In November 2022, the African Centre for Cities, along with its hosting partners, convened the African Infrastructure Futures Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

The ‘African Infrastructure Futures’ conference focused on the role of infrastructure in shaping African cities, to establish a shared sense of urgency about getting it right amidst an unfolding climate emergency that threatens to destroy infrastructure, livelihoods and inter-generational mobility. The conference was held at the University of Cape Town, and brought together academics, think tank researchers, infrastructure providers and those who commission and finance it from 21-23 November 2022. Recordings of the conference proceedings can be viewed here.

In the foyer of the conference venue, the African Centre for Cities (ACC) and Urban Futures Studio (UFS) curated an exhibition to showcase sustainable approaches to infrastructure challenges from across the African continent to demonstrate what is already possible. Ten sustainable infrastructure case studies were printed on 5 metre high fabric banners, suspended from the ceiling. The brightly-coloured banners achieved high visual impact, making it difficult for participants to ignore these homegrown innovations that are not typically taken seriously by policymakers or financiers. The exhibition was launched by Edgar Pieterse (ACC) and Maarten Hajer (UFS) at a cocktail event amidst the banners on the first night of the conference.

The case studies were selected based on their demonstrated social and environmental performance relative to ‘business as usual’ approaches. Cases that have scaled up over a number of years and engaged productively with government systems were prioritised over emergent experiments. Blending traditional and contemporary, old and new, established and incremental, low-tech and high-tech approaches, the initiatives spanned a diverse range of basic infrastructure services. When considered together, they hinted at possible futures for more liveable, inclusive, and sustainable African cities inspired by local ingenuity, and raised questions about what kind of infrastructure the continent really needs.

The exhibition also featured an interactive wall, inviting participants to contribute further case study examples from the continent, and share their reflections on the topic of sustainable infrastructure. Inputs from the interactive wall, participant interviews and a post-attendance survey will help to shape the remainder of the project. The case study collection can be viewed here

Blake Robinson
Senior Researcher at Urban Futures Studio