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Future African Cities: the new post-colonialism

17:30 - 19:00 06 March 2013

Location: Chandler House 118. 2 WAKEFIELD STREET, LONDON, WC1N 1PF

African Cities

Photo by ©Ruth McLeod 2012

Guest speaker:
Prof Vanessa Watson (University of Cape Town)

Global property development and architecture firms have noted Africa’s strengthening economic growth and rising urban middle in the search for new regions of profit-making. This has unleashed a wave of new urban ‘plans’ in Africa, promising that Luanda, Lagos or Nairobi can also look like Dubai, Singapore or Shanghai. These new urban fantasies seek to erase the reality of these cities, where the majority of the population are still extremely poor and live informally. Terms such as ‘smart cities’ and ‘eco-cities’ underpin these new fantasies, but in fact the images presented suggest cities that are unsustainable in the extreme. New urban plans are pointing the way to what will be ‘splintering urbanism’ at a regional scale, as brand new ‘satellite cities’ offer a solution to the problem of building in current cities of slums. Understanding the complex ‘conflict of rationalities’ which shapes emerging urban Africa requires attention to both land developer and local political ambitions as well as the daily struggle for survival of most urban dwellers. A concern for the future of African cities demands an ethical response. Alternative futures and urban visions exist. Given the expected rate and scale of urbanization in Africa, along with climate change and resource depletion threats, there is an urgent need to challenge the kind of urban futures currently on offer from international property developers.

Vanessa Watson is professor of city planning in the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at the University of Cape Town. Her research over the last thirty years has focussed on urban planning in the global South and the effects of inappropriate planning practices and theories especially in Africa. Her work seeks to unsettle the geo-politics of knowledge production in planning by providing alternative theoretical perspectives from the global South. She is the author/co-author of seven books, some fifty journal articles and numerous chapters, conference papers and keynotes in the field of planning. She is an editor of the journal Planning Theory, and on the editorial boards of many other international planning journals.

She was the lead consultant for UN Habitat’s 2009 Global Report on Planning Sustainable Cities and is on their global reports Advisory Board. She is a founder of the Association of African Planning Schools and is a founder and on the executive of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town.