African Urban Fantasies: what alternatives for the urban poor?
Vanessa Watson
9 November 2015, 18:00
Auditorium De Molen

The reality in most sub-Saharan African cities today is well known: they are largely informal, their populations earn unequally but most are poor and they are growing rapidly under conditions of inadequate service provision, outdated planning systems and weak local governments. Yet in the last few years Africa has been labelled by international growth coalitions of property developers, architects and engineers as the globe’s ‘last development frontier’, awaiting urban make-overs which combine the worst architectural fantasy features of Dubai, Shanghai and Singapore, and packaged for consumption as smart cities, eco cities and life-style retreats of various kinds. These globally circulating urban models ignore place, identity, culture, indigenous histories and the needs of the majority of urban occupants. Their impact on African cities, should they ever happen, will be socially and environmentally devastating. Are there alternative visions for African cities which can counter the hegemony of Dubai-ification and respond to the urgent imperatives of real cities?

Vanessa Watson is Professor of City Planning in the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at the University of Cape Town (South Africa). She holds degrees from the Universities of Natal, Cape Town and the Architectural Association of London, and a PhD from the University of Witwatersrand, and is a Fellow of the University of Cape Town. She is a founder and on the Board of the African Centre for Cities at UCT. 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 was the lead consultant for UN Habitat’s 2009 Global Report on Planning Sustainable Cities and served on their global reports Advisory Board. She is PI on an ESRC project on urban food security in Africa and is the new Global South Editor for Urban Studies.