Should the urban planning skills of African municipalities be strengthened?

Published on 20/05/2022 | La rédaction

Faced with the need to organize the massive, strategic and sustainable deployment of the African city, it appears necessary to densify communal capacities in the field of urban planning, so that the mark of the local permeates urban development.

The African practice of urban planning in the post-independence era has been much more oriented towards planning, particularly through the design of plans and schemes. It has also been a question of delimiting the territory and developing regulatory frameworks and tools aimed at controlling the development and expansion of cities. This purely normative view has imposed visions of the city whose limits in terms of urban development are particularly echoed in the housing sector.

Indeed, housing construction is the result of two main dynamics: the private initiative of populations and economic operators, and that of the States, the first being predominant. These two dynamics are respectively qualified as "survival rationality" and "government rationality". Urban planning must therefore provide a harmonious framework for development that considers the technical aspects and, beyond that, the social impact.

The challenge of integrating a social approach

The African city is to be observed and read as the result of the combined participation of various actors, of which the populations almost never figure. The challenge of urban planning is to integrate this often complex social approach in order to provide a better living environment. The discipline can thus become a driving force for social change, for the future of cities and their impact on local development, by integrating the active participation of the populations themselves.

Urban planning, the headache of the urban management process, would then be simplified from this point of view. A coherent balance will still have to be found between the traditional modes of governance that have failed and new hybrid models. These are to be thought of in order to bring together social and development theories in the governance of the city. For, as Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre, has stated, "it is not possible to separate these two issues.

Cities are real stimuli for development. In Africa, they contribute $700 billion to the continent's GDP, a figure that is expected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2030. They must be truly understood and judiciously exploited to promote sustainable urbanism and thus able to pull them out of the quicksand of clichés that want them to be ungovernable.

For as the World Development Report 2017 points out, "policies are not born in a vacuum. They are the result of a complex political and social context within continuously fluctuating rules that are subject to the influence of different actors.

Municipalities and urban planning

The majority of African countries have been working for several years to implement effective decentralization, but challenges and contradictions are appearing in urban planning. Indeed, this field primarily concerns the commune, because the needs that emanate from it are first and foremost at the local level, but even if it is deployed in a territorially localized space, it is not necessarily a communal competence in extenso. The State remains the guardian par excellence of the organization, planning and management of the spatial development of African cities.

The communes that are developing and taking shape in their territories have a fundamental role to play in urban planning, because they must decide and guide their prosperity, the beauty of the city, general traffic, the health of the inhabitants, etc. So many issues that are linked to urban planning choices. It is necessary to strengthen the skills of African municipalities in urban planning.


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