Development is urbanization. The case for regenerative African cities.

Urban success is related to three issues: location, location and location. The success of metropolitan areas is related to three other issues: governance, governance, and governance, says Professor Pedro B. Ortiz, a senior urban planner at the World Bank in Washington DC.

Ortiz delivered a keynote address at the Future of Cities Forum in Kampala in July. This year’s forum in the Ugandan capital, and the first in Africa, was the fourth in a series on regenerative cities organised by the World Future Council. Ortiz, author of The Art of Shaping the Metropolis, spoke on the need for innovation and investment in sustainable and resilient cities. spoke to Ortiz about the need for regenerative urban development in African cities.

Amy Fallon: What is regenerative urban development?

Pedro Ortiz: Regeneration is related to the urban footprint. That is the impact of the urban metabolisms in the surrounding environment. The regenerative approach is the one that tries to minimize that and to regenerate the damage done for a sustainable future. [That said], we are confronting very different situations and solutions applied somewhere might not be the right ones for somewhere else, as those ‘metabolisms’ might be very different.

AF: Why is it needed in African cities?

PO: African cities are growing very fast. When you grow at a 5 percent annual rate that means you will double in size in 14 years. You have to build as much as you have in the last 200, 500 or thousand years, but just in 14 years. That is not rapid growth. That is explosive growth. Governments do not know how to handle that. So to avoid the responsibility they usually take two deceiving policies: One, ‘let’s keep people in their villages by providing there what they need’. That has been the standard response for 30 years. The result is that providing those needed services at the villages is much more expensive and you don’t have the money, and people come anyway as the city provides intangible goods… as ‘hope’.

The second is the promise of new towns that will provide the right start from scratch. Building new towns takes long (30 years), the number required to respond to needs are impossible to fulfill (in Uganda they would need 130 new towns), and the benefits are only for the higher incomes, not for the population in need.

AF: Are there good examples of African cities that are aligning their urban planning with the aims of building regenerative cities? 

PO: Attempts are being made. Solutions that work elsewhere are replicated. Any new master plan in any African city tries to do that. Any master plan would be an example of good solutions replicated for Africa. I won’t give specific names not to embarrass anyone.

AF: Why is this regenerative urban development important for sustainability?

PO: We are experiencing an explosive growth. Now 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities; in some countries that goes down to 25 percent. Development is urbanization. Developed countries are 70 percent to 75 percent urbanized. The world is urbanizing very rapidly. In 20 years 2 billion people will move to cities. They already are: 300,000 every day; 2 million every week. As we are not responding to this challenge the result is that we are building slums. Up to two-thirds of development in many African cities is slums. The administration, and all of us, are responsible for those slums, as we are proving incompetent to address the issue while solutions are right there.

AF: What about closing funding gaps from central governments to improve the quality of life for city dwellers?

PO: Where does Central Government get that money for ‘funding gaps’? Taxes? Not easy to tax when 70 percent of the economy is informal and goes under the radar. Taxing more the 30 percent formal, which is already formal and overtaxed, as they pay for the 100 percent of the public budget, is not the solution. You are pushing them into the informal sector to survive.

Slide supplied by Pedro Ortiz.

AF: Kampala was apparently the first city on the African continent to host the Future of Cities forum. What do you think is unique about the Ugandan capital as a city?

PO: What is unique about Kampala is that Kampala’s problems can be solved. The size of the city and the conditions are good enough to be able to implement the right solutions.

AF: Are there any cities in particular that you think Kampala can learn from?

PO: I think Africa should not look into Europe or North America for examples. There all planning is made for a 99 percent formal sector and implementation capacity. Public investments run more than a thousand times higher. [Neither] the instruments nor the means are replicable. Africa must create a ‘Nollywood’ of planning procedures, adapted to their own culture and idiosyncrasies. South-south collaboration is much more effective.

AF: What can Kampala teach other cities?

PO: Kampala should take the lead. Kampala can take the lead.


Amy Fallon is a freelance journalist based in Kampala, Uganda. She is Australian-born and has also lived and worked in the UK for various newspapers, magazines and websites. Follow her on twitter @amyfallon

Main image: Pedro B. Ortiz, senior urban planner at the World Bank in Washington DC.



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4 Responses to “Development is urbanization. The case for regenerative African cities.”

  1. Grethel Castellanos

    A good example for our countrys ….!!!!

  2. Gerald Wallette`

    Pedro, well done. Thanks for sending it.



  3. Onu Steve

    You are very correct. The problem of most Afican cities is management which has its roots on the form of governance structure.Most African Towns and are growing and developing sporadically without any well defined management and administrative structure for their governance.A well planned settlement must be developed bearing in mind it’s rate of growth and the development must be guided with effective governance structure.

  4. Matsyetsye Emmanuel

    Urbanisation In Uganda Has Come Wth Creation Of Many Districts Actually 112 By 2011. However Many Politicians View These Developments Wth Skeptism. I Have So Far Assesed Tht Unless A Deliberate Sensitization Plan Is Made, We Shall More Time Huggling Over Its Importance.


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