Urban frictions: prosperity turns within Nairobi’s water tinkering practices

Grantham Scholar Monica Martin Grau’s project brings more nuanced perspectives to the transition realm through Phenomenology and New Materialism theories, establishing transdisciplinary connections between arts, humanities and social sciences in the study of water practices.


The starting point of this research proposal was to rethink water infrastructures and find sustainable solutions that ensured quantity, quality and affordability of water in world-wide cities. In view of the difficulties of water networks to cope with increasing water demands in urban areas, my proposal focused on emergent off-grid responses moving beyond co-opted market governance approaches and pro-poor development strategies. However, an initial examination of these premises revealed some tensions between current conceptualisations of socio-technical transition frameworks and unsolved philosophical questions revolving around the interplay of life and matter. 

Therefore, the aim of this proposal turned towards a better understanding of the ways individuals are steadily shaping and sharing their physical surroundings. Thus, developing an alternative reading of the transition’s literature for governing climate in a messy and changing world, outside formal political spaces and strategic planning. This is done through the analysis of on-going water practices in Nairobi (Kenya) from phenomenological and neo-materialist analytical lenses. This way, ordinary water tasks emerge within the city with the capacity to challenge universal definitions of prosperity and embrace new ‘forms of abundance’ through practices of care and emotional connection.


This research will answer 3 questions.

1. Which tinkering practices make the water flow and sustain urban life in Nairobi? 

2. How are these tinkering practices changing Nairobi’s water landscapes?

3. How are these changes reshaping the idea of prosperity within Nairobi’s researched communities?

From an epistemological perspective, this piece of research is placed under a participatory paradigm, seeking to understand Nairobi’s water configurations through the qualitative experiences of the people involved in their use and maintenance. The research design will take the shape of an action-research project where stakeholders will map, document, discuss and share urban sustainable practices in different formats and media. In doing so, different constructs of reality will gain momentum and be showcased. 


You can find out more about Monica by watching Objetivo: comunidades y ciudades sostenibles.

Find Monica Martin Grau on social media

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And you can find her on LinkedIn.

Monica also has a website.


As first author:

Maroso, R. , Neder, Y., Martín, M., Gerretsen, S. (2019) Key considerations for integrated urban regeneration strategies. UK-FCO Global Future Cities Programme Working Papers. UN-Habitat, Nairobi.

As contributor:

Bosworth, B. (2019) Laying the foundations for transformative urban interventions in emerging economies. UK-FCO Global Future Cities Programme Normative Outcome1. UN-Habitat, Nairobi.

Scruggs, G., Mohn, C., Aguinaga, A. (2019) Addressing systemic barriers for achieving sustainable urbanisation in emerging economies. UK-FCO Global Future Cities Programme Normative Outcome 2. UN-Habitat, Nairobi.

Edilbi, B., Kalmakoff, J. (2019) Developing new public spaces in emerging economies. UK-FCO Global Future Cities Programme Working Papers. UN-Habitat, Nairobi.




Professor Liz Sharp

Department of Urban Studies and Planning