I recently had a great opportunity to speak with city planners working on the development of Solwezi, the capital of North-western Province. Solwezi, for all its rapid growth and certified “boom town” status, lacks much of the infrastructure afforded to the capitals of provinces such as Eastern or Copperbelt. An interesting thing I noticed, though, was the focus. First, one of Solwezi City Counsel’s primary short term growth goals was eliminating unplanned settlements surrounding the city. While the idea is to replace these settlements with upgraded, permanent structures, the unanswered question is where will all the displaced people from these existing settlements go? Second, “growth” seems to be synonymous with shopping malls filled with foreign owned chains. When I asked what would happen to the existing open-air markets (which provide self-driven employment to hundreds if not thousands of Solwezi residents, there was no concrete plan in comparison to shopping malls. This begs the question, who is this growth for?
More close to home, Ikelenge is expanding its infrastructure as it becomes divested from Mwinilunga. Instead of centralizing, however, many of the new government buildings are being built roughly 5k outwards into my village. Specifically, on plots of land already occupied by farmers. The planning process directly affects poorer community members, as more expensive houses are listed as legitimate, while traditional homes are deemed disposable. The location of my village also favors those with motorized vehicles, as Ikelenge is located centrally in the district, but my village is not. Again, these spaces are clearly not being built for existing residents. So, who are these spaces being built for,? And what happens those it is not being built for?
This talk by OluTimehin Adegbeye talks not only of gentrification in Lagos, Nigeria, but forced migration, violence, and suppression (tactics used globally, including the United States). With a Utopian vision for cityscapes, how do these methods not undermine everything? To me, the answer is that they do, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide for yourself.