Africa has to reinvent its cities

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme – UN Habitat – has released a report on the state of African cities. It calls for a complete rethinking of current urban development strategies.

A Cape Town Partnership article about the report raises five points that are crucial for sustainable urban development strategies in Africa. The first is that it would be utterly wrong to import 20th century Western urbanisation strategies to today’s Africa given how different the conditions and circumstances in Africa are. In addition, global climate and environmental change have increased our awareness of water, food and energy insecurities, which in turn are shaping our understanding of what good urban management in the 21st century entails.

Second, urban planners must take into consideration that urbanisation in Africa is occurring at a rapid pace. The number of city-dwellers is expected to triple from 400 million people in 2010 to 1.26 billion in 2050. Over a quarter of the 100 fastest-growing cities in the world are in Africa, explains the article.

The third point relates to the intersection between poverty and rapid urbanisation. Any urban strategy that does not address urban poverty will contribute to the proliferation of slums and make this phenomenon even more widespread and difficult to overcome.

A fourth consideration is that as a result of globalisation, Africa has fallen behind other parts of the world, leaving it bereft of its own natural resources and highly dependent on imports, reports the article. Truly sustainable urbanisation demands a strategy that would make Africa more competitive on the international market.

Finally, because Africa is still below the 50 per cent urban population threshold, it still has time to development environmentally friendly and sustainable urban development strategies. African cities should take this opportunity to become a global leader in creating healthy and green cities.

Joan Clos, executive director of UN Habitat, cautions in his introduction to the report that there are no one-size-fits-all models for the urbanisation process. “Cities are simply too individual and specific in their needs and vulnerabilities.” This means that it will be necessary to gather more data about individual cities in order to develop customised solutions to their unique urbanisation needs.


Photo credit: Gates Foundation, flickr/Creative Commons

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