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Insights from the African Urban Summit




Photo credit: This Big City

Photo credit: This Big City

The Urban Intelligence Unit of Future Cape Town recently attended the Africa Urban Infrastructure Summit  held in Cape Town on April 22-23. Our researchers report back on their insights on the conference presentations and the ideas discussed during the summit.

by Michellene Williams and Edith Viljoen (Researchers, Urban Intelligence Unit):

Juba, South Sudan

One of the most poignant of the discussions was the presentation of the new city of Juba, the current political capital city of South Sudan. It is however, worth mentioning that a new capital city has been proposed for the new state, namely Ramciel the  new planned city in Africa. The topic was presented by Mohammed El Haj Baballa, the Mayor of Juba who outlined the prospects and challenges for Juba’s urban planning strategy. He argued that despite the benefits of the country that is rich in mineral, energy and natural resources, there remain challenges for the city which I assume has not trickled into the city’s infrastructure. The major issues being  the lack of proper policies and political willpower to implement good policies, traffic jams and bottleneck traffic on the roads, access to water supply and sanitation, pollution, squatting and housing problems. These are issues that are crucial to address in driving a city forward and making it more liveable in the most sustainable way possible. As the Mayor stated, ‘what is needed for the city is investment rather than the city being established as a (geo) political tool’. It can be expected that for any city that is born, major challenges will surface but holds much promise in the way forward for growth and foreseeable investment. What is important is that the Mayor and city authorities have recognized the urban challenges for Juba and seemingly taking steps to foster dialogue, investment, and building knowledge capacity and partnership for the city as a proactive way forward in the city’s development.

Maputo, Mozambique

There are interesting developments occurring on the border of South Africa and Mozambique where plans are in place to link up the cities of Maputo and Durban through the construction of a highway. The purpose of this is to foster economic growth through infrastructure along the route and encourage tourism between the regions. This is considering that the region south of Greater Maputo has been largely neglected while holding much potential for Mozambique’s tourism industry. The city of Maputo itself is making significant steps in becoming a more sustainable city with the creation of a 650 hectare ecological park, also aimed to boost environmental tourism. The new route may serve to create better infrastructure and facilitate better transportation in the long run considering that this is a challenge for the city. The city is currently struggling to remain financially sustainable within the ProMaputo development plan to transform the city, but greater investment by the state  and foreign investment will serve as a potential booster in enabling projects to be carried out effectively.

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

An interesting housing development for the city was introduced by property developer, Robert Choudury. La Cité du Fleuve, a mixed development of properties taking place along the banks of the Congo River was a refreshing look at new forms of housing and design in the region, although the project was exclusively aimed at middle to high income earners. Even though this is a prospective project in terms of housing in Kinshasa, a greater focus or shift could be felt towards housing structures and design for low-income earners. There was furthermore, limited insight into the greater context of housing and community needs at grassroots level to determine this project or current development.

Water

We need to get better at water. Michael Webster of the World Bank argued that the water system needs a holistic approach. He gave the estimate that African cities will double, and water demand will more than triple in 25 years, while supply will decrease. His advice was to think creatively about water sources, increase co-ordination between, for example, those in charge of waste management and drainage, to get the most out of the system, and make integrated plans at the municipal, as opposed to national, level. He also foresaw both financial and institutional hurdles, and recommended the use of pilot projects to demonstrate the value of the above.

A coordinated approach

Transport systems, for example, should not only be integrated within themselves (optimising the use of various modes of transport) but also with the other infrastructural systems of a city — water, waste management, housing, electricity, etc. Gaetan Siew of the African Union for Architects argued that integrating cities will save them in terms of infrastructure investments. For example, a transportation system which takes housing into account, which in turn takes water sources, industrial areas and waste plants into account, is much more efficient and can take advantage of synchronicities to get the highest value for the end-user. Kecia Rust, Coordinator of the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa, also argued that Housing and Finance departments should be speaking to each other; data gathering can also be done in these cases with both entities in mind, to avoid duplication and ensure that the data is comparable and applicable across sectors.

A focus on cities

Guy Lundy foresees megalopolises, with a focus on connection between cities as opposed to countries. The fact that approximately half of Africans will live in cities by 2030 (http://www.unhabitat.org/pmss/listItemDetails.aspx?publicationID=3034) supports this view. Gaetan Siew made the point that the infrastructure put in place in the past focused on extraction of resources as opposed to connecting cities; this will need to change. The potential for cities across borders to collaborate, especially those which are physically close to each other and simply divided by national borders, should be exploited.

New financial models

Kecia Rust argued for the financing of rental housing for youth as one alternative to trying to make buying a house affordable, because even the cheapest houses available are unaffordable to those who need the help most. Another alternative is microfinancing, allowing people to make homes for themselves incrementally. A property developer working in Zambia argued for incentives to be put in place to make low-cost housing which takes advantage of technological progress enticing to developers. This, again, relates to having integrated plans.

For further reading, please see the Urban Africa review of the summit here.