Africa’s ‘New Cities’: Urban Future or Utopian Fantasies?

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Gleaming skyscrapers towering over upwardly mobile professionals and flashy cars cruising along brightly lit avenues; young urbanites zipping past manicured lawns to enter their luxury condos; state-of-the-art labs fostering tech savvy entrepreneurs’ million-dollar ideas. A glimpse of Africa’s urban future or utopian fantasies?

The jury might still be out, but these are the snapshots of urban life being touted by international property developers who are announcing plans for new satellite cities and vast modern compounds across Africa.

They are usually planned to be built from scratch on the edges of the continent’s existing metropolises, many of which are creaking under the weight of growing populations and rapid urbanization rates.

From the Konza technopolis outside Nairobi, to King City near the emerging port of Takoradi, Ghana, through the luxurious Eko Atlantic on Victoria Island in Lagos, these urban projects are designed to offer high-quality services and modern infrastructure. They’re typically branded as smart and futuristic, combining leisure facilities, business opportunities and social amenities for their residents — from schools and medical centers to shopping malls, theaters and restaurants.

Out of touch?

Yet not everyone is convinced. Critics warn that many of these new developments will only serve a tiny elite, exacerbating an already deep divide between the haves and have-nots.

“They are essentially designed for people with money,” says Vanessa Watson, professor of city planning at the University of Cape Town. She describes many of the plans as unsustainable “urban fantasies” that ignore the reality of African cities, where most people are still poor and live informally.

“What many of these new cities are doing will result in the exclusion and the forced removal of those kind of informal areas, which quite often are on well-located land,” says Watson. In some cases, entire settlements have been relocated and large plots of land have been cleared to make way for the proposed projects.

Critics also bemoan a lack of adequate research to gauge the impact of some new developments on the local environment and economies.

They point out the “ghost town” of Kilamba in Angola, a grandiose project often labeled as a white elephant. Built afresh outside the capital Luanda, Kilamba was designed to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people but remains largely empty due to its expensive housing and unfavorable location.

But for others, these new developments have the potential to reshape Africa’s urban future. “Our objective is to provide the basic infrastructure, planning and necessary management framework in creating satellite cities that reverses the current trend of unplanned development and urban congestion in most of Africa’s growing cities,” says Tim Beighton, of Rendeavour, which is developing several new cities in Africa.

Here, some of these bold projects are shown. Tell us what you think about them in the comments section below.

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