Opinion: Building Up Is A Solution To African Urban-Slum Sprawl

Opinion: Building Up Is A Solution To African Urban-Slum Sprawl

At a time when Africa is grappling with the issue of land tenure, particularly in agriculture, limited and often expensive land in urban slums raises the question of whether Africa should build up or build across, according to a report in IPSNews.

There are those who argue that densification — building up — is the answer to Africa’s housing woes, Busani Bafana writes.

Urban density is a term used in urban planning and urban design to refer to the number of people living in a given urbanized area.

Slums provide shelter for the growing populations seeking life in African cities, which are seeing a tide of rural Africans moving there in search of jobs and other opportunities, IPSNews reports.

An urbanization rate of 4 percent a year is stretching the ability of African cities to provide adequate shelter, food, water, sanitation, and energy, IPSNews reports.

Densification is an avenue for the transformation of Africa and its cities, said Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, assistant secretary general of U.N.-Habitat. She spoke at the Second Africa Urban Infrastructure Investment Forum hosted by United Cities and Local Government-Africa (UCLG-A) and the government of Angola in Luanda in April.

The United Cities and Local Governments network represents over 1,000 cities in Africa. It estimates that Africa needs investments of $80 billion a year for upgrading urban infrastructure to meet the needs of urban residents, IPSNews reports.

“If we are going to build…housing without going up, it simply means it will be expensive, but if we have to densify then we need to go up,” Kacyira said. “Yes, let us stick to our identity and culture, but let us stick to principles that make economic sense. We are not going to have vibrant cities by running away from the problem and spreading and sprawling.”

Density is increasingly desired by municipalities and urban betterment programs–but it is becoming harder to accomplish, according to PlannedDensification.

“Does density belong everywhere? No. It is best designed into key locations, such as near large transportation investments and other infrastructure investments wherein density increases return on assets (ROA) and return on investment (ROI),” according to PlannedDensification.

By planning, reducing desertification and recycling waste, African cities can help reduce their carbon footprint — a key issue on the post-MDG agenda– Kacyira said.

A Kenya housing project could represent a model for the future of housing in Africa, IPSNews reports. Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, a federation of slum dwellers, has partnered with Shack/Slum Dwellers International to provide decent shelter for people living in slums by creating a low-cost, three-level house called ‘The Footprint.” The cost: $1,000.

Slum dwellers who can afford it pay a 20-percent down payment and have access to a microloan for 80 percent of the cost. The project has built 300 houses in two settlements this year, IPSNews reports.