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Updated On: Saturday, 21 July 2018
Development Issues

African Cities Some of the World's Most Dynamic

Report by: UN-Habitat

4 August 2014, New York, USA | South-South News - Africa is one of the world's most dynamic continents, constantly growing and evolving, with some of the most dramatic transformations happening withing the urban areas. Booming cities with an ever-expanding middle class are becoming the center of transformation and a growing local consumer market.

UN Habitat's report: 'The State of African Cities, 2014: Re-Imagining Sustainable Urban Transitions' argues the need to restructure existing models of urbanization to optimize the possibilities for urbanization on the African continent, and structure the process in a way that maximizes sustainable growth and minimizes vulnerability and threats to the urban environment.

 Have a look at the executive summary below. To view the full report, click here.

UN-Habitat Executive Summary: 'Re-imagining Sustainable Urban Transitions'

The current report is the third in The State of African Cities series. The first, The State of African Cities 2008: A framework for addressing urban challenges in Africa, was explorative and analyzed general urban conditions and trends and identified benchmarks. It drew the attention to very rapid future growth of African cities and towns; to the apparent inability of local authorities to deal with present, let alone future urban population increases; and to the need for Africa to prepare for new urban configurations very different from the traditional concepts that see a city as an urban area within a clearly defined boundary and governed by a single municipal authority.

The subsequent report: The State of African Cities 2010: Governance, inequality and urban land markets, tried to answer some of the many questions raised by the 2008 report. The 2010 version concluded that inadequate urban governance policies and low urban institutional capacities; high levels of inequality among different socio-economic

population strata; as well as limited options for the poorer Africans to access urban land, all contributed to urban slum proliferation and would continue to do so, unless vigorously tackled. The 2010 report further showed that guiding urban growth in Africa will require the establishment of realistic and sustainable national urban development policies; enhanced urban management capacities within cities and towns of all sizes; better distribution of urban populations over different settlement-size classes; and significant improvements in broad-based access to urban livelihood opportunities. The report also advised that governments should urgently reduce the land, housing, services and mobility-demand pressures on their highly primate capital cities by seeking more balanced national urban hierarchies.

Many African governments have since started to promote new urban developments away from their major population concentrations. Satellite cities are being established to guide population pressure away from the capitals, while urbandevelopment corridors are being promoted to geographically disperse both economic activity and populations. These interventions are showing that important notions of urban geography are becoming priority areas in a good number of African nations.

This 2014 Africa report attempts to take insights one step further. Whereas the urban and demographic developments of the past decades had already presented African nations with major challenges in their attempts to provide socially just, sustainable and well-serviced living and working environments for its rapidly urbanizing populations; it is now becoming clear that the predicted or already felt impacts of proceeding climate and environmental change profoundly exacerbate the vast complexity of these challenges.

As shown in the sub-regional sections of this report, it is not only Africa’s largest urban population concentrations that are becoming more prone to vulnerabilities and risks; these are actually increasing for all African settlements. This will add to the already significant social, economic and political hazards associated with Africa’s still pervasive urban poverty. The combination of demographic pressures, rapid urbanization, environmental and climate change now appear to reinforce a host of negative urban externalities. At the same time, the prevailing development concepts applied to Africa’s rapidly expanding urban areas seem incapable of attaining the post- independence visions of human development and prosperity for all.

Upon their independence, African nations embraced a variety of imported development models. It is now evident that all these models have failed to achieve the goals that African nations had set themselves. With hindsight, that is, perhaps, unsurprising, since these development concepts were derived from conditions prevalent outside Africa and were conceived at a time and under conditions that were vastly different from today’s African realities. Likewise, the urban development models of post-independence Africa were based on concepts, philosophies and conditions that prevailed in the advanced economies during the mid-20th century. It is now clear that these approaches are of limited use to Africa, given today’s very rapid urbanization, limited urban-based industries, high fossil fuel costs, rapidly diminishing resource bases, fiercely competitive global economic and financial environments, as well as the increasingly-felt threats and impacts of environmental and climate change.

As outlined in Section 1.1 of this report, Africa is in the midst of simultaneously unfolding major transitions in its demography, economy, politics, technological development and environments. These seem to indicate that Africa’s approaches to urbanism need major rethinking if these transitions are to lead to better and more broad-based human development.

Section 1.2 of this report argues that, over the past decades, Africa has experienced a shift in the incidence and nature of insecurity, conflict and violence. Inter-state conflict has significantly declined. At the same time, however, urban insecurity and violence have notably increased. With the urban areas envisaged to lead Africa’s economic, social and technological transitions, increased urban insecurity may have deeply negative impacts on the international investment flows required for the sustained economic growth that could produce the much needed urban-based employment generation for Africa’s young population cohorts. Failure to address urban insecurity could create a self-sustaining spiral of violence fed by disenfranchised, unemployed urban youths.

Ubiquitous urban poverty and urban slum proliferation, so characteristic of Africa’s large cities, is likely to become an even more widespread phenomenon under current urban development trajectories, especially given the continuing and significant shortfalls in urban institutional capacities. Since the bulk of the urban population increases are now being absorbed by Africa’s secondary and smaller cities, the sheer lack of urban governance capacities in these settlements is likely to cause slum proliferation processes that replicate those of Africa’s larger cities. The new towns and satellite cities now being established to relieve pressures on the largest African urban concentrations will also add to further urban slum proliferation, because these new towns almost exclusively cater for the residential needs of higher-income groups. Consequently, there is near certainty that these new towns will soon be surrounded by the informal accommodations of the low-income labour needed to service these new cities.

From all these trends it is increasingly clear that it would be imprudent for Africa to continue applying urban developmental concepts that neither serve its interests nor that can be sustained in economic, social, political and environmental terms. Therefore, this report argues for a radical re-imagination of African approaches to urbanism, both to strengthen the positive impacts of Africa’s current multiple transitions and to improve urban living and working conditions.

Africa’s population is still well below the 50 per cent urban threshold. This implies that a major reconceptualization of its approaches to urban development can still be undertaken. Given the rapidly changing global conditions, especially those associated with environmental and climate change, looming resources scarcity and the dire need to move towards greener and more sustainable development options, Africa has the opportunity to take a global lead in innovations towards greener, healthier and more sustainable urban societies.

The aim of this third State of the African Cities report, therefore, is to provoke discussion at the highest levels about the desirable redirection of Africa’s ongoing urban transitions. However, this report does not give ready-made solutions. Each region, nation, city and locality is different and sustainability innovations must be tailored to specificities that vary between localities and over time. Urbanization, industrialization, sustained economic growth and broad- based human development feed on each other and, under correct guidance, can become mutually reinforcing. For the latter to happen, Africa has few realistic options other than a profound re-imagining of what exactly constitutes the road towards sustainable urban transitions.

The report included is a product of a third-party organization. South-South News does not own the rights to the report, nor is South-South News affiliated with the organization. The report is provided as a way to showcase an informative, fact-based research publication exploring an important issue of global development. For more information, please visit the website of the author organization directly. 



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