Spatial Planning for Africa
The talk about the future belonging to Africa may never abate anytime soon from the blog sphere, academia, Bretton woods institutions and other development agencies. There is that unifying voice about Africa being the next growth frontier to not only itself but the rest of the world. Africa has had her problems from being plagued by diseases, warfare and its scramble that sent various foreign powers to loot it through unfair business practices, enslavement and colonization.
More than half a century after the bulk of the countries in the continent attained self-rule, and 200 plus years after the industrial revolution, African cities have entangled themselves in a web of planning disparities at one point we have a planned previously colonial centre and the other front we have this informal sector a cauldron mixing everything that should not and cannot be regarded as good spatial planning from impassible roads ,open sewers ,boxes of buildings designed without regard to safety and quality environment at heart ,expanse of shacks housing the urban poor and so on.
African cities have this dualism in terms of spatial planning and the planning education is not making things any better perpetuating the elitist and western idea of what spatial planning ought to be (Consider this post), I agree there are a lot to learn from western planning tradition ,but Africa herself should go to her past and create a planning dispensation that will work for her from learning to view informality that is informal settlements ,economies and businesses as not a challenge but an opportunity to come up with a spatial planning dispensation that will not only work for the continent but finally create a city that is African in not only location but in terms of structure and appearance.
Image of Benin City adapted from
Our planning system is cast on the foundation of western planning theory and many planning schools in Africa are keen to perpetuate such with the theoretical basis of the course studying garden cities, modernism of Le Corbusier this is done with little consideration of planning in Africa where we have the Mansa Musa’s Timbuktu ,and other great cities that came to being before the arrival of the Europeans ,Great Zimbabwe for instance had in its peak in excess of 30,000 people, there is the Yoruba city of Ife which would provide a good theoretical basis of coming up with a planning framework that is good for Africa and is at peace with not only the continent’s past but also its future state, and in Africa in this case I am biased towards sub Saharan part of the continent where the challenges are evident unlike the case of north Africa which though same challenges exists their planning mirrors their tradition in many cases.
Spatial planning practioner’s and academicians in Africa should work towards working to recreate planning whose theoretical basis is informed by our past and also the challenges that currently exists in our cities and these challenges ought not to be looked at as challenges but opportunities for a spatial planning framework that works for Africa.