Liza Rose Cirolia is an urban planner and housing practitioner. Over the past ten years, Liza has worked with various academic institutions and NGOs in the Bay Area, Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi, and Cape Town. The majority of her work has focused on youth activism, the performing arts, and, more recently, urban land and housing challenges. Liza’s current work primarily focuses on housing and planning in South African cities. Her research covers issues of densification, urban policy, housing finance, and upgrading informal settlements.


Liza has a diverse range of current academic interests. She is particularly interested in understanding the economic and political drivers which underpin the development patterns in cities. She is also interested in the wave of ‘new cities’ and suburbs being constructed in cities across the continent, projects which are often described in extremes terms as ‘flagships of development’ or ‘utopian fantasies.’


Currently, Liza is the co-ordinator of the Sustainable Human Settlements CityLab. The Lab explores the vexing challenge of housing the urban poor in the Western Cape. In 2012, the CityLab was established with the purpose of providing ad hoc and strategic support to the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements. The research programme for the Lab is coproduced with the officials in the Department’s Policy and Research Unit. The Lab platform allows the Department to access rigorous academic work which draws insights from a diversity of quarters. For the ACC, the Lab offers incredible insight into the workings of the state, of particular interest, the question of how institutions consume knowledge and change their practices.


The current projects which the Lab supports are the Western Cape Human Settlements Framework, the Western Cape Demand Study, and the Informal Settlement Strategy and Toolkit. Recent ad hoc projects include a review of Cape Town’s serviced site release programme, research on the Finance Linked Individual Subsidy Programme in the Western Cape, a Situational Analysis of the Western Cape, and a short study of Multistorey RDP Housing Provision in Johannesburg.


Liza is currently co-editing a book on participatory approaches to upgrading informal settlements in South Africa. Through documenting the diversity of informal settlement upgrading experiences which are evident across sectors, spheres and departments, the book aims to: use perspectives from theory, policy and practice to reflect and forecast on the opportunities and challenges of institutionalising the emerging upgrading agenda; provide current and future practitioners with a more rigorous understanding of and tools to address the complexities of building partnerships between diverse sets of stakeholders; and highlight the necessary tools and capabilities needed to address the complexities faced by practitioners.


In addition, Liza is currently part of ACC’s ‘Urban Infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa – harnessing land values, housing and transport’ research team. Liza is focusing on identifying the way in which planning tools and instruments impact on the ability of cities to capture land value increments. She is also focusing on the Kenya case study.


Liza received an undergraduate degree in Development Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. She received a Master in City and Regional Planning from the University of Cape Town.





Journal articles, conference papers, and book chapters 


  • McGaffin, R , Cirolia, L, and Massyn, M. (2015). Overcoming the challenge of vertical consolidation in South Africa’s low income settlements: a case study of Du Noon. Urban Form. DOI 10.1007/s12132-014-9232-6.
  • Cirolia, L (2014). South Africa’s Emergency Housing Programme: a prism of urban contest. In review for Development Southern Africa.
  • Cirolia, L. (2013). (W)escaping the challenges of the city: a critique of cape town’s proposed satellite town. Urban Forum. DOI 10.1007/s12132-013-9212-2
  • Cirolia, L. (2012). Transforming human settlement delivery in South Africa: a paradigm shift. Sustainable Human(e) Settlements Conference (
  • Cirolia, L. (2012). Recasting the Development Agenda  for Informal Land and Housing Markets in Nairobi: A Critical Examination of Actors, Claims, and Urban Governance in Kibera (




  • The Implementation of Emergency Housing Case Studies for the Housing Development Agency (2012)
  • The Implementation of Emergency Housing Guidelines Housing Development Agency (2012)


Popular Media


  • The Logistics Corps: a city study on Colombo’s urban militarization and slum clearance. In CityScapes – Rethinking urban things Volume 3. (2013)
  • Nairobi: an Informal City Study.
  • The Architect Can’s Save the Slum: reflections on design fix housing solutions. SLUM LAB ed. 3