I am delighted to announce the publication of Grid Planning in the Urban Practices of Senegal.
This book is the fruit of years of collaboration between Dr. Liora Bigon and myself. In truth, Liora did all the tedious work: submitting proposals to publishers (and later managing relations with Springer), and applying for research funding (thank you Harry S. Truman Research Institute). I got to do a lot the fun stuff, like field work in Jan. 2018 (thank you IFAN-CAD) and lots of cartography (thank you Google Earth).
Initially, we wanted to entitle the book “Entangled in the Grid,” followed by the boring-but-straight-to-the-point subtitle. No-nonsense Springer would have none of that! Our argument is largely about the entanglement of spatial practices. We show how a variety of elite actors used grid plans when laying out new settlements. For hundreds of years, much of modern history in fact (1500s until very recently), royalty, religious authorities, and colonial agents of various kinds created grid-planned settlements to serve a variety of purposes, and they did so on the same or adjacent territories, those of modern-day Senegal. In the process, the grid was adapted to the particular social realities and ideologies which underpinned the authority of these diverse elites. Followers of this blog know that this issue has been central to my research. What is new in this book is our attempt to show how these urban practices became entangled (Randeria 2009). We show that, despite its apparent “rigidity,” the grid is an amenable scheme. Not only can grids promote vastly different ideologies and socioeconomic structures, they are open to all manner of contest, conflict, negotiation and accommodation between local actors.
Our book covers some of the cases discussed below.
In colonial Dakar, Lebou communities displaced by successive expropriations reestablished their neighborhoods, first in one grid (Plateau in 1860s) and then in another (Médine in 1914).
In Wolof, the term “pénc” first designates palaver trees. It also designates the public squares where such trees are found, as well as public assemblies (town halls). The plans of Dakar péncs (above) show how Lebou village communities displaced by the growth of the colonial city recreated their institutions and community life within the colonial grids.
Leona (Kaolack) and Hadji Malik (Tivaouane)
Since independence, in Kaolack (Leona) one branch of the Tijaniya order has carved a public square (pénc) out of the colonial grid, creating a classic Sufi shrine-town, while another branch in Tivaouane has dramatically altered its colonial-era gridded exurb in order to erect modern religious infrastructure on a grand scale.
In Tivaouane (below), the Tijaniya order has turned what was initially a marginalized neighborhood into the city’s most dynamic.
This oblique satellite image of Tivaouane (looking south-east) foregrounds the colonial escale, an exclusive commercial and administrative neighborhood laid out in the 1880s. In the middle-ground is Hadji Malik ward, headquarters of the Tijaniyya-Malikiyya order. This neighborhood started as a “village noir,” term used in colonial documents to designate what to colonial eyes were rural extensions of the “real” city, the escale. It is where the Sufi sheikh for whom the ward is named settled with his disciples and students in 1902. This African urban extension, built of “huts,” not intended as part the city, nonetheless adopted the escale’s grid orientation, extending its straight streets. Over decades its architecture became ever denser and more urban. By independence, the Tijaniyya-Malikiyya had erected two mosques and a zawiya in Hadji Malik ward.
Since 1984 the ward has been radically altered by the religious authorities. First, most existing residential buildings were cleared, then construction started on a stunning egg-shaped Friday Mosque (construction near completion). Since 2013 large complexes have been erect in the emptied city blocs to accommodate the annual pilgrimage ceremonies (transformations mapped bellow). By contrast, neighboring Esacle ward, ostensibly still the administrative and commercial center of Tivaouane, has never seen infrastructure investment like this.
In Touba’s case, the entanglements of cultural referents and spatial practices were personal. In 1974 the Caliph General of the Murids called on two disciples, both civil engineers working for the regional administration’s planning agencies, to draft a master plan for the city. We presume that these city planners were applying their engineering expertise as civil servants to the collective project of the Murid order, building the holy city. Their plan’s most striking feature turned out to be the encircling “Rocade,” a boulevard that sets Touba apart as a special/sacred/numinous place. Conjoined with radial arteries (laid out in 1958) traversing neighborhood grids, the Rocade created a khatim symbol (a mandala of sorts) out of the urban landscape. Yet the Rocade was proposed and implemented on a traffic-engineering rationale, in order to deal with the flux of vehicles during the huge annual pilgrimages. These city planners used the technocratic practices of civil engineering to produce a plan of metaphysical significance.
Alas, we have to report that the grid plan’s long history in Senegal appears to be over. More “modern” urban designs from northern Europe, designs which deliberately broke with the “monotony” of the grid, were first introduced in Dakar in the 1950s (SICAP & HLM neighborhoods). They became standard for new government-planned urban allotments across the country following independence. Even Touba, main custodian of the ancien régime (precolonial) grid planning tradition–the modern Senegalese city that had developed it most–broke with the grid. Ironically (or not), the 1974 disciple-planners who had proposed the Rocade also convinced the caliph general to adopt the allotment type then being used in other Senegalese cities. Since the late 1970s, all allotments around the older gridded era have been laid out according to one sub-type of the post-WWII “degenerate grid.” Degenerate grids are characterized by “[l]arge-scale residential landscapes with rectilinear street patterns and poor connectivity. Subtypes include interrupted and warped parallels.” (Wheeler 2015:171) In Touba’s case the design consists of many short streets intersecting in T’s and H’s. Wheeler has mapped the the post-WWII deployment of “degenerate” grids on every continent and has determined that it is now “the most widely spread built landscape type in the world today.” (184) Touba, and the rest of Senegal, are no exception.
It seems that the “soft” forces of globalization (international planning expertise backed by global financial institutions, for example, or interests favoring private car use) have succeeded in ending centuries-long practices of grid-planning. While Senegal’s urban population continues to grow by 3 or 4% per year, no-one has laid out a new allotment as a true grid in decades. According to Wheeler, this is the case everywhere. The grid plan, so ubiquitous to city-building the world over, did not survive the high-modern car-centric planning era.
Can the urban grid make a come-back? Grids have qualities. Their high level of intersection redundancy (high connectivity) is particularly effective in high-density areas. High connectivity gives pedestrians and cyclists more options and flexibility in choice of itinerary. If a street is blocked for any reason, you take the next one over. They enable efficient mass transit (think of streetcar suburbs). If we need to build more sustainable cities–which we absolutely need to do–then we need to plan for pedestrians and public mass transit, not for car use. The grid plan has served cities well, on all continents and in eras both modern and pre-modern. A post-car world may well find it useful.
Global urban history
In Senegal as elsewhere, global-scale forces have impacted how cities are planned (or not), who is doing the planning, and for whom. But this is not new. In our book, Liora and I argue ferociously that the global South in general, and Africa very much in particular, are still largely excluded from scholarly accounts of urban planning history. In caricature, the narrative about this history goes like this: urban planning is a modern phenomenon that emerged with modernity in Europe. Europe has a pre-modern history of planning (ancient Greece and Rome), as do certain other world civilizations (China, India, the Middle East). Africa is not among them. In any case, these pre-modern experiences are irrelevant to understanding modern urban planning.
We beg to differ. We cite Edward Said’s theory of colonial modernity (1993), according to which, rather than being a Western European invention which was “exported” to the rest of the “peripheral” world, modernity emerged from Europe’s imperial interactions with other continents. As a “modern” practice, European urban planning (and grid planning in particular) began in the colonies (“overseas,” outre-mer) during the mercantilist era. It was commonly used in American settler colonies but also in coastal factories in Africa, like Saint Louis. During the era of formal colonialism, European powers perfected urban planning tools and practices on the ground in Africa which did not exist yet in Europe. Europe “imported” these techniques from the colonies. For example, Baron Haussmann pierces French cities with boulevards 20 years after the French army had pierced Algeria’s cities during its war of conquest. (Çelik, 1997) Later, to forestall anti-colonial nationalist movements following WWII, the French authorities promoted modern mass housing schemes in North Africa. Upon their return to France, the architects who had planned and executed these schemes develop the (in)famous grands ensembles and cités on the outskirts of French cities. (Avermaete, 2010)
We are happy to contribute to the project of building a truly global urban history with this longue durée history of entangled grid-planning practices in Senegal.
- Avermaete, Tom, “Nomadic Experts and Travelling Perspectives: Colonial Modernity and the Epistemological Shift in Modern Architecture Culture,” in: Colonial Modern: Aesthetics of the Past, Rebellions for the Future, edited by Tom Avermaete, Serhat Karakayali and Marion von Osten (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2010), pp. 130–151.
- Çelik, Zeynep, Urban Forms and Colonial Encounters: Algiers under French Rule (University of California Press, 1997).
- Randeria, Shalini, “Entangled Histories of Uneven Modernities: Civil Society, Caste Solidarity and Legal Pluralism in Post-Colonial India”, in: Comparative and Transnational Histories, edited by Heinz-Gerhard Haupt and Jürgen Kocka (Oxford, NY: Berghahn Books, 2009), pp. 77–105.
- Said, Edward, Orientalism, (London Henley: Routledge, Kegan Paul, 1978).
- Wheeler, Stephen, “Built Landscapes of Metropolitan Regions: An International Typology”, The Journal of the American Planning Association, 81, 3 (2015), pp. 167–190.