Accra is a city with good and laudable aims: to be the Gateway to West Africa. However, Accra is also a deeply dissatisfied city. The challenge is that Accra needs a comprehensive spatial plan, one that is not merely shelved.
Successive governments have struggled with spatial planning over the years as evidenced by several street addressing attempts in the city and beyond. As a city in a developing country, the focus is usually to develop economically, and spatial planning largely gets shoved down the development to-do list.
However, it is expensive not to plan. By not deliberately and systematically organizing the city space, the city becomes a more expensive place to live in. Revenue falls through the cracks because it is difficult to monitor, track and even collect monies owed to the city’s coffers. Corruption has a field day because, after all, who knows exactly where the money is anyway? And you know the traffic situation is really bad when friends from Lagos say that the traffic in Accra is horrendous.
Spatial planning lets you know where things are. It is as simple as that. Where are the people, the businesses, and the schools? Who is doing what where? It is the business of any city government to be able to answer these questions. If you know where things are, then you can deal with matters of health, sanitation, environment and transport. Many good projects are happening in Accra but they are not part of one comprehensive master plan. It has been acknowledged that until there is a proper land management information system which is part of an integrated and comprehensive database of activities in the city, the numerous attempts at organizing the city will not mean much.
The reality is that focusing just on economic development creates an environment where the city is standing on one foot, hobbling along the path of development like it has a serious case of polio. The other foot needed for the development race is spatial planning. Spatial planning creates the context for economic development to make sense and flourish. You cannot develop in an untidy environment.
The foundation has to be right. Every city needs a master spatial plan to chart its future. A plan that will not change according to political seasons and that will reflect the dynamism of an urbanizing country.
Grace Ecklu is a freelance urban geographer and researcher living in Accra, Ghana. She is particularly interested in participatory planning, tourism and education. In the mean time on the lookout for profitable engagements that will make use of her creative and technical skills, she currently volunteers with the African Business Centre for Developing Education (ABCDE).
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