Urban upgrading is broadly defined as physical, social, economic, organizational and environmental improvements undertaken to ensure sustained improvements in the quality of life for individuals.

Urban upgrading schemes are increasingly used by city and national governments to improve conditions for marginalized urban populations. These schemes aim to address rapid unplanned city growth, improve infrastructure services and living conditions, and enhance resilience to climate change.

Part of this upgrading process involves introducing alternative tenure systems (systems which define ownership or usage relationships between people and land) to address innovation and sustainable development challenges.

Nature-based solutions (NBS) are actions which work with and enhance nature to produce a diverse range of services on which human well-being depends. They are particularly useful in informal settlements, where resources are often constrained, as they can be cost-effective ways to bring about health and economic benefits.

In some instances, a combination of upgrading programmes, flexible tenure (a type of shared ownership of housing) and NBS, has the scope to benefit a significant proportion of an urban population. Namibia is pioneering this approach, having chosen three pilot cities (Windhoek, Gobabis and Oshikati).

This policy brief is based on an ongoing study in these cities and looks at rural-urban climate resilient futures in Namibia, Kenya and Tanzania through the “Peri-Urban Resilient Ecosystems” partnership. It offers ten practical recommendations for urban policy makers, planners, designers and local authorities in dryland areas. These can strengthen informal settlement upgrading schemes by optimizing NBS and the ecosystem services they provide. Key themes relate to urban development for inclusive prosperity, informed decision-making, innovation and experimentation, integration and complementarity.

This policy brief is an output from an ongoing research study through the GCRF ODA Pump Priming Peri-Urban Resilient Ecosystems (PURE) partnership. It was carried out by Stockholm Environment Institute York, the University of York and University of Cape Town African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI).