A recent lecture by Vanessa Watson of the African Centre for Cities questions how many of the latest master-planning proposals for rapidly developing African Cities are at best fictional renderings of false utopias, and at worst artefacts of a new type of exploitative and damaging property-development.
The lecture, entitled ‘ Future African Cities: The New Post Colonialism‘ was based on a compilation of juxtaposed image sets depicting developing and informal urban areas in Africa. Each pairing was made up of a computer generated image, and a corresponding photograph of the existing condition. The comparisons were uncanny. None of the computer generated imagery was recognisable as part of urban Africa, with most of it managing to look like illustrations from a science fiction novel. The photographs portray real Africa; informal, dense, developing and an impossible location for the proposed glass mega-structures without widespread site clearance.
These master-plans are being sold as smart and sustainable cities with promise of generating economic and urban growth. However it is hard to see how such de-contextualised and large-scale proposals will remedy many of the more basic urban problems being face in Africa, such as provision of housing and sanitation. They have already resulted in very real spatial implications such as forced removal, lost of urban agriculture, homes and jobs. It is thus natural to question the feasibility and motives of these development plans. Are they deliverable? Are they beneficial? Are they merely illustrations?
With the biggest growing middle-class in the world, Africa is developing rapidly and with this come major urban and infrastructural demands. It is clear that development is necessary, but surely there are alternatives that do not threaten the nature of these cities nor marginalise their inhabitants.
This lecture was hosted at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit at University College London on 06 March 2013.
Professor Vanessa Watson is internationally acclaimed in the planning and development sector and is a key-player in the innovation of education and research within this field. She founded the Association of African Planning Schools, as well as the African Centre for Cities (ACC) which ‘seeks to facilitate critical urban research and policy discourses for the promotion of vibrant, democratic and sustainable urban development in the global South from an African perspective.’ The ACC is based at the University of Cape Town and chaired by Professor Edgar Pieterse.
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