Sunday, December 3, 2023

Urban development is good, but presents its own pressing challenges

Rapid urban development is continuously challenging urban planners and other policy makers on how future growth of such huge magnitude can be managed in such a way that it does not occur to the detriment of the rural economy, the surrounding environment and the urban system itself.

By its virtue an urban centre is a major pole economic growth and a generator of industrialization and economies of scale. The growth of urban development between the 1960s and the 1970s is reckoned to have influenced an intensive proliferation of urban settlements and caused rural to urban migration.

The young and most active cohorts of rural population flooded the cities and towns trying to find better living and working avenues according to a research paper titled “Towards Better Urban Development and Management in Botswana”, authored by Branko Cavric and Aloysius Mosha.

The paper further acknowledges that in the beginning, this process of shifting jobs from agriculture to industry had positive repercussions on rural-urban disparities, and until it reached a stage of overcrowding and economic decline. During the 1980s, pressure on cities communal funds (e.g. buildings, urban infrastructure) and natural resources, as well as the lack of access to better employment opportunities, became a major obstacle for prospective citizens.

A national Institute of Urban Affairs (1994 report) has noted that between 1995 and 2025, the world’s urban population is expected to double and rise up the five billion people and more. In soite of the anticipated urban population growth, Africa and Asia are expected now only 30 to 35 percent urban, but the most explosive growth in both is under way and it is projected that 54 percent of their total will be urban by the year 2025.

The study paper also notes that although rates of urban growth vary dramatically from country to country and from city to city, the patterns of growth in Africa is not much different from what occurred a century ago in developed countries of Europe and North America. In the least developed countries, urban growth rates are among the highest in the world, at nearly five percent per year.

“And to make the situation more complicated, economic problems are coupled with political instability, voluntarism, corruption of ruling autocrats and the elite. Limited human resources in the local government sector iun general, and development sectors in particular made urban deterioration worse. Furthermore, the manageability and operability of urban assets are comp ex, diverse and dynamic systems which have reached a ceiling that necessitates urban renewal and regeneration”, it is argued.

In most Africa countries today, urban development and urban management are still not treated as two interrelated and constructive activities, which can influence the process of rising, functioning and changing settings of urban areas. The natural symbiosis between them has never been established accordingly, and this would be greatly criticized for its narrowness and in co-operation.

A consensus has also been building up acknowledging that today’s urban development deals comprehensively with spatial components of urban production including a broad mixture of human, socio-economic, technical, environmental and visual components.

Challenges the problem of urban development face, it is proposed that integrated human development, man-centred development and urban-stakeholders partnership might be excellent ingredients of modern African urban development recipe book.

By its philosophy, urban management covers the entire process of governing, administering and planning the urban machinery and its development for the well-being of present and future urban dwellers. Traditionally, urban management has been mainly concerned with the provision and maintenance of housing, infrastructure and adequate services for the population within the jurisdiction of a local urban authority. In addition, it has been concerned with such wide ranging issues as public health, urban public finance, environmental pollution and recreation.

The study authors were also quick to acknowledge that the understanding of African urban management is a daunting exercise and it is often seen as the specific task of local government only. However, the government is not the only actor involved in the management process and usually not one person or organization is able to manage a city.

In the 1900s, Botswana started to feel the negative effects caused by intensive development of urban settlements. Intensive population growth consequently called for serviced urban land and all other pertinent and all other pertinent elements typical for city life. That caused over-saturation. Social services, health care and educations institutions have found themselves under immense pressure.

The study also recognizes that an intensive campaign to stimulate the development of other major urban villages and their hinterlands took place at the end of the 1980s and 1990s. The first preparation for the formal regional plans started at the turn of the 1990s with an aim to support the revival of economically depressed rural areas.  

The authors of the study advises that improvements must be made to the current practice of urban management in the country and it is thus proposed that the first step would be to improve urban economies so that Botswana’s urban settlements can sustain themselves.

“Existing mixture of rural and urban typology and or economy even in the capital of Gaborone is not adequately placed and it should not be seen as part of urban pattern. A traditional rural concept and behaviour coupled with small scale agriculture activities and newly established commercial and industrial enterprises are reality in most of the recently transformed urban villages”, it is submitted by the authors.

The study undertakers conclude that urban management in general is becoming more difficult due to rapid urban development growth which creates problems of service provision, unplanned settlements and employment but also due to the deterioration of the urban environment as well as the difficulties in economic situation of most vulnerable social and income groups.

It is also warned there is usually a weak institutional framework which is not conducive to effective urban management and which characterized by a lack of local level autonomy, the inability of local authorities to be flexible and innovative, a lack of coordination among the many actors, conflict in institutional machinery, and “detrimental political interference”.

The financial base of local authorities is normally very weak and there are still many central government restrictions on local revenue generation, but also the recovery mechanism and the ability to exploit local level resources have hardly been developed.

It is also lamented that there are clear inefficiencies in urban land management. Firstly, there is unequal access to land, particularly the poor have a problem in obtaining land legally. Secondly, there are still some dualities in the land tenure systems particularly in major urban villages and this is creating problems of clarity, accountability and scope for proper management.

The study further notes that in most African cities, unemployment is a big problem, particularly amongst school-leavers and rural-urban migrants and all these problems and challenges of urban life require “quick, flexible and creative solutions”.


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