Archives for posts with tag: planning

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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A summary of a book by the title of this post was published last month on the African Research Initiative’s Website (an awesome resource), so here’s my summary of that summary. The book by Vanessa Watson (U of Cape Town) and Babatunde Agbola (U of Ibadan) looks at the future of African cities and examines current planning practices and emphasis in the continent. The book has a strong belief that African planners should plan the future based on planning theories that originate in the global South, not the top-down, formalization-centered European and American norms. Rather than perceiving planners as part of the status quo of plans that benefit big business and political elites, the book imagines a proliferation of a network of planning schools in Africa (from the current dearth of only 90 in the continent with 30 of those in Nigeria and 10 in SA) that tailor their curriculums towards addressing inequality through participatory, survey-based planning methods (getting “shoes dirty”) that strive to account for informality as a fact in Africa instead of a nuisance to be eradicated through eminent domain (Makoko, Harare). One interesting fact from the summary was that currently the majority of African city dwellers were born in the city they are living in, which challenges the perspective of African cities as transient hubs for migrants who plan to return to the countryside. The authors critique the current “fanciful” master plans for African urban areas as “unsustainable in the extreme and inappropriate in terms of climate, available infrastructure – particularly power – and affordability.” Like Philip Harrison, in his article “The Edge of Reason,” this new book looks to redeem planners from the image of nefarious technocrats to the liberal, clipboard yielding, muddy boots lifeblood of participatory democratic institutions in Africa. Now to get this new breed of planners jobs and decent pay upon graduation…

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While much of this blog so far has been concerned with thinking about all the projects in Africa to build new commercial planned cities that will house the homes and offices of businesses making profits from Africa’s resources and nascent retail-hungry middle class, it’s important not to be overly focused on either these headline grabbing, secure, infrastructurally sound enclaves that attract international businesses, nor too focused on the surrounding slums they juxtapose, but to remember the array of roads, pipes, and wires that the country and partnering corporations depend on to actually run their operations in the country. This infrastructure, found in the form of airports, port, roads, power plants, trains, internet cables and cell towers, has the potential to either breach the gap between the wealthy enclaves and the rest of the country by building up infrastructure throughout a interconnected nation, or to further cut-up and cut-off communities from privileged bunkers like Eko Atlantic. This article in the New York Times about the “illegal” tapping of oil pipelines in Nigeria’s Delta region touches on an example of the latter. I’ve been reading Helon Habila’s novel Oil on Water, which has a moving descriptions of the effects of Shell and BP’s oil extraction on the people who made their homes in the delta region:

There are countless villages going up in smoke daily. Well, this place, Junction, went up in smoke because of an accident associated with this vandalism, as you call it. But I don’t blame them for wanting to get some benefit out of the pipelines that have brought nothing but suffering to their lives, leaking into the rivers and wells, killing the fish and poisoning the farmlands. And all they are told by the oil companies and the government is that the pipelines are there for their own good, that they hold great potential for their country, their future. These people endure the worst conditions of any oil-producing community on earth, the government knows it but doesn’t have the will to stop it, the oil companies know it, but because the government doesn’t care, they also don’t care. And you think the people are corrupt? No. They are just hungry, and tired. (p. 103-104)

That’s a powerful paragraph. Are these pipeline puncturers democratizing oil in Nigeria, or stealing from their country? Not easy to answer and probably not even a productive question in light of Habila’s illumination of the situation, but the whole complexity of the situation speaks to the infrastructural challenges places like Nigeria have beyond the edges of their slowly improving cities…will people continue migrating into the cities until the countryside simply a battlefield between the remaining petro-rebels and corporate backed national armies? Th violence in Southwest Nigeria has calmed down since the 2007 amnesty for rebels, but still that does not seem to be an impossible dystopian vision of the future. Roads and train tracks carved through places like the Serengeti or other communities and neighborhoods while leaving others off the map have similar problematic effects that have to be considered during planning. On a different note, looking at the images from the nytimes article about oil tapping, it’s not difficult to link the images of oil soaked landscapes and overflowing buckets of oil to how a cancer-epidemic is developing in much of Africa (chronicled in Botswana by Julie Livingston who ties it to what she calls “toxic capital”). In other places it’s savvy but hazardous activities like burning old computers without ventilators to collect and sell the medal inside them, and other places it’s simply the lack of car emissions testing, constantly dousing people in toxic fumes. And then there is the lack of medical infrastructure and treatment for this and other epidemics…

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Image Source [Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters]

An excellent article in the New Republic by Eve Fairbanks about the attack on Westgate Mall as an attack on what has become a popular symbol of Africa’s future:  shopping malls. The article is worth reading in its entirety, but in it Fairbanks recounts how large shopping malls have proliferated in the last couple of decades in many African countries, becoming the most popular hangout spot for all kinds of people from ex-pats to artists to very poor people, not just angsty teenagers. They’re the physical symbol of Africa’s rising middle class and the consumerism comes with it (retail is the hottest area of investment in Africa according to the article)–they’re where all kinds of African urban dwellers come “to act out a dream of the African future.” And in striking contrast to much of the surrounding cities, it’s a dream where has been planned with beautiful and clean infrastructure, running water, and electricity. It’s also a place where new identities can be experimented with, and where anyone is permitted to visit–it’s an open space unlike many walled and gated restaurants or hotels in African cities. Unfortunately this may begin to change in the wake of Westgate…security will certainly be beefed up, and Fairbanks wonders if rougher-looking people from the slums who used to come to window gaze and to dream about the future might begin to be turned away, stratifying what used to be a welcoming and cosmopolitan vision of Africa’s future.

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Today I wrote a response paper summarizing and comparing this article by Filip De Boeck and this powerpoint presentation by Vanessa Watson. I’m not satisfied with what I wrote so I’m going to attempt to hash out my ideas a little better here. So the Watson presentation is intended for her architecture students at the University of Cape Town and in it she runs through the big African planned “future cities” or what she calls “fantasy cities,” showing glamorous designs of them, and then on the next slide shows the “reality” of the actual slums that make up most of the area of these cities. I haven’t been in her actual lecture, but her criticisms seem to be, 1. these cities create islands of wealth that don’t help most of the city’s poor, and 2. the designs of these cities are transplanted from the West via Asia and are not fitted for the realities of African cities. Both points seem fair and accurate, but then the De Boeck piece seeks out the voices of Kinshasa’s urban farmers who are surprisingly attracted to the skyscraper-centric plans, saying “Yes, we’ll be the victims, but still it will be beautiful.” The dream of these new cities can also be alluring and captivating even to the urban poor who will not have access to them…the thought of one day being part of an international megacity frequented by the world’s who’s who evokes pride in one’s hometown and offers hopes that that wealth may find its way throughout the city. These are the similar sentiments to what Wole Soyinka expressed when he said Eko Atlantic is “[r]ising like Aphrodite from the foam of the Atlantic.” Many African urban dwellers desire symbols of beauty and pride to rise from the centers of their cities—buildings that are “so beautiful that it makes one dream.” In this light of these local reactions, current plans for shiny business districts of African cities might rather be looked at as monuments to the potential of the surrounding city, not as unsustainable parasites of corporations. Yet Watson is absolutely right that many of the “monuments” that are being sold by international corporations and architectural firms to African politicians are problematic in that they segregate cities often more than their colonial predecessors did:  De Boeck describes how Belgian colonial planners divided Kinshasa between the white island of wealth—La Ville—and the surrounding ocean of poverty—the black townships—with railroads and army barracks. Now the new wave of planned cities are gated island or 40 km away from the old city, taking the colonialist exclusionary model even further than before. Yet they’re still beautiful and desirable to the urban poor….their allure stimulates dreams for the future….and dreams are what keep everyone going. And also if you were an African doctor or lawyer or business person who might be tempted to leave for opportunities elsewhere where it is safer and stabler to have a family and raise kids (the brain drain), wouldn’t you be more likely to consider staying if you could have a home in Eko Atlantic or Cité du Fleuve? The ways in which the urban poor of Kinshasa have navigated and adapted to their infrastructurally scant neighborhoods (as described by Koolhaas and De Boeck) and the construction of Eko Atlantic and Cité du Fleuve can both be seen as different manifestations of the very human drive to create order and predictability in life. For me this is where the state comes in–as both a creator and moderator of human impetus for stability and security. Here again, the mayor of Lagos, Fashola, seems to be doing a better job at this than his counterparts in much of Africa, including in Kinshasa. Fashola has attracted investment in the glamorous dream of Eko Atlantic but he has also raised tax revenue by not just promising but delivering services, including housing and bus lanes to improve traffic. And the success of Fashola’s incrementalist approach of improving services and infrastructure for neglected, “informal” communities suggests that De Boeck’s prescriptions for slow and achievable planning goals for Kinshasa’s slums are dead on. When rapid changes come to poor neighborhoods, they’re more likely to be uprooted and turned inside out after years of self-organization than to be improved. But the political will has to be there, and the planners, lawyers, business people, and doctors have to be (live) there too….and in subtle but significant ways they will appropriate and alter this “imported” architecture as their own.

Kigali:  “Fantasy and Reality”

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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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Here’s a summary I wrote of Stephan F. Miescher’s article, “Building the City of the Future: Visions and Experiences of Modernity in Ghana’s Akosombo Township,” which appeared in the November 2012 issue of the Journal of African History:

In his article, Miescher details the history of the Akosombo Township that the Nkrumah’s government commissioned in the early 1960s to house the workers for the accompanying Akosombo hydroelectric dam. He compares the high modernist visions for the Akosombo township (that Greek Urbanist Constaninos Doxiadis designed) versus the reality that lived out over the years as local workers and their families moved in and brought their own knowledge and lifestyles. The dam and Nkrumah’s modernist agenda has attracted past scholarship, but the visions and experiences of the township’s residents have been ignored. Almost immediately the resident’s modes of living clashed with the official plans as rural workers brought families and animals with them into the city planned for single industrial labors. A makeshift “shadow city” known as the “Combine” sprang up as they tend to in planned modern cities in developing nations (Brasilia), resulting in contention between its inhabitants and the VRA (Volta River Authority) who wished to level it to preserve the model city. Eventually the Combiners were relocated (with the support of the national government) and provided with a slab of concrete and building materials to construct approved housing in an orderly, new, and visually sanitized community.

Having recounted Akosombo’s history, Miescher evaluates the legacy of Ghana’s venture into high modernist city planning:

“Thus, is Akosombo just another instance of failed modernization, of which there are many in postcolonial Africa – another example of the ‘flaws of hubris in high-modernist urban planning’…?…Not quite. Akosombo continues to be an attractive place to live. While most urban areas in Ghana have chronic power failures, insufficient water supplies, roads with potholes, and limited health care, the infrastructure at Akosombo remains among the country’s best and the reputation of its schools and hospital ranks high. Akosombo is the township that works.”

Just because a city does not fulfill the original (often high modernist) vision laid out for it does not automatically doom it to failure, and Miescher does a great job not following into the easy mistake of tossing Akosombo into the pile of failed planned African cities just because it did not follow the original vision of Doxiadis to a T. What I think separates Akosombo from the pile is that there was a continued dialogue (even if contentious at times) between its residents and the government and instead of the Combine simply being torn down, a solution was arrived at that seems reasonable and allowed the city to continue functioning and serving its residents. The other day I was reading Philip Harrison’s article (On the Edge of Reason:  Planning and Urban Futures in Africa) in which he draws on post-colonial theory to arrive at a theoretical approach to planning in Africa that balances planners’ desires for efficiency and order with the wisdom found in the “multiple rationalities” of local residents of the Global South. The abstract notion of what Harrison wrote seemed to be sensible, but he was only able to point to Johannesburg as what to avoid, which made reading about the concrete example of Akosombo’s success extremely refreshing. This is the kind of project that planners can build off of for future African cities, striving for what Miescher calls “high modernist local knowledge.” And is why historical awareness and a long view of history is essential to planning.

The only thing that I wish the article had gone farther into was the design of the individual houses–how residents found the boxy (western) style, how the material held up over time, and what alterations residents undertook. Images of Akosombo:

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BUILDING THE CITY OF THE FUTURE: VISIONS AND EXPERIENCES OF MODERNITY IN GHANA’S AKOSOMBO TOWNSHIP

 

Highlights from McKinsey report on “How to Make a City Great”:

-by 2030 60% of the world (5 billion people) will live in cities.

-While cities are world’s economic engines, they also account for the most resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

-The report focuses on what successful leaders do to make their cities great. Cites 3 things:  smart growth (that balances the economy, social conditions, and the environment), doing more with less, and winning support for change by delivering results swiftly.

-Smart growth:  simpler tax codes, focus on clustering industrial sectors in city, invest heavily in infrastructure, train English speakers, constantly set short term achievable goals, adopt regional perspective and collaborate within that region, make planning inclusive (bottom up), build high-density areas (smaller more compact infrastructure), regulate construction projects to build “green” projects, provide opportunities and infrastructure for the marginal residents of the city.

-More with less:  embrace technology, rigorously monitor expenses.

-Win support for change:  be accountable, provide citizens information, build a high-performance team, invest in education, create culture of accountability.

Not surprisingly, there was little ground breaking information in the report. What did strike me was actually how balanced and, in my view, spot on much of the report was (although it was corporately vague and general also). I guess I was hoping it would be actually prescriptive rather than just descriptive couched in prescriptive language. I was looking for it to layout steps and priorities at each stage of development rather than a laundry list of everything cities should be doing (even when doing more with less it’s impossible to do everything). I have an image in my head of representatives from a global corporation equipped with the McKinsey report on Africa sitting down at a meeting with the governor of an African city who has a copy of this city report in his briefcase, and each side being miffed at McKinsey:  the governor annoyed of the portrayal of Africa as a fruit ripe for the picking, where resources can be extracted and consumerism sold, and the corporation disappointed that the governor is demanding infrastructure investment and environmental pledges in exchange for business licenses and trading rights. I guess that’s the nature of soliciting information from a consulting firm.

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Image source (Kinshasa skyline)