Nompumelelo and Ayna (MCP '18) discuss current work site conditions with an Impepho vendor in Durban, South Africa. 

Nompumelelo and Ayna (MCP '18) discuss current work site conditions with an Impepho vendor in Durban, South Africa. 

Urban Informality Interest Group

Informal Settlements and the Informal Economy have traditionally been approached by scholars and agencies as spaces of scarcity -- with insufficient services, goods, and even ideas. Modern approaches towards addressing urban informality dwell on the improvement of the inadequate qualities of such spaces. Be this, housing, products, markets, or services. While this is true at some level, this one-sided view erases a significant reality:

  • Informal settlements are serving as the urban solution to the incapacity of the formal market to provide housing to one-third of the world’s urban population.

  • The informal economy is the source of income for more than half of the world’s working population.

Given informal settlements are the most common form of urbanization and the informal economy is the most common vehicle for income generation suggests that Informality is not a pathology but the norm.

The reality of informality is then more nuanced. This context of scarcity and need creates the milieu for innovation in which products and services are invented without the ties to modern and cumbersome infrastructure or lengthy and problematic bureaucratic processes. This inventiveness, that we sometimes call ingenuity, is the result of the calculated process of the invention in response to scarcity and away from traditional structures of power. Products that result of such methods have the possibility of being tremendously transformative. In this twenty-first century, we see new products being developed that blur the line between formal and informal processes, regulations and markets. Products like Uber, Airbnb and the likes are challenging well-established markets by capitalizing on the flexibility of informal procedures. Cities around the world are grappling with how to respond to these flexible dynamics embodied by both large corporations and people-led development in  informal settlements and the informal economy.

We at the Urban Informality Interest Group are interested in contributing to the knowledge of such development of new products, tools, and markets that can emerge from that ingenuity of communities working in these places, under special conditions that push them to invent out-of-the-box solutions to the needs of our twenty-first century.

Get Involved: 
If you are interested in joining us for events, collaborations or have other ideas, please do reach out:



CUrrent members


This group was founded through a collaboration between MIT CREATE and UC-Boulder faculty.

It was established in June 2018 by MIT Professor Dennis Frenchman, UC-Boulder Assistant Professor Jota Samper, MIT Lecturer John Kennedy, MIT CREATE Co-Founder Kate Mytty (MCP '15), and MIT PhD Student Rida Qadri.