Southern Urbanism: The (Non) Exceptionality of Urbanism in Africa

The evolution of cities in the 21st century has taken a remarkable turn. The way urbanisation is occurring in the global south has been so distinct to warrant different conceptualisation. In this differentiation however, the way urbanisation is occurring in the global south is not necessarily distinctive in geographic terms, it is a process that is akin to 19th and early 20th century Europe. While the nature and scope of urbanisation in the 21st century has some new characteristics, this working paper discusses the nature and scope of urbanisation in the global south, focusing on African cities. It articulates how the urbanisation process is unfolding in Africa in a way that is not exceptional to that of the global north. To reveal this similarity, the paper revisits the rapid urbanisation era of the global north, highlighting similarities and differences. In debunking the southern exceptionality, the working paper seeks to highlight the importance of chronology of system of organising society over geographic differentiations.

1. Introduction

Africa, ‘the last frontier for development’. In the aftermath of the 2008/09 Global Financial Crisis, a positive economic growth characterised most African economies. The Economist magazine took only a decade to revise its stance on Africa—from “The hopeless continent” in 2000 to “The hopeful continent” in 2011(The Economist, 2010; The Economist, 2011). Three years later—in 2013—the magazine regarded the continent, the world’s fastest growing (The Economist 2013).

Across Africa, the economic narrative is taking a positive trajectory. The urban development one, however, is lagging behind. Delayed by European colonialism, Africa is urbanising rapidly at a period and circumstance different from that of the 19th and first half of the 20th century. The 21st century is an era of globalised financial system, an era of neoliberalism, consciousness and effects of climate change, and technological advancement. It is an age of democratic societies. All these phenomena change the urbanisation process significantly. Adding to these phenomena, however, a new wave of scholarship has emerged, rooted deeply in the geopolitics of urbanisation. This scholarship has become a specialty in defining and understanding urbanisation in Africa and largely the global south.

The scholarship’ main thesis is that urbanisation in Africa and broadly, the global south is exceptional from that of the global north; therefore, there is a need for new lenses to conceptualise it (Parnell, 2012; Parnell & Oldfield, 2014). Some of the exceptionalities the scholarship highlight include the urbanisation without economic growth, extreme poverty and informality, and government inertia. By these, concepts of African urbanism and broadly, southern urbanism have emerged. I classify the scholarship into two: scholarship of urban apocalypse and southern urbanism theory. Other than being poetry of urban decay, the scholarship of urban apocalypse regards the future of African cities to be “terminal.”[1] Southern urbanism; on the contrary, seeks to redefine the concept of ‘cityness’ from a global south perspective.

In their well-intentioned, yet specialist efforts to understand and define urbanisation in Africa, the two classes of scholarship seldom realise their contributions to the destruction of African cities.  Before exploring such contributions, it is worthy to understand first the suppositions and perhaps the shortcomings of the scholarships’ basis.

2. The Urban ‘Apocalypse’ Narrative

The Coming Anarchy; the 1994 article by an American journalist, Robert D. Kaplan is perhaps the extreme description of the squalor state of society in West African cities. He regards West Africa to be most tellingly the evidence to the destruction of social fabric by resource scarcity, rampant crime, overpopulation and diseases (Kaplan, 1994). In the 21st century, many international urban studies scholars still share Kaplan’s sentiments of urban apocalypse. Lagos, as the largest city in Africa, is more often than not their main reference. Kaplan describes Lagos as “the cliché par excellence of Third World urban dysfunction” (Kaplan, 1994; p.9). Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas on his first visit to Lagos, regarded it, “the terminal condition of urbanisation” (Koolhaas, 2000). Urban studies scholar, Mike Davis came under spotlight for his anti-urban thesis of cities in the 21st century as the title of his book sums it up, Planet of Slums.

The descriptions of the squalor state of African cities by international urban scholarship might not be blown out of proportion—at least entirely. Neither are they unique to Africa.  In the late 19th century Europe, such descriptions of industrial cities were also common and influential in raising a sense of urgency to governments. Kaplan’s article, for example, reads very much like The Bitter Cry of Outcast London, an 1883 publication that describes the lives of the poor in Victorian English cities (Mearns & Preston, 1883; Chevalier, 1973).[1] In the American context that is an equivalent of Jacob Riis’s 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives, describing the lives of the poor in 19th century New York (Riis, 1890).

The poetry of urban decay of African cities differs from 19th century Europe, however. During the rapid urbanisation of Europe, urbanisation accounts were descriptive merely of the past and present. In Africa, on the contrary, the accounts are so projective and so conclusive. Almost every scholarly work or policy document on urbanisation in Africa you find begin with how many people will be living in cities in the next thirty to fifty years and how disastrous that will be.[2] To use William Holly Whyte’s aphorism, the authoritativeness of these precise projections seems as if “computer technology is now equipped with a previously withheld gift of prophesy” (Whyte, 1970).[3] On a continent where data is usually unavailable and when available is unreliable, the projections on African urbanisation leave a lot to be desired (Potts, 2012).

The apocalyptic extrapolations of African cities devoid of global historical comparisons have led to scholars and policymakers dabble into premature conclusions on future of African cities mostly as ‘terminal’ (Davis, 2005). Distinguishing African cities from cities of the global north, urban studies scholarship is using a black-and-white canvas when a relativity scale of many shades of grey would apply best. The historical urban evolution of northern cities is mostly out of the picture. Some regard comparing 19th century Europe to the current state of African cities linear (Roy, 2009).

Cities do not follow exactly similar trajectories of development, obviously. However, urban challenges and prosperities exist, that are associated with certain stages of urban evolution. They the characteristics that need to be compared in their usage to except urbanisation in the global south from the global north.

I ought to mention, by comparing Europe’s 19th and 20th century’s urban challenges to Africa’s 21st century challenges I do not intend to condone the inertia of African governments and cities. Neither do I seek to turn such diversity into linearity. Every city and even neighbourhood has its own nuances. Rather, I seek to promote fairness in global north-south comparisons, as lack of it has led to premature conclusions on the future of African cities. If anything, the comparisons also challenge African cities’ slacking as if the global north’s urban success came on a silver platter.

2.1 Rapid Urbanisation

The rapidness of urbanisation in Africa is a well-acknowledged trend. The global south has the fastest growing urban population in the 21st century, with China and India being regarded as ‘hyper-urbanising’ countries. These trends of rapidity and scale are used to distinguish the global south from their northern counterparts whose urbanisation rate peaked in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Comparing the current rate of urbanisation in Africa to the current for northern cities, it tempts one to regard the rapid urbanisation uniquely African.

The uniqueness is not much so, however. In 19th century Europe and North America, rapid urbanisation was also common (at a different scale, however). Urban population growth of 400 or 500 percent was not uncommon (Vaughan, 1843; pp. 1, 90-91). For example, Britain’s port city, Liverpool, tripled its population between 1830 and 1873. London, between 1801 and 1901, grew from 900 000 to over 4.5 million (Lees and Lees, 1976). In France, Paris grew fivefold between 1801 and 1901 from 500 000 to over 2.5 million (Mitchell & Deane, 1962; Chevalier, 1973; Mayhew, 1985). Regardless of these historical trends, urbanisation in the global south is regarded as ‘runaway’ for its huge scale. Usually, this regard misleads policymaking and squander the possibility of drawing lessons from the 19th and 20th century. To regard rapid urbanisation a uniquely southern phenomenon without consideration of historical evolutions is to risk making ill-informed conclusions on the future of cities in the global south.

2.2 Urbanisation without Economic Growth

In the 21st century, most economists regard the relationship between urbanisation and economic growth to be automatic. This regard arose from rapid urbanisation during the industrial revolution in the late 19th century. The mainstreaming of this notion has led to urbanisation without economic growth phenomenon in Africa and largely the global south to be regarded as an exception.

Scholars and policymakers regard urbanisation in Africa as contrary to the orthodox economic models that assert a reversal of migration from the countryside during economic recession (Davis, 2005). For example, during recessions in the 1980s and 1990s, when real wages declined across Africa, when unemployment soared and economies contracted by 2 to 5 percent, economists expected a decline in rural to urban migration.  Instead, annual urbanisation rate in most African countries kept ranging from 4 to 8 percent.[1] This continued urban in-migration during economic recessions was considered uniquely African and broadly global south. In 1990, an economist, Nigel Harris wrote;

It appears that for low-income countries, a significant fall in urban incomes may not necessarily produce in short-term decline in rural-urban migration.Harris, 1990; p. 21-22

Regarding this paradox of migration trends as uniquely African or third world is rather problematic. It ignores the demographic trends that occurred during 19th and 20th century Europe.  Throughout the history of urbanisation, rural to urban migration was always large in phases of prosperity and even larger in recession.[2] This trend derives from the margin that exists constantly between rural poverty and urban poverty, where rural poverty is not any better. Whenever the demographic phenomenon superseded economic, this trend always emerged, creating a population that Louis Chevalier called the supernumerary. Again, there is more to the exceptionality.

The scholarship of southern urbanism exceptionality regard the disconnect between labour and capital to be a southern phenomenon exclusively. For example, Seth Schindler, characterising South Urbanism, asserts that southern cities prioritise territorial transformation rather than improvement of their urban populations. He argues that the transformation of peasants migrating to cities into disciplined workers was the “raison d’être” during the industrial revolution in Europe (Schindler, 2017; p. 53).  This regard was not always the case; however. Louis Chevalier’s account of migration trends during the last half of the 19th century in Paris debunks this exceptionality:

At all times, there was an influx into the capital [Paris] of people from outside it… Only a small part of this immigration became fully integrated in the city… A high proportion of the immigrants remained nomads, and were known as such, or settled in inferior occupations and inferior districts on the margin of the capital and its business and civilisation.Chevalier, 1973; pp. 217-218

This was the reconstruction period in Paris when its leadership, Emperor Napoleon III, focused less about transforming the population. Parisian working-class was so neglected; suicide rates were very high among the proletariat to the extent that Paris was once regarded “the murder capital of the world” (Chevalier, 1973; pp. 282-291). The affairs of the working class gained attention with the formation of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA) in 1864, which also extended to Britain (Yorke, 1872). In France, the concerns of workers gained even more attention following the downfall of the emperor in 1871 during the Franco-Prussian War. Before then, Napoleon III and his government were invested highly in territorial transformation.[3] They were creating beauty and luxury of new theatres, palaces, new churches and luxurious shopping galleries in affluent districts. As Balzac reported; “Paris would be Venice ten times over today” (Lees and Lees, 1976, p.138). Meanwhile, pressing problems of slums and sewers that affected the working class and rural migrants on the fringes of the capital were not addressed as much.[4] Now, to regard the current southern cities’ phenomenon as distinctively different from the global North’s evolution would be problematic. It is a misreading of history that eventually misinforms African policymakers on urban transformation.

There is an increasing popularisation of cities as ‘engines of economic growth.’ Across the world, mayors have a newly found profession—salespersons that apply all sorts of tricks to increase the competitiveness of their cities in global the capital market. As much as it is pushing for the prosperity of cities, this higher regard of the economic role of cities over demographic was not always so. In the evolution of northern cities during the 18th and 19th centuries, the demographic phenomenon had a higher regard. It was so for demographic factors such as death rates, mortality rates were very high. Their decline contributed to an increase in urbanisation.

Now, southern cities are urbanising rapidly, yet economic facts have more weight than demographic, a reversal of the hierarchy during the northern rapid urbanisation period. Demography has taken the backseat as neoliberal economists lead the urbanisation debate, preaching about the economic prosperity of cities or lack of it.[5] Such regard seldom acknowledges that urbanising rapidly in the 21st century a century postmodernity has nuanced differences from that of the 19th century and early 20th century, an era of enlightenment and modernity. As a result, urbanisation exceptionality has become only that of generalised geography rather than of time. Describing the urbanisation phenomenon of European cities in the 19th century, Louis Chevalier argued;

A demography concerned only with changes in the composition of a population would be useless; an economics taking within its purview only the production, exchange and consumption of goods, with man entering the cycle merely as one thing among other things, would be unrealistic.Chevalier, 1973

Given the consequences caused by economic crises, urban studies scholarship and policymaking is overlooking the demographic phenomena. Even studies on demographic trends are based on economic documentation. In the first half of the 19th century however, demographic factors such as the decline in death rates and infant mortality significantly influenced the rapid urban population growth in Paris and in English cities. Economic phenomena only gained higher regard as the demographic phenomenon declined. While economic growth influences demographic trends, demographic trends can also be independent from the economic. The inability of European cities to absorb rapid urban population in the 19th century created a supernumerary population; it pushed the working class to criminal conditions and made them worse off. The portrayal of the relationship between urbanisation and economic growth as automatic omits the history of urbanisation. At worst, it misinforms urban policymakers to take disastrous punitive measures that push urban development off the cliff (Fox, 2014 and Turok, 2014).

2.3 The Wretchedness of Cities

The extent of extreme poverty, rampant crime and violence, informality in housing and economy are attributes that scholarship of urban apocalypse use to except urbanisation in southern cities. Most urban dwellers in Africa live in extreme poverty, a state also associated with high crime levels out of high inequalities. Housing in African cities still has a significant level of informality, informality that Mike Davis calls Planet of Slums, the title of his alarming book. Davis regards peripheral settlements of the Third World to be principally human dumps where when combined, urban waste and unwanted immigrants form “garbage slums” (Davis, 2005; p. 47).

Africa’s economic sector is predominantly informal, and the small size of the formal economy has also led to high unemployment levels.[1] Scholars regard informal survivalism the new primary mode of livelihood in most cities of the global south. They highlight the conflict between the rationality of governing and rationality of survival, formal institutions and individuals versus the informal (Khan & Riskin, 2001). The extreme informality has led to the rise of poetry of urban decay of African cities and the fate of urbanisation in Africa as the terminal. As we found earlier in Louis Chevalier’s accounts of 19th century Paris, these phenomena are not uniquely global south as scholars regard them.

Informality was prevalent in European and American cities in the 19th and first half of the 20th century where housing in the form of lodging houses and overcrowded tenements were slums (Nouveaux tableaux de Paris Report, 1828; Mayhew, 1985).[2] Patrick Geddes sums up best the housing situation in the 19th and 20th century, “Slum, semi-slum, super-slum, to this has come the evolution of cities” (Mumford, 1968; p. 464). Even the upper-class housing was pretty much, super-slums. This informality was also clear in the European economy. Streets of London in the mid-19th century comprising pedlars, artisans, labourers (Sheppard, 1971). London’s underclass that formed its informal economy in 1854 was over 100 000 of the city’s population of 2.5 million. As Henry Mayhew puts it into perspective, if London’s underclass were to break off and form own city, it would have been the fifth largest in England (Mayhew, 1985). In transport, London served initially by short-stage coaches whose description resembled much of 21st century informal transport in Africa; dingy, dirty, rude drivers and high charges. Even the omnibuses that replaced short-stage coaches also encountered problems resembling current Africa’s informal transport. They were characterised by reckless driving, racing each another, driving into each other, squabbles and loitering (Mayhew, 1985).[3] As late as the 1950s, William Whyte’s accounts of street trading in New York have similarities with street trading in most African cities of the 21st century, the cat and mouse played by the street traders with the police (Whyte, 1988; p. 26–32). Cities across Europe also had excessive levels of crime and violence because of extreme poverty among the lower working class and immigrants. Beggary, destitution, madness and suicides were epidemics during 19th century rapid urbanisation. Characterising Paris in the 1870s Louis Chevalier notes;

40 000 rogues, 15 000 petty thieves, 10 000 burglars and 40 000 ingenuous females living at someone else’s expense add up to some 110 to 120 000 persons who are a great handicap to efficient administration. If the population of Paris consists of some 1 200 000 souls, you can see that 120 000 crooks account for a ratio of one villain to 10 honest folks.Chevalier, 1973

In this period, Chevalier noted a large population in Paris that remained unemployed, in extreme poverty and destitution regardless of economic growth (Proud, 1843). It subjected working class to permanent hunger (Chevalier, 1973; p. 265-268). Because poverty and informality are stages cities go through in their evolution process.

2.4 Inertia, Corruption, and Financial Incapacity

Inertia as the response of governments to urban challenges is a characteristic shared by most African countries. It has also become a characteristic used to except urbanisation in Africa. Urban studies scholars use this inertia and financial incapacity of countries of the global south to seal their exceptionality from the global north. Cities of the global north, however, also had periods of inertia and overcoming them was a major reason they prospered from the urban challenges they faced. Poor service delivery also characterised early years of great cities around Europe and North America. Institutions were not yet well established and competent enough to deal with rapid urbanisation. For example, in the early 1830s, London alone had 300 planning commissions to deal with various urban service delivery. Their dismal performance, however, discredited them. During the tenure of the 300 planning commissions, London’s streets were filthy, full of indiscriminate garbage dumps, overflowing cesspool and open sewers (Johnson, 2006). Eventually, in 1835, when a newly elected administration came in, it replaced the commissions (Benevolo, 1963). Challenges continued to exist, however, leading to the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak. Describing local government of England in 1883, M. D. Chalmers wrote, “Local Government in this country may be fitly described as consisting of a chaos of areas, a chaos of authorities, and a chaos of rates” (Chalmers, 1883; p. 17) No coordination existed among local authorities themselves during the time.

In the first half of the 20th century, corruption and poor governance ravaged the administration of New York City, the type of poor governance and corruption that is now dominant in African cities. In his book, The Power Broker, Robert A. Caro describe how rampant the corruption was during the declining years of Tammany Hall, a political machine for democrats which dominated New York from 1854 to 1934. Leaders such as Red Mike Hylan and Beau James Walker siphoned hundreds of thousands of federal funds into officials’ accounts, solicited millions of dollars from business clients of the city, and conducted raids in neighbourhoods. They embezzled federal relief payments by creating ghost recipients to pamper their political power. To get a job in federal projects, applicants had to be cleared by the political party (Caro, 1974). Historian, Andrew D. White sums up best the state of cities administration in United States in early 20th century;

With few exceptions, the city governments of the United States are the worst in Christendom—the most expensive, the most inefficient, and the most corrupt.Caro, 1974; p.60

Regardless of such historical experiences, such poor urban governance is now regarded uniquely African, uniquely global south. Looking at earlier years of France, for example, King Louis XV, who reigned in the 18th century, played so much toxic politics in disregard of cities.  The inertia and squalor state of Paris frustrated François-Marie Arouet popularly known as Voltaire.  After publishing an ambitious essay, On the Beautification of Paris, (Voltaire, 1827) Voltaire fell out of favour with the King’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour. In her book, Paris Reborn, Stephane Kirkland quoted the relief King Louis XV expressed while approving Voltaire’s exit visa to Berlin, “that will make one madman less in the Kingdom” (Maynard, 1867, In Kirkland, 2013; p. 17). Three years later, the king’s head was chopped off his neck, it was the French Revolution. So, the Paris that people celebrated today did not start all rosy; it was a gradual process of evolution. In their early years, global North countries were also financially constrained to address urban challenges and implement their ambitions. After the Great Fire of London, King Charles II couldn’t implement his ideal plan designed by Sir Christopher Wren which sort to rival Paris in Baroque magnificence of grand boulevards. This was after the war with the Dutch they couldn’t even afford legal battles with London’s wealthy merchants and aldermen regarding taking their land in rebuilding. The total cost of London fire was about £10 000 when London’s annual income was only £12 000. It was a mammoth task. It took London an entire century to evolve from the squalor state of the 19th century during industrial revolution to become a stable city with clean water and good sanitation. Puzzling however is that just fifty years into rapid urbanisation, the urban apocalypse narrative on Africa was already popularised; international urban studies scholarship were concluding already on the fate of African cities as doomed. It is rather curious.

3. Towards a Southern Urbanism Theory

The scholarship of African urban apocalypse has its match—the postcolonial scholarship combined with proposition for southern urbanism. This scholarship is seeking to redefine the concept of “cityness.” It seeks to correct the imbalances of colonial legacies such as racial segregation. The scholarship is rebutting the urban apocalypse narrative on African cities by projecting positivity of African urbanisation pains (Simone, 2010). In doing so, sometimes the scholarship dabbles into the romanticism of the squalor state of African cities, glorifying informality and survivalism. Urban studies scholar, A. M Simone, for example, identifies what he calls ‘black urbanism’ an effort to distinguish current urbanisation in Africa from its colonial past (Simone, 2004).

Fixated on postmodernism principle of anti-foundationalism, postcolonial urban scholarship is borrowing the counter-discourse agenda from arts fields such as film, art and photography (Ngugi wa Thiong’o, 1986). Now, it has evolved into theorisation of urbanisation in the global south—southern urbanism. On the 3rd of February 2018, an intensive three days of conferencing ended with an inconclusive debate, “Do we need one theory of Southern urbanism or many?”[1] The African Centre for Cities International Urban Conference held at the University of Cape Town was one of the key events to advance understanding urbanisation from a southern perspective.

The debates on the need for southern urbanism theory are so many and diverse. Consensus hardly exists on how to advance the southern urban agenda precisely (Parnell & Oldfield, 2014). With such diversity however, the common arguments that cut across are post-coloniality, socio-spatial inequality, informality, and ‘new’ geographies of connectivity, peripheralisation, and the fluidity of southern urban population. Proponents of southern urban theory agree unequivocally for the need of a new framework to understand the ‘new’ realities of southern cities in the 21st century (Parnell & Robinson, 2012; Roy, 2009).

The counter-discourse agenda in southern urban studies has led to assertions that northern theories can be ‘provincialized’ for ‘failing’ to apply in the global south (Chakrabarty, 2000). In extension, scholars such as Ananya Roy call for the ‘worlding’ of Southern urbanism theory (Roy, 2009). As the current rapidly urbanising region, southern urbanism scholarship argues that urbanisation in the south is powerful enough to conceptualise cities of the world, including those of the north. This proposition has become so radical to the extent of even proposing new linearity and knowledge hegemony that the scholarship is challenging. Jennifer Robinson, in her book Ordinary Cities, for example, supposes that the future of the global north is emerging in cities in the global south (Robinson, 2006). In their book, Theory from the South, anthropologists, Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff argue, it is now Europe that is now learning from Africa (Comaroff and Comaroff, 2011). Rem Koolhaas in his later observation on African cities regard Lagos as a model of all future cities. He regards western cities to be the ones catching up with Lagos rather than the other way around (Koolhaus & Cleijne, 2001).

In this development of new linearity and hegemony of knowledge, the urban evolution process that cities go through globally is mostly out of the picture. Disregarding the historical urban process of northern cities as merely linear the southern urbanism scholarship risks falling into a historiographic trap for it is fundamental to current evolution of southern cities. Earlier in this chapter, global comparisons of urban evolution process have debunked supposed exceptions on urbanisation in the global south.

To dismiss the notion of southern cities as reproducing urbanisation of 19th century Europe while asserting the future of northern cities to be emerging in southern cities proves fallacious. In reality, cities go through an urban evolution process and every stage of the evolution has its pains and gains. Cities of the global north and Africa are evidently at different stages of urban evolution, as everyone agrees, virtually, that urbanisation in Africa was delayed by colonial restrictions. In this evolution process, cities also go through many stages of urban decline. The urban decline, however, does not mean a city at an advanced stage of urban evolution is now at same stage with that of a developing city experiencing related urban pains. For example, London and other European cities are facing significant housing crises. These crises, however, differ from housing crises that most cities in the global south are experiencing, the same way they differ from Europe’s 19th century housing crises.[2] The quest for southern theories of urbanism has gained significant intellectual ground, but their application into practice has not materialised (Mabin, 2014).Without identifying the deficiencies of northern urban theories that deserve an alternative the southern urbanism scholarship risks creating theoretical binaries on urbanism.

4. The Global Planning Market

The marketplace for town planning models is very much liberalised. Cities can be net exporters or importers of town planning models. It is a trading status influenced by economic and political influence. Early cities in Mesopotamia, Tigris, Egypt influenced significantly the Greek and Roman town planning. The Greek and Roman town planning also influenced planning in subsequent empires, the British and the French. Therefore, the 19th and first half of the 20th century was an era of British and French town planning spreading across the world through colonialism and trade. The best-produced model of this time was Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City concept. Over fifty countries imported the concept, as Robert A. M. Stern notes, over 735 cities around the world (Stern, Fishman & Tilove, 2013).

It is unfortunate however that planning schools around the world teach an incomplete history of planning, that of orientalism. In that history, planning began with ancient Greece which begat Roman planning leading to renaissance Europe, enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. In all this the real roots of urbanisation and town planning which is Asia is out of picture. This is one of the reason Southern urban scholars are challenging the Eurocentric narrative of urbanisation. Unfortunately their approach is so ideologically charged that is obscures some of their intentions.

In the 21st century—an era of globalisation, American town planning has become dominant. Several cities are aspiring to be American, envisioning the American dream. This has been the proliferation of specialist town planning models globally. The anti-urban environmental regulations, the overengineered traffic standards, and the dystopian modernist architecture are some of the models. China—given its American urban aspirations combined with its economic and political ties with Africa—is the new wholesaler of American town planning models in Africa under the resource-for-infrastructure arrangements. Well-intentionally, it has been partly promoting the adoption of specialist town planning models across the continent. These specialist models create a trail of urban destruction that is transforming African cities towards dystopia.

Scholars and various specialists are also advising for African cities to look up to the last in the urbanisation trajectory, i.e. China instead of the developed countries. China’s urban development process is very much American, however. In fact, Chinese cities and developers are hiring American town planners and architects to do their projects—the American way. Chinese town planners themselves are studying abroad mostly in American institutions and learning American planning systems in their curricula.

In the whole process of attempts to create southern theories for urbanism, cases from South America put the issues into perspective. The Bus Rapid Transit System and the Participatory Budgeting both originated from Brazil, which is part of the global south. The world is importing these models from the global marketplace. These planning models from Brazil are unlike the ethos of Southern urbanism propositions, that of decolonising postcolonial cities, postmodern ethos of anti-foundationalism or playing geopolitics of knowledge. South American urban development models came out of necessity to solve urban challenges they were facing and the world values the significance of the models. This is how the global planning market works. As urban studies scholars fight the marginalisation of Southern cities in the global urban studies discourse, they need to be careful of being prisoners of ideologies that influence their thinking—postcolonial and postmodern theories.   Cities are too complex to be dominated by a single ideology and become successful.

[1] Remarks by anthropologist, Teresa Caldeira during the closing plenary session of the conference.

[2] Most European cities such as Berlin, Amsterdam, and London are facing challenges of matured housing markets, the housing bubbles. As global cities, investment companies and foreign citizens are putting their money into European property markets as safe havens, they are top tourist destinations leading to increase in rents and housing costs. London’s housing crisis is further worsened by the restrictions put on urban development after the dismal failure of post-war new towns.

[1] The phrase ‘informal economy’ gained prominence in African urban studies in the mid-1970s with Keith Hart usually credited for popularising it in Ghana referring to Accra’s economy.

[2] In Paris and London for example, regardless of the housing’s filthiness in the 19th century, it was so expensive. A family paid 10 francs a month to get into a lodging house where it crowded into a room, only 8 square feet large, comprising of a ram-shackle bed.

[3] The efficient institutional reforms regarding transport were a major factor behind organised transport in London.

[1] Scholars of apocalypse are mostly internationals who have found lately about the state of African cities.

[1] Other than the removal of colonial restrictions on rural to urban migration, the migration trends were also influenced by civil wars such as in Algeria and Angola, droughts in Southern Africa and worsened by the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) that weakened governments and deregulated the agriculture industry.

[2] For example, during Britain’s Great Depression of the 1870s and 1880s when cheap American and Russian grain imports reduced the prices of Britain’s cereal producers leading to unemployment, rural to urban migration soared. Statistician, Thomas Hardy characterised the migration trends as “the tendency of the rural population towards the large towns being really the tendency of water to flow uphill when forced by machinery.” Quoted in Williams, 1972; p. 113.

[3] This is the period when town planner, Baron Haussmann under the guidance of Napoleon III transformed Paris into the city that people love today. See Kirkland’s 2013 book, Paris Reborn. For England’s industrial cities see Hunt’s 2005 book, Building Jerusalem and Mayhew’s 1985 book, London Labour and the London Poor. You can also read Charles Booth’s series, Life and Labour of the People in London.

[4] In this transformation, the government spent hundreds of millions on developments that were to increase the city’s capital and buildings that subsequently generated public revenue and for public use.

[5] This reversal can be attributed to the advancement of capitalism that has turned the regard of cities as mere market place for labour and capital.

[1] In Paris, Louis Chevalier’s study of crime and poverty in the 19th century, while so controversial was also influential in Paris’s subsequent urban reforms.

[2] These projections as problematic for directing public policy as they may be, they have also increased a sense of urgency to policymakers who did not prioritise urban issues. This includes the shrinking financing of urban development in the age of many ideas in good currency.

[3] Examples are the predictions of Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 alarmist book, The Population Bomb predicting worldwide famine by 1970s due to overpopulation, which did not happen. See also Whyte’s observation of American post-war predictions that did not materialise.

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