City futures: slum urbanism in Africa

Edgar Pieterse, South African  Research Chair in Urban Policy and Director of the African Center for Cities
Edgar Pieterse, South African Research Chair in Urban Policy and Director of the African Centre for Cities.

The early time slot and brisk weather didn’t lessen the enthusiasm Edgar Pieterse brought to his talk about the future of slum and city living in Africa, for not only Africans but the world. The title of his Think!Fest talk is taken from Pieterse’s book, published in 2008 about the same issues.

Before engaging with ways to move forward in combating slum neglect in burgeoning mega-cities (and smaller cities) in Africa, Pieterse outlined the bare and bleak facts of urbanisation, population growth and globalisation in relation to Africa. By 2060, 1 in 4 individuals on the planet will be African. This African Development Bank report explains more key figures and statistics of Africa in 2060. With rates of urbanisation increasing, Pieterse stressed the need for all levels of society to “confront material realities”.

The global South is showing an unprecedented level of urbanisation, in tandem with staggered rates of industrialisation. “There is no extractive economy for the global South to work from, as the global North had. There is no precedent for this second wave of urbanisation,” stated Pieterse. Urbanisation is not a negative trend and Pieterse notes how urbanisation has a strong relationship to higher average income. Yet in Africa, the trend of higher informal urban populations. The present implication for Africa, due to these and other demographic facts, is a decrease in wage earning jobs, meaning a larger number of those living in urban areas will not have consistent access to modern conveniences and, ultimately, not be able to partake in formal politics.

Sustainable solutions are needed to face these challenges head-on. Working within planetary boundaries is one of the key tenets of sustain global development policies. This concept encapsulates making economies “green” and prioritising climate change. Bringing the state, as a political unit, back into the discussion of a post-carbon economy works in tandem with civic bodies highlighting issues in urban spaces. The mind-set about growth as being linear, static and following a teleological path, needs to be overturned to realise sustainability goals. According to Pieterse, growth needs to be inclusive, resilient and liveable. Inclusivity means that the labour force is absorbed into population growth, resilience refers to the environmental friendliness of the growth and liveability refers to how the growth affects the the higher faculties of humanity.

“In my most optimistic moments, the best scenario is innovative mayors, and people within urban societies doing tech-smart things,” stated Pieterse.


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