Dubai is no role model for African city development says new report

Architectural plans to reshape African cities using Dubai as a model have been derided as fantasies which could deepen social inequality and devastate low-income urban communities by a new report.

The April 2014 edition of Environment and Urbanization, a publication aimed at professionals working in developing countries, carried the controversial article by Professor Vanessa Watson of the University of Cape Town.

She reviewed plans to renew, extend or replace cities in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Watson said that the planned skyscrapers and landscaped freeways have come from the offices of international architects and engineers – rather than those living and working in Africa.

She said the plans appear to ignore the fact that the majority of people in the its cities have low-incomes, live in informal housing and lack land rights and do nothing to address the large deficits in provision for basic services.

Watson warns that the planned developments could evict or relocate large numbers of the urban poor and leave them without access to vital services and livelihood opportunities.

She suggests that one reason for the recent rash of new city ‘master plans’ is that the global economic crisis of 2008 has led property investment companies, architects and construction firms to seek new markets in Africa.

Watson noted that the African Development Bank defines the middle class as those spending $20 a day.

“It is difficult to imagine how households with such minimal spending power can afford the luxury apartments portrayed in the fantasy plans,” she added.

“It may be that prospective property developers are seriously misreading the African market.”

Dr David Satterthwaite is senior fellow in the International Institute for Environment and Development’s Human Settlements Group, which produces Environment and Urbanization

“Phrases such as ‘smart city’, ‘eco-city’ and ‘sustainable’ appear often in the plans, but it is commercial rather than social or environmental objectives that drive the plans,” he said.

“There is nothing smart nor sustainable about cities that ignore the needs of most of their citizens, including their poorest.”