Attending a conference on urban planning in Africa, again!

He’s done it again! Four years after organizing the first international conference on urban planning in Africa, held in September 2013, Professor Carlos Nunes Silva of IGOT, University of Lisbon’s Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning, has convened a second one.

As with the first, this year’s conference (7-8 Sept.) had a healthy mix of practitioners among the academics. The topics presented ranged from the global (implementing UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals) to the local (Patrycja Stall’s dérive assemblage data collection in Dar Es-Salaam market neighborhoods).

We looked at vernacular practices of urbanization. This includes old-fashioned self-building with low-cost materials but also increasing recourse to “informal” and “illegal” land acquisition procedures by the middle class. Africa’s “informal” housing sector now includes large middle-class neighborhoods.

“Informal” middle-class neighborhood rising in Yoff, Dakar. (source: Wikipedia commons)

Vanessa Watson (University of Cape Town) gave us a look at “fantasy cities:” glossy “visions” of gleaming glass towers amidst green parkways. They look alluring on the websites of the global architectural firms  that design them. A few actually get built. Most do not. While these visions of “world-class” this and “global” that may never leave the digital drawing board, they do nonetheless impact lives and landscapes. People may be made landless as speculators move in, expensive public infrastructure may be put through, and master plans may even be altered before these pop-up private-public urban mega-projects disappear (often in a swamp of litigation).

Copy-paste computer-generated image of Konza Technology City, Kenya, juxtaposes Dubai’s International Finance Center and Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The promotional blurb states that it is a “state-sponsored technology community” for “business process outsourcing (BPO) activity and software development” “where African silicon savannah begins.” (source: http://stonecreek-partners.com/gpb/konza-technology-city-kenya-to-offer-new-bpo-hub/ 1 Sept. 2012)

My contribution to this conference consisted of co-organizing, with Liora Bigon of Holon Institute of Technology, a panel on grid-planning in African cities and of co-chairing that panel with her. Besides us, the panel brought together two senior researchers: Deborah Pellow of Syracuse University and Ambe Njoh of University of South Florida, and two Portuguese Ph.D. candidates: Silvia Leiria Viegas and Silvia Jorge. Having been granted two-years of funding from the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, Liora and I plan to develop our thinking on the grid plan into an edited volume. So watch this space.

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About ericrossacademic

Professor of Geography at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco
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