practices. Residents collectively build on indigenous socio-cultural systems to adapt to their physical environment spanning hundreds of years [12
]. Unfortunately, the spatial aspects of indigenous informal settlements, their residents’ behavioral activities and socially embedded systems have not been profoundly studied so far.
Research on residents’ social collaboration and activities in Abese quarter provides an entry point for this research [12
]. Still focusing on the social organization and dimensions of residents, this study aims to understand the spatial dynamics of human behavior and social interactions that are part of residents’ daily urban experiences. This quarter is not threatened by concerns of continuity and sustainability of local life [11
] when compared with other areas that are rapidly deteriorating and losing their core identities in the Municipality. Thus, focusing on spatial dynamics offers the possibility of understanding how residents’ behaviors, as well as their interactions, manifest spatially. In this paper we consider specifically the social interactions and human behaviors that emanate alongside social collaboration and residents’ collective activities in urban informal settlements [12
]. This is critical for learning lessons for the undoing of the modernist-planning ethos of supplanting indigenous African practices in the built environment [13
], which currently persists in several parts of the Municipality. Again, such a perspective provides an opportunity for the adoption of an “outside-in” approach [14
] to urban planning, where such local spatial dynamics are not marginalized, but are integrated into local planning practice. This serves as a springboard for heeding the call for planning initiatives to be contextualized to account for local conditions [13
Beginning from the early 2000s, there have been some studies on the socio-spatial conditions [2
], housing [17
], political economy and globalization [18
] processes at play in urban informal settlements in GAMA. Specifically, some studies have focused on the physical conditions and characteristics of houses in Accra related to poor housing conditions, compound-type family houses and the trend towards single detached housing [17
]. One study drew on anthropological perspectives to examine the history and spatial formation in low-income migrant settlements within GAMA with an emphasis on historical processes, leadership and community development [5
]. Another touched on the poor health and environmental conditions in informal settlements [15
], while others examined the effect of globalization and neoliberal processes on the perpetuation of urban informal settlements in GAMA [18
]. Residents’ improvisations in obtaining access to basic infrastructure, such as electricity, have also been studied [2
], with recent studies revealing a self-organization trait among informal settlement dwellers in the provision of basic amenities [12
]. This diversity of empirical studies provides an enriching understanding of characteristics, conditions, practices and, until recently, the positive impact of resident collective practices in informal settlements.
Nonetheless, little is known about the spatial dynamics of social interactions and human behavior in indigenous informal settlements in GAMA. Also, there is, surprisingly, a limited use of spatial organization analysis in understanding indigenous urban informal settlements [21
]. Such an approach focuses on the spatial dynamics of places by examining relationships between human behavior and their physical environment [23
], the physical characteristics of a place that facilitate specific uses [25
], and the “mixture of processes that create our experience of our socio-physical surroundings” [26
] (p. 118). Through spatial organization analysis, it is possible to understand the intersections between social and physical factors as well as how informal settlers insert activities and practices into space to deal with their daily urban challenges. For instance, spatial organization analysis has been used to identify the distribution, structure, and residents’ use of streets, in order to evaluate spatial patterns in old quarters [27
]. It has also been used to physically demarcate street space and compound houses to examine the relationship between people and urban space in migrant communities [22
]. More recently, scholars have used it to map the physical layout and characteristics of houses to understand living environments in traditional urban districts [28
This paper contributes to existing research on urban informal settlements by focusing on social interactions and human behavior and their spatial aspects in the indigenous informal quarter of Abese, in La Dadekotopon Municipality of GAMA. This native quarter, with a distinct spatial organization and social structure, has not received much attention in scholarly research, compared to other informal areas in GAMA. To proceed, we are guided by the observation that cities in Africa are both spatially-delineated and culturally-differentiated quarters [21
]. This implies that the different informal quarters of the city with similar features cannot be subsumed within a single universal nomenclature for informal settlements. Thus, through a spatial organizational analysis of social interactions and human behavior, it is possible to identify the distinctiveness of urban informal quarters, their ordering in space, and practices, to understand the urban milieu. It also offers the opportunity to gain insights into practical ways of contextualized community-led planning and design improvement in existing conditions.
The paper is organized into six main sections. The methodology for the study, captured under the materials and methods, follows the brief review of informal settlements, human behavior and the notion of “mixity”. The fourth part focuses on the results of the study, which is followed by a discussion of the findings. The paper concludes with implications and hints for the future improvement of conditions in the Abese quarter and urban informal settlements.
2. Informal Settlements, Human Behavior and Mixity
Since the second half of the 20th century, the informal sector has been conventionally conceived as the opposite of the formal sector in a dualistic framework (formal/informal) for analyzing economic activities in developing countries [29
]. Rooted in economic anthropology and development economics, there was a general recognition that the state of developing economies was largely informal, and would become imperceptible if not considered [31
]. The informal sector, therefore, came to represent activities and functions that existed outside of the state and occurred without a system of organization [9
]. This narrative eventually led to the association of informality with illegality, spontaneity, and disorganization [32
]. In spite of its popularity within international development circles [33
], this view has since been contested within urban scholarship, leading to various propositions to underscore the multiple dimensions of informality: economic, social, behavioral, sustainability and even governance [34
The behavioral perspectives are expressed in terms of individual and collective activities and practices, both within and outside state norms or regulation [37
]. It conceptualizes the human agency of “informal settlements”. Since individual and collective behaviors within a space are interwoven between a set of social, economic and territorial factors [39
], informal settlements become a “spatializing” application of the concept of informality [9
]. In this vein, informal settlements represent behavior and condition, describing identifiable parts of a space, developed without regard to state planning and laws. So, the general understanding is that conditions may be poor (e.g., bad shelter) and activities that underpin or result from such activities mark symbols of poverty [41
]. Yet, recent studies have contested such claims as narrow—since they fail to underscore the dynamics and intricacies of formal-informal interdependencies and the “order” (of governance and service) that operates in the informal [38
]. Indeed, the marginalization of the informal and emphasis on conditions [44
] has led to brutal interventions like mass evictions [20
]. Nonetheless, when informal housing, as produced through informal behavior, is considered as a verb [46
]—that is, as a system of changing human/behavioral practices—it helps to comprehend the spatial dynamics and local needs rather than mere conditions and negative narratives [47
This behavioral component can be better understood by employing Environmental Behavior Studies (EBS), which integrates human behavior and spatial dynamics. Within EBS, human behavior entails a set of individual and collective activities that occur due to interactions between people and their setting [23
]. While the social component of this interaction relates to meetings and conversations between residents or neighbors [23
], the setting, or behavior setting [48
], refers to the physical layout, the human pattern and the relationship between them [48
]. It is through this setting that human behavior and need—that is, the physical characteristics that allow for specific activities or uses to occur at specific places—is “afforded” [25
]. The idea also includes patterns of human behavior to fulfill everyday purposes and the resources needed to support them [49
]. But this process of fulfillment may also include “personalization”, where a group of individuals personalize aspects of space and condition it for social interaction [23
]. However, it is the territorial flexibility and adaptability to different behaviors and needs that make this personalization of urban spaces possible [23
]. Thus, in as much as physical layout and characteristics of space may simplify or complicate the setting, it is through territorial gestures, social interactions, and the sale of goods and services and leisure that the relationship with the physical context is clearly understood [50
]. Either way, it is generally agreed that tracking human behavior provides one possibility for understanding the physical environment; for example, streets and public spaces and the comfort or anxiety that they afford. Thus, using direct observation (faculty of sight) and descriptive analysis, one can evaluate neighborhoods and their qualities to improve urban experiences by altering the design and physical aspects of settlements [52
It is thus within this conceptualizing of human behavior and their spatial settings that the concept of “mixity” emerges. The term relates to indigenous urban tissue and the patterns of human behavior in urban space [53
]. It also refers to a combination of social strata, functions (or activities) and economies. It denotes the observation of mixed activities that include different groups (or users), and the social and economic activities that occur within the indigenous (yet unplanned) or historical enclaves of an old city [53
]. Mixity is functional and includes uses and activities within urban space that foster integration of uses and users rather than separation [54
]. This is a quality that can promote the renewal of urban informal settlements; useful for understanding the social and economic “fate” that surround daily practices in informal settlements [54
]. Mixity also includes the young and the old, their human behavior patterns in space, and their expression of everyday needs [55
]. For the most part, scholars argue that mixity is not only a trend or phenomenon but also a planning and policy goal, which reflects the integration and functionality of urban places and spaces.
For the purposes of our work, human behavior entails individual or group activity observed through residents’ interaction with the physical configuration of space (spatial setting). Social interaction refers to activities or interactions between residents’ as part of observed human behavior. Urban mixity, therefore, represents different patterns of human behavior within a defined space, an integration of spaces, uses, and users. It is also a mechanism through which we can understand the relationships between social interactions and human behaviors, as well as human needs within a local spatial context.
6. Implications and Conclusions
This paper has established that social interactions and human behavioral activities drive the spatial organization of the indigenous informal quarter of Abese. These spatial dynamics are critical to creating lively urban spaces as well as strengthening social bonds and relationships within this urban informal settlement. More importantly, the social interactions and human behavioral activities and its spatial aspects has created conditions that have enabled the Abese quarter to remain resilient to globalization and neoliberal urban processes. The quarter has thus retained its unique identity as a clan-based system that supports residents’ indigenous culture and socio-economic activities. These understandings, therefore, provide critical directions for promoting sustainable community-based planning and design interventions sensitive to existing local conditions, as well as the indigenous identity of the settlement.
Specifically, to promote sustainable community-based planning and design of informal settlements, urban planners need to pay attention to spatial structure and physical configuration. For instance, even though the Abese quarter has a permeable spatial pattern, the irregular and narrow width of alleys poses a potential challenge to disaster support in the unexpected case of fire or flooding. Spatial reconfiguration through design modifications is, therefore, necessary. This, however, should be informed by the indigenous open and permeable system of roads and alleys, which can potentially support physical connectivity and accessibility in the quarter.
Secondly, to address the issue of physical comfort in the use of informal spaces, there is a need for critical attention to landscaping and greening strategies. Urban greening has received little consideration in Ghanaian cities [74
], and much less in informal settlements. Studies show that greening and landscaping in urban areas improve social liveliness, enhance aesthetics, and foster environmental behavior settings that support positive spatial and social experiences [70
]. Particularly, such interventions are important for fostering micro-scale local sustainability practices in indigenous informal settlements. Climate supportive interventions such as green infrastructure can also be introduced in informal settlements to deepen social interactions and urban mixity patterns in informal open spaces. However, this requires in-depth collaboration with local and national stakeholders, community leaders, and residents of the Abese quarter. Specifically, working together with residents to integrate their knowledge of the spatial and social aspects, and behavior patterns into the quarter’s planning and design process, as was in the case of biomimicry in South Africa [80
Moreover, even though the growth of urban informal settlements appears pervasive in Ghanaian and African cities generally, for urban professionals and researchers, this paper emphasizes the imperative to recognize the micro-scale differentiation in behaviors and practices (e.g., between indigenous and migrant areas). This could assist in the adoption of appropriate methodologies for neighborhood level studies that capture such differences and propose interventions that respond to their peculiarities for sustainable improvements.
In a broader perspective, future comparative studies in other migrant and indigenous settlements in the GAMA will be needed to provide further planning and policy directions. In the end, the spatial dynamics of social interactions and human behavior in informal settlements should not be treated in isolation but rather integrated into the evolving process of planning and design of urban informal settlements.