Review: The planner in dirty shoes

Editor(s) James Duminy, Jorgen Andreasen, Fred Lerise, Nancy Odendaal and Vanessa Watson
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Year 2014

As one of the initiators of the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS), I was really excited to read Planning and the Case Study Method in Africa: The Planner in Dirty Shoes, an outcome of the AAPS initiative to revitalize urban planning education on the continent. Revitalization of planning education is of course a means to an end, the end being planners equipped with relevant knowledge, skills and methods that can enable them to reshape the planning practice so that planning becomes an effective tool for the management of change in the natural and built environment to ensure sustainable development. This book constitutes an effort in the right direction, ‘killing two birds with one stone’ as the case study method research methodology promises to be an effective tool for research and teaching that deepens our contextualized understanding of the urbanization realities in Africa.

The book has nine chapters and is broken into three parts. Part one (chapters one and two) discusses the case study research methodological principles and provides a review of strategies applied in case study research in Africa. Part two (chapters three, four, five and six) focuses on four empirical case studies. Three of these are about urban informality in Kumasi, Ghana; Mzuzu, Malawi; and Enugu, Nigeria. The other case study is about a participatory solid waste management programme, also in Enugu. Part three (chapters seven, eight and nine) discusses teaching-based case studies at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and the University of Pretoria, both in South Africa.

The introduction highlights differences in the experience of the urbanization process and city development characteristics in Africa and Europe and North America. Despite the differences, however, ideas, concepts, knowledge and methods that inform urban planning practice and planning education in Africa and similar global South regions are based on the Western European and North American experience. Subsequently, the authors suggest that there is a need for context-based knowledge for urban planning and planning education in Africa. The case study research methodology is argued to be an effective method for research and teaching of planners due to its potential for contextualized in-depth analysis of complex processes and realities.

In the first chapter, James Duminy, Nancy Odendaal and Vanessa Watson discuss methodological dimensions of the case study research methodology for producing contextualized local knowledge and effective teaching that appropriately equips students with relevant context-based knowledge and skills for community engagement and in-depth analysis of complex issues. The discussion draws extensively on Robert Yin (2009, 2012) and Bent Flyvbjerg (2001, 2006, 2011) as well as on case study research methodology workshops, held in 2009 and 2010. I concur with the authors’ argument in favour of the ‘live’ case study method in planning education because it builds students’ “capacity to understand and intervene in complex physical and social environments; … shift in sensibilities and values towards issues such as urban poverty and informality; … promote engagement and cooperation between educational institutions, the state and civil society.” (p. 40). I would add that the community and other actors and stakeholders involved stand to learn something from the students and facilitators. The last part of this chapter provides relevant hints for teaching case preparation and subsequent additional roles for lecturers and students involved in a case-based teaching approach.

In chapter two, Duminy discusses research strategies employed in recently published case studies of urbanization and urban planning in Africa. He shows that most of them are single-case analyses, inductively approached and focused on understanding performance of governance or practice in a particular context. Subsequently, the case studies are shown to be representative so that detailed analysis of the case may produce context-based knowledge necessary to inform relevant policy and practice. He suggests that there is a need to go beyond the production of practice-based knowledge to produce theory that is informed by the contextual-realities of the ‘South’.

In chapter three Daniel Inkoom considers the failed attempts to relocate the Anloga woodworkers from the central part of Kumasi City where such informal activities were viewed by the relevant planning authorities as inappropriately located and not in line with the desired ‘beautification of the city.’ Though ‘not attractive’ in the eyes of the city planners and managers, there was wide acknowledgement locally that informal sector economic activities, the reality in most African countries (Nnkya, 2006), contributed significantly to revenue and “sustained livelihoods of over 60 per cent of the city’s residents” (pg. 92 and 99). The case study shows that while the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) was busy searching for any opportunity to relocate the woodworkers the latter were getting better organized and galvanized under their associations. This galvanization enabled them to stand together and collectively safeguard their rights and interests in the urban place. One would wish to understand the extent to which the failed attempts to relocate the wood workers, their activities and livelihoods. But this chapter leaves the reader wondering about what the urban development policy (if any) says about informal economic activities. It also lacks the voices of the actors involved: woodworkers, planners and other city officials, policy makers/councilors, and wood worker association leaders.

In chapter four Mtafu Manda discusses a case study of bicycle taxis in Mzuzu city, Malawi. As he shows, the findings challenge Harris-Todaro’s argument that “informal sector activities are a refuge for rural urban migrants and the unemployed awaiting opportunities in the formal job market.” Contrary to this argument, the case study shows that “the decision to own or operate a bicycle is often less a survival strategy for low-skilled recent migrants from rural areas than an expansion of a rational profit-seeking motive for a dual income source” (p. 103). Subsequently, he calls for support and incorporation of such economic activities into urban policy, instead of exclusion and police harassment as is currently done in Malawi and elsewhere. The analysis is preceded by a brief background on bicycle taxi business in the city, which goes back to 2002, showing that a number of factors including unpaved roads and the collapse of government owned and operated public transport in the 1990s contributed to high demand for the bicycle taxi.

Victor Onyebueke and Christopher Anierobi in chapter five analyze informal sector businesses relocation in the Trans-Ekulu housing estate, a medium-income neigbourhood developed by the Enugu State Housing Development Corporation (ESHDC) in Enugu, Nigeria. The case study explores the process of relocation of informal traders who had established a range of businesses and shops to cater for the needs of 19,933 residents in the neighbourhood. For this purpose, ESHDC had provided a shopping centre with 48 lockup stores and nearly 10 years later the corporation added 44 open stores, all located on Road 12. The location of the shopping centre relative to the rest of the neighbourhood was found inappropriate by the traders who instead located themselves along Dhamidja-Azikiwe Avenue, which crosses through the neighbourhood and forms a junction with another main road. Contrary to what planners prescribed for them, the traders or users of the space considered the particular location more suitable because of its centrality, concentration of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and availability of space.

The problem with technocratic and non-inclusive forms of urban planning is an insensitivity to social, economic and political realities in a particular context. One such economic reality is the dominance of informal sector economic activities, which can be a source of livelihood for at least 60 per cent of the urban labour force as indicated in the previous chapter.

The plan for the neighbourhood in the case study appears to have provided for formal businesses space and did not provide for the informal traders perhaps because they were assumed not to prevail in a medium income neighbourhood. The traders found the Road 12 shopping centre inappropriately located “inaccessible, deficient in design” and the provided lockup stores were inadequate compared to what the traders demanded (pg. 141 and pg. 146) and so they shifted to Dhamidja-Azikiwe Avenue. It is apparent that the relocation of the traders was justified by ESHDC’s planner for fear that the entire housing area was ‘turning into a market’ (pg.140). Had the planner been conscious of the informal businesses reality and requirements, no such case story of relocation would have been told. The claim made in the analysis that inclusion and transparency would have made life easier for the project implementers makes sense. Certainly, inclusion would have facilitated interests of the traders to be negotiated and most likely captured by the planners.

As the curtain closes for the non-participatory, prescriptive form of planning (p. 249), an initiative to build capacity for a participatory planning approach commences in the same city as described by Joy Ogbazi and Nkeiru Ezeadichie. A solid waste management improvement project, funded by the United Kingdom through its Department of International Development (DFID), becomes a vehicle for that initiative. This initiative focuses on collaborative and communicative relations that include government departments and agencies, development partners, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and representatives of the community. The case study shows NGOs’ protracted struggle to get space in the decision making process, apparently not only for their own sake but also for the sake of ensuring that residents get their democratically entitled space in the planning and implementation of the project.

Recognizing the double objective of this project as a transformative vehicle towards participatory planning approach and solid waste management, the NGOs were on the right track. The effort paid off when eventually residents and business operators were invited to a strategy development workshop (p. 166) to join other stakeholders. The case study shows that the workshop brought together stakeholders from various sectors to discuss openly the issues of concern to them. As noted by the consultants to the project: “… many people felt able to comment on difficult issues such as corruption in the public sector even when government officials were present without being intimidated.” More important, however, the stakeholders, “… collaboratively developed common understanding of the problem and the overall aim and objectives of the project.” (p. 166). The case study reveals results of the participatory planning approach to include, among other things, changes in attitudes of government officials and the public. This, in my view, is a prerequisite for the sustainability of all other achievements.

In the conclusion the authors observe that, “no urban planner participated directly in this project” (p. 172). But if urban planners did not participate directly it may imply they did so indirectly. One would then wish to understand how planners participated. If they did not, how did it happen? What then do the answers to these questions tell us about urban planning and the role of professional urban planners in Nigeria and elsewhere? Are the planners marginalizing themselves because of their inappropriate practice? (Nnkya, 2008). Although these questions cannot be answered by what is contained in the case study, implicitly, on p. 172 the authors seem to suggest existence of institutional deficits in the planning system and inability of the planners to deliver planning demanded in a changed governance context. The participatory solid waste management initiative provided a free of charge ‘live’ opportunity for capacity building to equip planners with the needed practical knowledge and skills on how to relate (communicate, negotiate, mediate) with other stakeholders to effectively resolve an environmental issue which should be a concern for planning and planners. In the presentation of this case study, like the presentations in chapter three and five, I missed voices of the actors, which may contain telling metaphors like “a rotten apple in the bunch” (p.162).

In chapter seven, Stephen Mukiibi reviews literature on ‘service learning’ or ‘studio’ courses, this being the tradition in planning and architectural education. He draws on Roakes and Norris-Tirrell (2000) who justify ‘service learning’ or ‘community engagement’ as it facilitates the necessary flow of knowledge between the two sides: students and community. I would add here the other actors and stakeholders: those affected, those who contribute to the issue in question, those with information, knowledge and expertise, and those with powers and means needed to resolve or address the issue.

The case study shows that preparation entailed lecturers establishing contacts with Kampala City Council (KCC) officials, and jointly identifying an appropriate site and preparation of a planning and design brief. A low-income informal housing settlement — Bwaise, located in the vicinity of Makerere University — was selected because it was expected to provide a learning ground to satisfy objectives of the planning and design course. Contacts were then made with local leaders of the selected community whose views were sought about the proposed exercise. Two weeks were devoted for fieldwork but taking advantage of the closeness of the site to the university, students maintained contact with the community throughout the study period, something that provided students with opportunity to revisit the site to fill gaps in information, cross check information at hand and verify their planning and design proposals. Survey and interviews were conducted to collect spatial and non-spatial data and information that was needed to facilitate preparation of planning and design proposals. The proposals were assessed by a panel of six assessors comprising four academics and two representatives, one from KCC planning department and one from the community. There is no doubt that the approach used in the exercise did not make students’ and lecturers’ shoes dirty for nothing. The question is, could the community also benefit from the exercise, instead of just becoming a source of data and a laboratory for planning education?

Unlike the studio approach which aimed at production of design and policy solutions in chapter seven, in chapter eight Sarah Charlton draws on the case study methodology to describe and analyze the teaching approach used to develop and enhance student research skills and understanding of a particular issue. Like the studio project in chapter seven, where students worked with real geography and real people, engagement with informal recyclers on the streets of Johannesburg was used to explore their means of livelihood and how these were connected to their housing circumstances. This became a vehicle for deeper insight into the lives of low-income city residents. The students then used the knowledge gained to reflect on low-income housing policy and theory, the ultimate aim being to develop new ways of thinking about low-income housing policy responses. The role of the facilitator is very clear right from the beginning of the narrative where the author as the facilitator systematically describes how she came to decide on the teaching research-based exploratory case study and the research questions. She then explains the four teaching and learning aims of the explorative research-based case study, how students were facilitated in research design and formulation of interview questions, how she selected informal recyclers for interviews before the actual carrying out of the interviews by the students. Examples of recyclers’ responses to the interviews and students’ experience in interviewing the recyclers are also presented.

In the last chapter of this book, Karina Landman discusses the requirements of urban planning education to adequately equip urban planners for the challenging task of dealing with many contextual variables, and so the need to thoroughly understand the context and urban dynamics in a particular place. She draws on Callaghan (2008) and Jensen (2000) to discuss, respectively, the need to employ different strategies and techniques to facilitate learning, and learning at different stages. She then draws on Flyvbjerg (2011), Amaratunga (2002) and Yin (1994) to argue for the use of case study as the appropriate approach for urban planning and design education as captured in this statement: “the benefits of the case study teaching approach are its capacity to expose learners to real-world contexts, to enable them to explore multiple perspectives, to develop their critical thinking and analytical skills” (p. 231).

In the conclusion, James Duminy and Vanessa Watson write on how the book has argued for the use of the case study research methodology due to its potential to facilitate production of contextualized knowledge and contextualized learning about realities of urbanization in Africa. It is this knowledge base, which may provide a sound ground for questioning or to ‘see from the south’ the concepts and theories of planning in place which are based on the experience of the ‘north.’

It is further concluded that in relation to context, the book has addressed the question of “how do we learn to become more relevant practitioners in the specific circumstances of urbanization?” For those teaching planning, Watson and Duminy conclude that the questions they face are: “How planners learn to make practical judgements and creative solutions; how ordinary urban residents learn to survive and flourish in circumstances of hardship; and how these processes of learning may be inhibited or encouraged.” In the rest of the conclusion, the authors articulately reflect on the potential for the case study research methodology to provide answers to the posed questions.

I recommend researchers and lecturers of graduate and postgraduate students in planning and architecture to read this book for it should inform their research approach, relevant education curricula and teaching methods. Students may particularly read it in order to demand quality education that will appropriately equip them to be relevant planners and architects.



  1. Nnkya, T.J. 2008. Marginalizing Themselves: Many Plans But No Planning. Journal of Building and Land Development, Vol. 15 (1).
  2. Nnkya, T.J. 2007. Collaborative Turn in Planning Practice, A Case of. Journal of Building and Land Development. Vol. 14 (1)
  3. Nnkya T.J. 2006. An Enabling Framework? Governance and Street Livelihoods in Dar es salaam, Tanzania, in Alison Brown (ed.), Contested Space: Street Trading, Public Space, and Livelihoods in Developing Cities. ITDG Publishing, Warwickshire, U


Tumsifu Jonas Nnkya is an associate professor of urban planning at Ardhi University in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he has been a trainer of urban planners for 35 years. In the last six years he served as director of housing in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Human Settlements Development, United Republic of Tanzania. He has published in urban planning practice and provided professional advisory and consultancy services to various organizations within and outside the country.


Read older posts from this section

Leave a Reply