A New Kind of Planning for a New Kind of Africa

Ernest Harsch interviews UN-Habitat Director Joan Clos on the challenges facing African cities in an age of unprecedented urbanization, from the abundance of slums to the threat of natural disasters.

The problems attendant to rapid urbanization in Africa today are by no means new. Overcrowding of slums, failing infrastructure, and stunted economic development are the hallmarks of mass migrations out of the countryside and into the city. But with a projected urban population of 1.2 billion by 2050, the scale and speed of Africa's current predicament will require a new, more expedient approach to urban planning across the continent.

As urban populations skyrocket, for instance, many policies obsolesce even before they can make it through the bureaucratic framework. "The only solution is to speed up the planning process," says Clos, "because you cannot stop in-migration. If it's complex because it involves different ministries, it needs to be simplified. And if it's too dependent on central government, then it should be delegated to the local authorities."

Clos also points to the dangers that unplanned cities face with respect to natural disasters, on the rise in recent years due to accelerating climate change: "These are now typically considered to be natural disasters. But in the future they will be seen as a failure of government... We have seen earthquakes with very high tolls of victims, and similar... stronger, earthquakes elsewhere, with very few victims. The natural disaster, the quake, is the same. What is different is the outcome. "

"There are many examples (of good planning) in Africa," he points out, "but mostly at the small scale. They are not perfect, but are advancing in a good direction, in Morocco, Mauritius, Rwanda. What we still don't see is a pro-active approach, of national governments developing national urban policies to cope with the challenging future of African cities."

Full Story: Africa faces nightmare of urban sprawl

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