Africa Atlas of Speculative Urbanization




Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design

Project Summary

Across the African continent, the phenomenon of speculative urbanization is radically shifting the physical and economic makeup of urban and peri-urban settlements. In the pursuit of economic development, central and municipal governments, in conjunction with pre-eminent global design firms, are developing expansive programs to actively promote the large scale urbanization of their populations.

To better understand this phenomenon, this summer our team worked to document examples of recent speculative urbanization projects across the continent, finding over 100 of such examples, each one covering over 200 hectares. To analyze such findings, we categorized these new town and urban redevelopment projects, the vast majority of which were planned on “greenfield sites,” rural or desert lands that had previously been undeveloped, into 8 typologies: New National Capitals, Luxury Housing/Tourism, Middle-Class Housing, Social/Subsidized Housing, Techno/Industrial Cities New CBD/Financial Cities, Radical Redevelopment, and Greenfield Mega-Cities.

Once our team had identified these sites, we perused journal and newspaper articles to uncover the projects’ main drivers, the sources and of financing for the projects, the official governmental urbanization policies associated with the project, and the method and phasing of development. I assisted the team by producing a case study for each settlement typology, detailing the historic contexts of urbanization for these countries, as well as the contemporary urbanization policies guiding these projects. I also examined the role of intergovernmental institutions, like UN Habitat and the World Bank Group, and Chinese state-owned/parastatal corporations in supporting new town development across the continent, through excitatory rhetoric, debt and grant financing, and on the ground technical assistance.

Using such research, on a country by country basis, I composed several literature reviews detailing the economic rationale behind the often precarious financial/political arrangements underpinning such developments. Eventually, the goal is to use this research to posit new forms of urbanization which appeal to such economic development impulses, but achieve such ends using more responsible, site-specific methods.

Working on this project provided much insight regarding the economics of urbanization, particularly regarding the impact of agglomeration economies on industrial output. Through the various case studies/literature reviews I composed, I was also able to learn more about the distributional effects of urbanization policy interventions and optimal taxation design. As an economics major and urban development minor, the work I did matched well with my educational goals. Working with graduate students at the School of Design, I was also able to look at the process of urbanization, from diverse perspectives previously unexplored, evaluating the environmental and psychological implications of infrastructural interventions.