There's a problem with 'Wakanda visions' for African cities - academic

The problem with "Wakanda visions" of African cities is that it implies a highly exclusive and exclusionary set-up, according to Professor Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).

Wakanda is a fictional country located in sub-Saharan Africa, made popular by the movie Black Panther.

"A lot of times we have visions of Wakanda. We imagine the African city of the future as one with big glass high-rises. A lot of African cities aspire to this vision," she said at the 12th Green Building Convention hosted by the Green Building Council of SA (GBCSA) in Cape Town this week.

She said such a vision, however, implies exclusivity. It does not, in her view, imply a "relationship with the streets" that offers different layers of activities. The types of materials used in such a Wakanda-type of vision might also make it problematic in terms of a sensitivity towards the climates in a city.
 
She raised the question of whether successful urban development can take place in an unequal environment.

"It brings life-diminishing results if we just value growth over equality," she said. "Not just the poor, but whole societies are adversely affected by inequality."

She said there is always an ambiguous relationship between governments and informal activities in cities in terms of service provision and support.

"A lot of aspects of our lives need to be reinvented by us collectively. We must take responsibility to change our behaviours to reflect our value systems. These should include integrity, inclusivity and harmony," she said.

Urban planning

Khalied Jacobs, director of Jakupa Architects and Urban Designs, said for government it is too much about implementing "sterilised" urban developments. In his view, this entrenches old apartheid spatial plans.

"The question is: Who holds the power to negotiate those systems? It tends to be the developers with deep pockets," he said.

He warned that, due to the rate of urbanisation combined with unemployment in SA, there seems to be a "slum-producing logic" towards the development of SA cities.

"Spatial justice won't come only through policy. The struggle is to transform how we think about the implementation of spatial policy. We need the ability to deliver not only at the end of the planning process, but throughout," he said.

Luyanda Mpahlwa, director of Design Space Africa, told delegates that some enablers are needed.

"We need to rethink our concept of what integrated development is. How do we steer urban growth towards a sustainable model if the thinking and processes of the different departments do not allow that?" he asked.

"We underestimate the need for a policy and mind shift. If we do not embrace the challenges our cities are facing, we will have favelas (slums) in Cape Town. We as professionals must make sure we get involved where it matters. We need to collectively redefine how our cities need to develop and how we get there."

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