Cities as “sites of chaos”

“I think of cities as essentially sites of chaos.” With this sentence, Dr. Alan Mabin,  head of the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, starts a lecture about what he describes as the chaotic phenomenon of cities around the world.

Mabin notes that there are a lot of changes going on in African cities, as a result of the economic growth the continent is experiencing.  When Mabin raises concepts such as ‘suburbanism’ and ‘peripheries’, he presents them as open, subjective, plastic terms. And though he notes that most of the literature writen about African cities is from outside Africa, he agrees that different characteristics can be found in all of them: boundaries, densification of suburbs, and new centralities of power and space. He illustrates the diversity of suburbs and the forms of growth and connections in Africa, with examples from Luanda, Dar Es Salaam, Maputo, Tunis, Dakar, Port Elizabeth, Nairobi, Accra and Kinshasa.

Mabin gave the lecture, ‘Peripheries, suburbanisms and change in African cities’ at the international workshop, ‘Changing socio-spatial configurations of inclusion and exclusion: planning and counter-planning in the African city,’ held at the Nordic Africa Institute, in partnership with the African Centre for Cities, between 7 and 8 of March 2012, in Uppsala, Sweden.


Gemma Solés i Coll holds an M.A. in Social Science of Development South of the Sahara (URV) and graduated in Philosophy (UB). She specializes in artistic and cultural trends and urban dynamics in Africa. She serves as chief editor for the music and performing arts section of Spanish online magazine WIRIKO, of which she is the founder.

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