This website is a product of a collaboration between the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town and the Urban Futures Studio at Utrecht University, exploring the use of sustainable infrastructure examples from Africa as an entry point for imagining more sustainable, equitable cities.
By 2050, the world's urban population is expected to have doubled compared to 2010. In particular, Africa’s urban population is expected to triple during this period. This demographic shift will translate into extensive urbanization in a part of the world where more than half of urban dwellers currently live in self-built neighbourhoods with poor access to services. While many governments focus on infrastructure for economic growth, the majority of Africa’s urban citizens are living in undignified conditions that stifle their potential. Unprecedented investment in new buildings and infrastructure is required at a time when global resources are under pressure and emissions need to reduce rapidly. For African cities to deliver dignity and quality of life for all citizens, they will need to adopt different technologies, materials and approaches to those we are familiar with.
Imaginaries of African cities that leap ahead of fossil-fuel-based cities may seem far-fetched at first, but there are already signs of this starting to happen in various infrastructure initiatives around the continent. This website forms part of ongoing efforts to share what is happening in Africa, to inspire others to develop and experiment with more sustainable approaches. It is hoped that these case studies will be used by governments, businesses, non-profit organisations and communities across the continent and elsewhere to inspire new experiments, collaborations and adaptation to other contexts, and to stimulate more hopeful imaginaries of Africa’s urban future.
What is an ‘infrastructure initiative’?
In many of the continent’s cities, it is not formal, centrally-organised infrastructure networks that provide access to basic services, but rather a combination of formal and informal systems that overlap and interact to facilitate survival. A broader conception of “infrastructure” is needed. For this reason, this website focuses on “infrastructure initiatives”, which include the formal and informal, public sector and private sector, services and products, experiments and institutions. As a guideline: if it delivers a basic need to multiple households, it can be considered an infrastructure initiative.
How are case studies selected?
While there are many high-level definitions and complex rating systems that can be used to identify sustainable infrastructure, a simpler and more practical approach is needed to encompass informal and emerging approaches. With this in mind, we use the following three questions to guide which case studies are shared on the website. Some inspiring case studies might not cover all three elements equally. In these cases, they should cover at least two of the themes above and not act against the missing one.
The focus is on infrastructure initiatives that provide basic services, rather than those that are primarily aimed at economic growth (e.g. container ports) or are inaccessible to the poor (e.g. airports).
With Africa’s significant unemployment challenges, infrastructure initiatives need to provide jobs and opportunities for local skills development throughout their lifecycle. The inclusion of women and youth is particularly important.
Facing multiple climate and biodiversity crises, Africa cannot afford to adopt a “clean up later” approach to development. Infrastructure initiatives need to be less ecologically damaging than 20th Century norms, and should ideally push beyond damage minimisation to restore and expand healthy ecosystems.
The African Centre for Cities is an interdisciplinary hub at the University of Cape Town (South Africa) with a mandate to conduct meaningful research on how to understand, recast and address pressing urban crises. Since most urban challenges are inherently interdisciplinary and spatially layered, we nurture the co-production of knowledge between academia and other social sectors. Our research is designed with multiple publics in mind and a concern with continuously enriching curriculum and postgraduate development.
The Urban Futures Studio is a transdisciplinary institute at Utrecht University (The Netherlands), devoted to studying positive, sustainable, and meaningfully democratic futures and ways to get there. We investigate what we call ‘Techniques of Futuring’, conducting empirical research on existing practices and helping to initiate experiments. We believe that new thinking starts in ‘crossovers’ between distinct disciplines and coalitions of new and old agents of change.