Conflicting planning rationalities and informal settlements

Processes of speculative urbanism increasingly guide urban planning in Africa. City authorities increasingly aspire to make their cities ‘globally competitive’ through  large-scale redevelopment projects that aim to  modernise entire city districts and attempt to build entirely new cities (Miraftab 2007; Myers 2015; Parnell and Robinson 2006; Van Synghel and de Boeck 2013; Watson 2014). Building of luxury condos, malls and high-class tourism facilities complement attempts by officials to put their cities  ‘on the map’ and attract foreign investment and tourists (Pieterse 2008; Watson 2009a).

In a recent article published in Urban Forum, ‘From Shacks to Skyscrapers: Multiple Spatial Rationalities and Urban Transformation in Accra, Ghana,’  Lena Fält analyses the confrontation of the logics and rationalities of planning in the case of Mensah Guinea, an informal settlement in Accra that went through a forced eviction in 2014.

Interestingly, the article does not draw a basic opposition between urban poor aspirations and market-driven forces but rather overcomes this duality by looking at other non-market-driven rationalities which are historically rooted — from a colonial and post-colonial perspective — and reconfigured according to contexts. These rationalities define what and where the “benefits of spatial order are”(p:3). Fält also looks at how these approaches may result in increasing spatial and social inequality.

Fält notes that contradicting rationalities between municipal actors. On one-hand, the city prohibited unauthorized structures with a by-law passed in 2011. On the other-hand, the national urban policy agenda is accompanied by a strong commitment to improving the situation of the urban poor.

Therefore, the case of Mensah Guinea appears to crystallize conflicting logics around the benefits of spatial order and the links between the physical environment, public health and morality. The author eventually argues that this debate was structured around a dispositional rationality, which aims at drawing boundaries and producing order that will foster correct comportments “(Huxley, 2006)

The demolition of the settlement thus resonates with a form of “urban revanchism” (Smith, 2001). “The short notice of the eviction, the threat of violence during the exercise, the patronising comments about the area and its inhabitants during and after the demolition”(p:20) reveal the anti-poor agenda of this process. It is also symptomatic of a form of accumulation by dispossession, the place being foreseen as a luxury housing and tourism complex (Harvey, 2007).

This informal settlement hence became a space of clashing rationalities between urban authorities and urban everyday life with the authorities’ problematisation and projects for the area at odds with former residents’ view of the settlement, which was perceived as a place of livelihood opportunities, affordable housing, and sociability.

Article available from Urban Forum, November 2016, (sub required)
Image, Chris Wilson, Flickr



Publication Type Journal Article
Publisher Urban Forum
Year 2016
Author(s) Lena Fält
DOI 10.1007/s12132-016-9294-8
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