Educating new planners in Africa, but what is the future?

By Gemma Todd

Within development studies a shift has been identified. An increasing sense of consciousness has emerged on whose ideas are being used to theorise development practice, whether they are applicable, and offer effective solutions. The post-development school of thought is centred on deconstructing 'universal' ideas of development. Novel viewpoints have emerged which are transforming how the 'developing' world is understood and what role citizens of the Global South can play. With post-development thought, urban researchers, and planners, are advancing new thinking to plan inclusive cities in the Global South. In a succeeding event on urbanisation at the Africa Research Institute, the subject matter was how urban planning in Africa is adapting for the future.

With a renewed interest in urban planning, and recognition of the flawed nature of underlying planning systems, the AAPS (Association of African Planning Schools) are supporting new teaching structures for planning. The future of African cities is being handed over to enthusiastic students, pioneering a new paradigm for urban change. A new generation of urban planners is emerging, with a new set of challenges and barriers — but also knowledge to match urban policy with practical need. AAPS believe change is needed in how urban structures are understood and what knowledge planners are provided with to address recurring issues.

The urban planning programme across AAPS is based upon new principles of planning education, and teaching styles, to give students a synthesis between theory, concept, and contemporary realities. Two fundamental modifications in teaching need to be noted. Firstly, is the fact 'informality' is placed on the teaching agenda. Rather then seeing informality as a juxtaposition of 'formality', or conflated with 'illegality', informality is understood as critical priority for planning. Secondly, the renewed teaching structure is altering the distance between 'planners' and citizens. An emphasis is placed on the urban poor — working with communities for 'experiential learning' and stepping away from the rigid planning laws of older generations. Partnerships with civil-society are encouraged to enable effective service provision through bottom-up action. However, to what extent can innovative education stabilise a paradigmatic shift towards inclusive cities in the face of resisting hegemony? How can effective planning education be implemented with a clash of perspectives between old and new generations? Who will provide funding? Further, can planning work when the reality of designing, and implementing, plans is mediated by power across scales? Within urban planning global finance and the desire to create ‘global’, aesthetic, cities is just as important as issues concerning community mobilisation and corruption.

One of the key concerns that should be raised is on the informal settlements that planning aims to provide solutions for. Who controls the slums? Control in slums remains complex — from land tenure being a source of tension, to elite ownership of the informal structures, and control by gangs. Engaging with civil-society is invigorating a new model for teaching, and practicing, planning. However, the complex nature of ownership, and control, in slums presents a challenge for urban planning. In slums, such as Makoko in Lagos whereby security is controlled by 'Area Boys', or the Mungiki youth movements in Nairobi, we need to ask whose right to the city is enabled? Further, whether planning can function where insecurity and fear remain a dominant reality? To ensure the model of 'experimental learning' assists our planners we need to further explore the internal politics of slums, the methods of control, violence, and resource allocation. Planners need to be able to get multiple groups on their side.

Sustainable solutions may be provided by partnerships with civil-society, such as SDI (Slum Dwellers International), but also openly, individual members of the communities. Technology provides a bright future in Africa's urban planning. New technologies, such as Crowd-mapping, can provide effective tools for planners. Using mobile phones and Internet inhabitants are able to collect and share information, with the potential to evoke response. Effective planning is a two-way street; and involves multiple parties. Whether students, educators, the government, or community members, we need to use technology to ensure each voice, and experience, is heard. We don't only need to make planners 'relevant' to communities, through new methods of practical teaching, but also ensure individual inhabitants are acknowledged. New technologies are a way to move forward.

Photo credit: nchenga

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