Africa's Standard Urban Model Cities

city-africa-urban-futureHome to the world's fastest growing population, African nations are set to be economic powerhouses in the coming century. The major cities of the continent face a crossroads moment in their history as they deal with the challenges faced by their rapid expansion. In fact, although the standard urban model of Lagos, Cairo, Kinshasa, Nairobi, and Johannesburg share many similarities with European models, there are unique challenges to these metropolises.

Many of the cities of the continent are based around a European settlement that has expanded during the last century. Lagos, Kinshasa, Jo'burg and Nairobi are all key examples of this, with their downtown hearts still boasting colonial-era buildings and grid-style street layouts. Even Cairo, a patchwork of ancient towns and cities similar to London, has a central heart which has become congested and hard to manage. The problems African cities face tends to be centered around the growth of slum areas and the lack of public provisions such as sanitation and infrastructure. As an example, Lagos in Nigeria, on track to be one of the biggest cities in Africa by 2050, is seeing a rapid expansion of it's gleaming commercial center. But with millions living in slums within a stone's throw of the downtown area, the problem of rehousing people and even offering alternative employment causes a headache for government and residents alike.

But this isn't unique to Lagos. Nairobi and Kinshasa to find their redevelopment plans impeded by city center slums and a lack of investment in sanitation, roads or public transport. But where the government falls short, often the private sector can step in and offer solace. A success of sorts is Johannesburg in South Africa. The commercial heart of Jo'burg was once off-limits to visitors; with empty buildings being used as squats and businesses abandoning the downtown area. Crime rates were some of the worst in the world, with carjackings and murders regular occurrences and drug addicts visible any time of day. As a result of a policy of redevelopment by private investors in the 1990's, the center of Jo'burg has come back to life. Local businesses gathered together to plan a strategy of urban regeneration for the abandoned heart of the center, and with the support of local government they implemented a clean up that has changed the face of the city. Despite improving the downtown area, encouraging business and bringing back residents, there have been other shortcomings in the project.

Jo'burgh, like most African cities, has a poor public transportation system and as such suffers from horrendous traffic congestion and the accompanying pollution. As African cities continue to sprawl outwards, the need for public transport becomes more important. Whereas in Europe, the Americas or Asia, the government would often introduce some sort of transportation network, all of these major cities lack any kind of investment to move the populace around in an efficient manner. Another issue raised by the Jo'burg redevelopment (and in fact all of the cities mentioned here), is the poor management of those displaced by growth. As gleaming towers go up where slums once stood, people still need a place to sleep. With the rapid population growth, this is only going to become a more and more pressing issue.