This goal is to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. It reflects growing recognition that human development depends on how well urbanisation is managed. According to Dr Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat and former mayor of Barcelona, the global view of “cities as containers of problems” must change. Cities are, in fact, “accelerators of development”.
This is important for Africa, where despite high urbanisation rates the development focus has been primarily rural. Consider Ghana. The country’s urban population has grown from four million in 1984 to more than 14 million today. Fifty one percent of Ghanaians now live in cities. While urbanisation rates vary across Africa, Ghana reflects an overall global trend towards a predominantly urban future.
Ghana demonstrates how cities can be highly productive in Africa. One World Bank report draws an explicit link between urbanisation, productivity, and poverty reduction. Over the same period of its urban growth annual GDP growth has averaged 5.7%. The number of industrial and service jobs has increased by 21% and the capital city, Accra, has registered a 20% reduction in poverty.
Similarly, the Nairobi metropolitan region generates at least 50% of Kenya’s GDP. While it has too many unemployed youth and significant poverty, the more rural counties in Kenya are often the poorest.
The scarcity of affordable housing
As Africa’s cities grow, the challenge will be to provide adequate services and equitable access to its opportunities. Currently, large gaps exist between needed and current services and infrastructure. One result of this gap is an affordable housing crisis. This produces slums, often near expensive gated communities and suburbs.
Transit services are overstretched and spaces that connect people to work and create a more socially inclusive civic culture need to be supported, fostered or created by African architects, artists and planners with citizens and government.
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