Los Angeles Non-Profit Design Firm Wins the 2012 International ReSource Award for Sustainable Watershed Management
March 23, 2011 | 12:00AM

Kounkuey Design Initiative awarded $150,000 to support Watershed Management Public Space Projects in Kenya

Los Angeles, California - (March 23, 2012) Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI), a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization that partners with residents of impoverished areas to create low-cost, high-impact built environments, was selected as the winner of the 2012 International ReSource Award for Sustainable Watershed Management awarded by the Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd. The $150,000 award will support KDI's projects in Kibera, Kenya, the largest slum in Kenya.

The International ReSource Award for Sustainable Watershed Management is an internationally recognized prize acknowledging leadership in the implementation of the principles of sustainability in watershed management. KDI's project, "Kibera Productive Public Space Project," was chosen from a total of 196 submitted projects. Every year US$150,000 is awarded by an international jury to either one, or across several, projects.

This year Kounkuey Design Initiative is the sole winner of the prize. KDI will use the award in 2012-2013 to extend their existing network of projects in Kibera by constructing three more Productive Public Spaces (PPS). The PPS network addresses regional issues of watershed management while increasing local environmental, economic, and social capital.

These new projects, like all of KDI's Productive Public Spaces, will employ a participatory design process, partnering with both resident community groups and government agencies, including the Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources and the Nairobi City Water and Sewer Company. These partnerships will introduce improved models of watershed management to both residents and the government and increase slum-wide access to sanitation infrastructure.

"We are extremely honored to receive this generous award, and thrilled to put it to use to double the number of Productive Public Spaces in Kibera. Each new Productive Public Space funded through this award, will add to our ongoing efforts to remediate the environmental degradation along the Ngong River tributaries and improve quality of life for neighboring communities," says Chelina Odbert, co-founder and principal of KDI. Improved water supply, sanitation, drainage, and waste management infrastructure provided through these projects will remove point sources of pollution from the watercourse, reduce erosion, increase public health, and help reclaim and remediate previously unusable spaces into productive landscapes.

Sanitation centers, water access, trash collection, and recycling businesses created through these projects will generate income for households and revenue for long-term maintenance of the sites. "The next three Productive Public Spaces will allow us to evaluate three models of service delivery and harnesses the insight and know-how of both government and residents to create an improved model for sustainable watershed management.Our aspiration is that by plugging into city infrastructure and basin-wide upgrading initiatives, our small-scale, networked interventions can influence practices in other informal settlements in Nairobi and potentially in other rapidly urbanizing cities around the world," explains Odbert.

Kibera is located just outside of downtown Nairobi and consists of thirteen villages. It sits on several tributaries to the Ngong River and the Nairobi Dam – part of the Nairobi River Basin. The waterways are burdened with garbage, human and industrial waste, and agricultural chemicals. These concerns, paired with the lack of publicly provided water taps, make access to safe water a central issue in Kibera.

Since 2006, KDI has been involved in "reclaiming the river" in Kibera by transforming waste spaces in three communities along the Ngong River. These Productive Public Spaces are community-driven, sustainable urban systems that function collectively to mitigate environmental hazards, provide public space amenities, build social networks, and develop micro-enterprises.

Examples of successful components from our three existing projects include the construction of a bridge to link two adjacent villages; a sanitation center offering toilets, showers, and a public tap; flexible community spaces that serve as classrooms and meeting spaces; play structures for children; and new businesses, such as "Grow Kenya" that grows and sells organic vegetables, "Kiki Weavers," a women's weaving cooperative that harvests water hyacinth near the site to create, sell, and export eco-friendly baskets and crafts, and brick-making and baking collectives.

History of KDI

Begun in 2006 by graduates of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, KDI is an innovative international partnership specializing in the practices of architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, and urban planning. KDI believes that participatory planning and design are key to sustainable development. By working collaboratively with communities from conception through implementation, they build on their ideas, enhance them with technical knowledge and design innovation, and connect them to extant resources. In doing so, KDI empowers communities to advocate for themselves and address the major physical, social and economic challenges they face. KDI has completed and ongoing projects in Kenya, Morocco, and Haiti, and Coachella Valley, California.

About SwissRe

Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd. is one of the world's leading reinsurance companies Founded in 1863, Swiss Re operates through offices in more than 25 countries. Launched in 2002, The International ReSource Award for Sustainable Watershed Management is Swiss Re's annual prize for leadership in implementing the principles of sustainability in watershed management. An award ceremony will be held on March 22, 2012 in Zurich to recognize KDI's winning project and commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the International ReSource Award for Sustainable Watershed Management.