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AfricaMoney | August 18, 2017

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African cityscapes must not blindly imitate Dubai skylines

African cityscapes must not blindly imitate Dubai skylines

With such ‘one-size-fits-all’ development plans, a great number of the urban poor could be expelled from their current abodes, cutting off their access to fundamental services and livelihood opportunities. (Image: Intrepid Travel)

Restructuring cities across the African continent along Dubai and Singapore lines could be a bad idea which might result in increasing social inequalities, with both investors and city authorities getting over-stretched.

This is the central idea in an expert paper selected to be published in the next edition of Environment and Urbanization, slated for April 2014.

This paper by Professor Vanessa Watson of the Cape Town University mentions Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania as key cities in Africa which are in search of renewing, extending and replacing their urban infrastructure.

The reason why investment companies, architects and construction firms look for new markets in Africa is due to the recent sudden increase of new city ‘master plans’ following the global economic crisis of 2008.

As Africa is perceived to be a preferred destination for investment and trade, international architects and engineers are looking forward to sculpt modernist skyscrapers and landscaped freeways for the emerging continent.

However, these plans are made without taking into consideration that the majority of the African population is living on low incomes, do not have a comfortable house or even access to land rights. Moreover, neither do the plans by international architects and engineers take into account the already large deficits in provision of basic utilities to a vast population.

With such ‘one-size-fits-all’ development plans, a great number of the urban poor could be expelled from their current abodes, cutting off their access to fundamental services and livelihood opportunities.

According to Watson, households having minimal spending power will find it difficult to afford the luxury apartments portrayed in the ‘fantasy plans’. There is also the possibility that prospective property developers are not well-informed about the African market.

In all these plans, there is a common vision of global connectedness which consists of providing business opportunities and homes for a growing middle class in Africa by advanced cities. In this context, it is to be noted that the African Development Bank (AfDB) defines the middle class as those spending US$2 to US$ 20 per day and the upper middle class as those who spend US$10 to US$20 per day.

Land and political rights are in danger if politicians and emerging urban middle class have the intention of seizing and re-valuing land. Africa’s urban poor is already facing the heat as it is being forced to deal with new alliances of international property capital.

Investment analyst McKinsey stated that, by 2035, Africa’s workforce will be bigger than that of India or China as it has the possibility to urbanize faster than these two regions.

Hence, there is no doubt that the demand for urban project and infrastructure will rise, but it is important to handle the transition smoothly, to prevent disruption of livelihoods, and rise in social inequalities.

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