Archives for posts with tag: Cities

This Nairobi matutu mapping project is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while. The idea is to create a map of the informal bus (known as matutus) routes in Nairobi in the aesthetic style of subway maps. Having something like this would have been extremely helping for navigating the bus systems in Kampala and Kigali. I’m the kind of person who rarely takes the bus around Boston because it’s too much of an effort to figure out the dozens of routes and the times that change depending on day of the week and time of day, so you can imagine how much fun I thought it was getting to class in Kigali or making it across town for a meeting in Kampala via bus (they’re more like oversize vans in Uganda and Rwanda) routes only found out about through word of mouth (or pointing when you don’t know the language). Of course those conversations to figure how in the world to choose which of the numerous matatus zooming by to hop into were an interesting opportunity to strike up a conversation and learn a little more about the city’s geography. And, once I knew the routes to use (distinguishing between the names of the destinations that the conductors would yell out took the most time), it felt like I had tapped into an esoteric transportation network not otherwise accessible through any kind of material map. But if I end up in Nairobi anytime soon, I know I’ll be thanking my lucky stars for this map. I’d be curious to know what Nairobians think about the project–a positive development for making the city more welcoming to new arrivals, visitors, and tourists? A lose of privileged knowledge that empowered and distinguished [poor] Nairobians from outsiders? I’d also be interested to read the history of how these routes have been slowly negotiated over the years without the oversight of government regulation. However anyone who thinks this private transportation network is an example of the efficiency of the private sector to provide what are elsewhere public services has not relied on hot, dusty, cramped, and dangerous matatus to get anywhere. But this takes nothing away from the ingenuity and creativity of the developers of these informal routes. One of the members of the team working on the project is a Cambridge, MA based company called Groupshot whose goal is to create, research, and develop “technology-driven projects that interface with and support existing local systems.” This matatu project seems like a great way to do just that. One thing to watch going forward is how current this mapping project is able to stay with the bus routes in Nairobi (how well and how long the project is maintained…) as one of the benefits of an informal, decentralized bus system like this is that it can change rapidly to adjust to new developments and flows of people in the city without having to wait for bureaucratic approvals or the redrawing of countless bus transit maps throughout the city as Boston would have to if a route was altered even the slightest. A cell phone crowd sourcing effort of the likes that the project website talks about for the future may be a solution to this upkeep problem, and something that city governments in the western world might want to pay attention to in order to keep their transportation networks agile and adaptable as changes in cities accelerate with the massive growth they’re undergoing around the globe.

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The Guardian aggregated a great selection of blogs on cities and urbanism and linked them to a map. Check it out here.

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A few very relevant and interesting articles came out over break in the New York Times and on Phys.org:

1. Seth Kaplan suggested that Lagos might be a model city for the future. He describes the recent success the Lagos government has had in raising revenue, cleaning up the city, and reducing crime, and makes the case that other fragile states like Nigeria could learn from Lagos and adopt policies giving more autonomy to cities, which could then become hubs of good governance and service delivery. With megacities mushrooming in fragile states there are definite merits to this return-to-city-states idea. But it remains to be seen what will happen when cities like Lagos no longer feel a need for the central government and are perhaps even more powerful than it.

2. Kennedy Odede discussed the bleak odds he lived through growing up in Nairobi’s slums and warned that the kind of urban poverty he experienced creates a fertile breeding ground for extremism and terrorism. Odede is 29 years old; a year from surpassing the life expectancy of Kibera slum where he grew up. He describes the violence and terror common in this mega-slum and explains how survival requires desensitization to death. From there the financial incentives offered by terrorist groups in Somalia and elsewhere become alluring. Odede calls for investment in urban renewal in Africa to create hope for the future in places like Kibera, not simply a new frontier in the military pursuit of terrorists.

3. And, on a lighter note, Phys.org had an article on an innovative and resourceful way some Nigerians are creating their homes out of recycled soda bottles. The house looks sturdy and attractive. It seems almost like living in a piece of El Anatsui art.

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In this short and sweet paper, Guy Michaels uses maps plotting French and British towns to make the case that French cities are not as strategically located as British cities, which have been moved more recently (middle ages being recent for Europe) to better take advantage of water transportation technology, while more French cities are landlocked remnants of Roman cities (although unfortunately the article does make an argument as to why) and therefore have been located in inferior places for centuries, costing who knows how much lost opportunity cost for France. The conclusion singles out Africa as a continent that could benefit from this kind of study of misplaced cities, stating that “parts of Africa, including some of its cities, are hampered by poor access to the world’s markets due to their landlocked position and poor land-transport infrastructure.” As the continent urbanizes and governments decide what cities to invest scare resources in, comparative studies of not only cities themselves but their relative spatial orientation may be useful. Of course this assumes that it won’t be Britain, France, (or China) benefitting from these more economically efficiently located African cities, but will be the cities and African countries themselves.

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…are profiled in this CNN article. This exciting new generation of camera wielders are rapidly changing the image of the continent and many share their work with thousands of followers on instagram (check out “truthslinger”‘s profile and the incredible images of life in Kenya he shares with 35k followers). I especially like the “Future Memories” series by Michael Tsegaye that captures bleak frames of recent large-scale Addis Ababa construction projects juxtaposed with more rural imagery (cattle, hand-washing clothes, and a great one of silhouetted wooden scaffolding). I don’t usually love black and white photography, but in this case, the medium does a perfect job of capturing the rapid inevitableness of the fading and cracking that the buildings will endure as they age. Do these images give a glimpse into the memories of this new wave of large-scale construction projects? Will they be remembered differently than the grand independence era towers and monuments that now look painfully optimistic in photographs from the time of their celebratory completions.

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This article from The Africa Report rehashes the need for urban planning for Africa’s rapidly urbanizing population and then focuses on laying out the four ways that planning can be funded: “raising taxes; state transfers; cooperation agreements; and appeals for loans.” The article also promotes the UN’s panacea of decentralization for Africa’s ills, which gets thrown out there a lot as a buzzword without much thought (without distinguishing the more common decentralization of bureaucracy from the more important decentralization of actual power), but in this case connecting it to the example of Fashola’s autonomy from Abuja and his social contract of real services in exchange for taxes works well. The call for cooperation and communication between Africa’s 15,000 mayors is also an important point.

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I recently had a chance to read McKinsey’s 2010 report on Africa’s economic outlook and another on what, in their view, makes a “good city.” Here are a few things that stuck out to me:

MGI Report on Africa

-Currently there are 52 African cities with more than 1 million people (as many as Europe)

-By 2030 50% of Africans will live in cities (already more Africans (40%) live in cities than Indians (35%), and the continent is not far behind China’s 45%)

-From 1990-2008 African trade with Europe and N. America declined (51% to 28%, and 16% to 15% respectively) while trade with China grew from 20% of total African trade to 28%

-China’s infrastructure commitments in Africa now surpass the World Bank’s (11.6 billion in financing in 2006 and 2007 versus 4 billion from the WB over that same period)

-The African labor force by 2040 is expected to be 1.1 billion (Larger than China’s or India’s, and every continent’s outside of Asia)

-Effective education is still sorely lacking in Africa (test scores have actually declined or stagnated for much of the continent) while its governments spend nearly 20% of their budget on education versus 11% for OECD nations.

-Africa’s largest oil exporting nations (Nigeria, Angola, Libya, Algeria) have dangerously undiversified economies compared to their international peers (Malaysia, Indonesia)

-23% of Africa’s largest resource deals now have an infrastructure or industrialization component, up from 1% in the 90s. For example, China’s 2008 deal with the DRC for cobalt and copper included 2.9 billion to construct 3200 km of railways, 31 hospitals, 145 health centers, and 2 universities (I’d like to know how much of this has been completed).

-African daily oil exports to China have quickly risen from 1% in 1995 to 13% in 2008 (the US and Europe receive 30% and 37% of Africa’s oil respectively)

-African governments (65%), private sources (25%), and foreign aid (10%) combined are currently investing around $72 billion per year in new infrastructure across the continent. Still the continents infrastructure is only somewhere between one half to a fifth of Russia, Brazil, China, and India’s. The report estimates that the continent needs to invest $118 billion a year to catchup and keep pace with its economic growth ($46 billion more per year than it currently invests). Chinese and private investment could help reach this goal, as both sources are increasingly at double digits rates.

-In 2008 37% of Africans had mobile phones, 39% had access to electricity, and 63% had access to improved water sources, versus 48%, 84%, 89% average for each those categories in Russia, China, Brazil, and India.

A few thoughts on the report:  it’s troubling how critically lacking Africa is in basic education compared to other areas of the world…this lag is what I would predict to continue to create instability in many African countries–under educated citizens are more likely to be easily manipulated by politicians who play up “tribal” or other divisions to instigate violence. This lag can be traced to the state colonialism left Africa at independence when many African countries (like the DRC in particular) had less than a dozen university educated citizens in the whole country. Now many of the few educated Africans leave the continent for better opportunities for them and their families in America and Europe, creating a serious brain-drain—I’m curious if this recent narrative of “Africa Rising” is bringing many of those doctors and business people home like what happened in Rwanda once Kagame stabilized the country and opened it up for businesses. The article also seems to find optimism in Africa’s rapid urbanism primarily because of the consumer focused business opportunities it creates when so many potential customers are bunched closely together in a city. Is this what cities are to businesses? Places to export resources and sell people cheap stuff? Doesn’t that sound like the model of the slave trade in west Africa? Why don’t business perspectives like McKinsey see cities as places where services can be more effectively delivered or hubs for better education that can lead to more stable nations and thus better business locations? Again it’s going to come back to well educated and savvy leaders in Africa who can make business deals that provide substantial infrastructure and education improvements in exchange for resources. Highlights from McKinsey’s city report will be up soon.

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Following up onmthe last post, here’s another article (from the August New Yorker) questioning whether Mayor Fashola is leaving behind the city’s poorer residents in his pursuit of glamorous projects like Eko Atlantic that provide clean water and reliable power for the ultra rich. The article points to the Makoko slum built over polluted water on boards and logs and asks why solutions like the floating school designed by Kunle Adeyimi isn’t being developed for the people struggling in Makoko. For a look into life in Makoko read this article on the slum’s high teenage birthrate. After years of predominately positive coverage of improvements in Lagos the media seems to definitely be going through a more negative phase…I imagine that much of Fashola’s legacy will be tied to Eko Atlantic for better or worse and making sure the project is completed is consuming the majority of his time currently. What EA will mean for the rest of Lagos is yet to be seen. I have a chance to ask Mayor Fashola a question during a group video conference next week and am thinking about what I should ask and will be sure to share his response here. The article did a nice job juxtaposing these two images of EA and Makoko:

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