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Selling section of Harare Gardens

A view from northern part of Harare Gardens

The sale of part of a section of Harare Gardens to hotel group, Legacy Hotels by the City Council has sparked debate and controversy among stakeholders. City of Harare is selling 2.2 hectares (13 percent of the Gardens) of Harare Gardens to the hotel and leisure group, Legacy Hotels for construction of a conference centre. This leaves about 11 hectares for public space in the gardens. The proposal has come under pressure from residents and residents’ associations over the economic and social rationale of the transaction. Several issues emerge nevertheless regarding how the city is developing, fulfil its vision and raise funds to meet its expenses.

The council has been succumbing to financial challenges that include poor revenue sources and mismanagement and embezzlement of funds at expense of service delivery.  Several questions remain unanswered: Is sale of part of Harare Gardens economically and socially justified? Does the council conduct fair and effective consultation process? Is the city’s vision realistic?

An areal view of Harare Gardens. Photo/Google Earth

Fulfilling a vague City vision

In justifying the need for the conference centre by African Sun, Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni mentioned the need for the city to achieve World Class city status by 2025. The realistic nature and effectiveness of the city’s vision is questionable however.  Two problems exist with the current city’s vision. First, in global ranking of cities,  a ‘world-class city’ is a status which has never been defined before regarding the benchmark and the indicators used to measure that. This leaves the status to self-definition. Second, if such a status existed it will be problematic since it presents cities in linearity form which ignores contextual differences across the globe.

Close to this vision of ‘world-class city’ are the popularly called, global cities which are nodes of global economic system. These are major cities which by their economy have become hubs of economic activity as manufacturing hubs, financial hubs, political hubs, or tourist hubs. Washington D.C is a global city as a political administrative centre, Paris is a tourist hub, London is a financial hub. Identifying trajectories towards a global city and linking it with the city’s current status, can enhance the vision towards better services and economic competitiveness. The narrative of ‘shoot for the moon, if you miss you land on the stars’ does not apply to the current vision since by ‘world-class city’ there are no clear targets (moon) defined. The African Urban Institute in its study on strategic planning of African cities found Harare as one of the cities with a ‘spaced-out’ vision that need revision to become a ‘blue-sky vision’ which is realistic, achievable and forward looking.

The challenge of unfair trade-off

Harare has been suffering from lack of adequate of public places in its inner city. There are three parks in the inner-city: Harare Gardens, Africa Unity Square and Greenwood Park. Of these three, Harare Gardens is largest the most preferred civic space for Africa Unity Square is small and ceremonial while Greenwood park is distant from the CBD. This make Harare Gardens (regardless of its poor state of maintenance) a unique inner city park located in the CBD. It holds the unique value which can be compared to that of Central Park in New York which is in the downtown of New York, making resident of the inner city close to nature. Hence equating Harare Gardens to other peripheral open spaces in Harare is unfair. This can be explained better by an urban tool, the transect which classify a city into 6 zones.

The Urban Transect. Credit/DPZ

Having Harare Gardens which belongs to Transect 1 in Transect 6 presents a unique value for urban residents who can be close to nature in an ever-expanding city and should not be taken for granted.

The sale of 2.2 hectares of Harare Gardens, is economically rational as the new conference centre becomes part of the critical urban renewal of the inner city which the city desperately need. It also attracts investment, increase conferences capacities in the city. Nevertheless, trading such public space for private property without adding value to civic space that is accessible by public is an unfair trade for residents and it is bound to face resistance. The use of proceeds from the land sale are critical in determining a fair trade in this transaction. The council emphasized, the $1.76 million will go into the council’s mainstream budget and allocated to priority areas. In the transaction, the council need to clarify to residents the alternatives civic spaces that it offers or how the proceeds of the sale will be utilised. By going into mainstream budget, residents know well from experience, the use of the money. Mainly salaries and other administrative expenses that have no direct value to the quality of service delivery such as improvement in ablution facilities or other civic spaces. With reduced civic spaces in the inner city, the city is also creating an unfavourable environment for commercial activities and investment in the inner city. The lack of quality inner civic spaces in the inner city has led to premium shopping malls such as Joina City to be congested with people who even have no business in the mall. It has become so congested that its management has a traffic control team. Such lack of civic space makes premium commercial uses flee the CBD since tenants at Joina city find the congestion unfavourable for their operations and overuse of their ablution facilities.

The city’s bureaucratic public consultation

The resistance by residents over the Council’s move to sell the part of Harare Gardens reveals the ineffectiveness of public consultation the city undertakes per its statutes. While deliberation of the sale started as early as 2016, no effective consultation has been conducted by the council. The council’s consultation procedure is designed to be restrictive since it perceives the residents as always opponents to its proposals. To object the sale of part of the gardens, one has to send the objection in writing to the Council a process which cannot be effective consultation since it lacks two-way communication. Thus, the public consultation conducted by the Council is mainly to fulfill the statutory requirements without much concern of the input from the residents.

The notification of the sale o Harare Gardens published in a national newspaper

Resistance to development in cities in Zimbabwe has not reached alarming rates as NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) is not yet prominent. People are still welcome to development. By continuing the path of bureaucratic consultation process, it creates a fertile ground such resistance. Civic spaces are already a critical challenge in Harare and the transaction is lessening them further. Public Consultation through town hall meetings prove effective for council to justify its decision. The current consultation process has been that of seeking endorsement, fulfilling a procedural step. Nevertheless, the details of participation are in the alternatives the council offers and the use of proceeds in service delivery. These alternatives should be put to the public for deliberations to have an inclusive development of civic spaces.

The caution over the environmental implications

One of the issues that have been raised by residents and environmentalists is the possible negative implications of the development on the rivulet and wetland in the Gardens. This is one challenge that is facing the city as environmentalists and urbanists are fighting over protection of environmental sanctuaries. In this debate, nevertheless, we should consider that urbanism is another form of environmentalism. Commercial uses are occupying a dense space that reduce automobile use instead of locating in suburban areas causing problems of sprawl. This takes on the need to put some of the rivers and rivulet in pipes with critical environmental consideration, to achieve environmentally sustainable urban density. One good example of the integration is Manhattan, the most densely populated region of New York. With its density, which accommodate more than 1.6million on a 59.1 km2 piece of land it has between 2 000 and 2 700 rivers and rivulets covered in pipes. If development had to stay away from these streams, it will be lesser denser and less walkable and connected than it is now, an urban form that reduce urban sprawl. In ensuring the environmental sustainability of the development, piping rivulets and streams that might exist will be more environmentally sustainable than to abstain from them for an inner-city development. Nevertheless, wetland areas need to be protected with the requirements needed for their continued existence.

The City council need to rethink comprehensively how it trade public spaces for commercial development. Increased decline in civic spaces in the inner city worsens state of inner city to an extend of even causing further flight of commercial users to the periphery. The transaction has demonstrated, the city’s consultation process is technically restrictive with no interest in residents’ contributions. Revision of the city’s vision is critical for it to be realistic.

This article was published in The Opinion.

Is Harare ready for Bus Rapid Transit System?

Bus Rapid Transit in Dar es Salaam

In January, 2017 the Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and National Housing took a delegation to Tanzania to draw lessons on the successful adoption of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Dar es Salaam. The visit highlighted three issues regarding Harare’s traffic woes. Traffic congestion is increasingly becoming alarming in the capital, Harare; BRT is the most applauded and most recommended alternative to address current traffic challenges; and authorities are referencing and drawing lessons from cities of neighbouring countries. The challenge of traffic congestion and unreliable, unsafe public transport provided by commuter omnibuses in Harare has been a hot topic for long now. There are long-time proposals by the City of Harare to adopt BRT to ease the traffic woes that have characterised the city. The proposals are gaining momentum since the A1 Taxi Company conducted a 3-months pilot in January 2015 along the city Mabvuku/Tafara route which it considered a success. One of the major cautions by traffic experts has been the need to regulate the metro bus system to restrict competition from other players.

A Street congested with Commuter Omnibuses in Harare

In this ongoing debate, however, four critical issues have not emerged in the same spotlight and are worth highlighting. The caution over traffic lanes expansion, the importance of concurrent inner city urban renewal, incentives for residents’ behavioural change. Most importantly is the viability of Harare’s current land use structure for an efficient BRT.

1.The risk of solving obesity by loosening the belt

To address the current traffic congestion, some policymakers are proposing for expansion of road infrastructure to accommodate the growing traffic in the city. Without discounting the need for road infrastructure upgrades, the ambition of solving traffic congestion by increasing lanes need to be adopted with caution. As early as 1950s, increasing traffic lanes was found to instead increase traffic congestion in the long run. The problem with increasing traffic lanes is that people use them.

Areal view of Harare inner city’s road network Photo/Google Earth

So, as traffic congestion is a constant for it expand to field capacity, solving congestion by increasing traffic lanes is popularly likened to solving obesity by loosening the belt. The current road sizes in the inner city are bi enough to ensure smooth floor of traffic. Increasing traffic lanes in the city need to be in strategic arterial roads as some expansions will trigger more congestion. Mixing land uses is one strategy that effectively reduce congestion as it eliminates or shorten travel trips in cities.

2. Mix of Land uses and urban density

The mix and density of land uses in urban areas are critical to the success of an efficient transport system. Land use structure is a major hindrance in the efficiency and expansion of BRT in cities of neighbouring countries. The density of land use (such as buildings with more floors to house more people) ensures a sustainable demand for travel each kilometre. Currently, Harare has been adopting a sprawling approach particularly to housing development. Most of Harare’s residential areas are single family housing units, single story buildings occupying a minimum of 250 square metres to thousands of square metres. Thus, it becomes more expensive to develop a BRT system per kilometre given the sprawling space it has to cover. The low-density also entail low traffic demand for majority of routes particularly to ensure viable seat replacement along the BRT corridor.

Since traffic congestion is a contact for it increase to field capacity, adding traffic lanes actually increase congestion in the long run

Mix of land uses is another critical factor that influence the success of BRT. Globally, land uses in cities used to be exclusively separated. Commercial areas, residential areas and industrial areas had specific separate zones. While this practice was popularised by industrial revolution, in South Africa where land use structure is constraining efficiency of BRTs, they are blaming this challenge on Apartheid planning system which was segregatory. Now, land uses of compatible form and functionality are being mixed. This has been a strategy regarded as the best solution to address traffic congestion for it eliminate or shorten travel distance by cars. For BRT, mix of land uses ensure viable bi-directional travel demand which makes routes viable for a regular timetable. Without mix of land uses, travel demand is mostly one-sided. Residents travel to work in the morning and travel from work in the evening a reason Harare has peak hour traffic congestion.

The settings of land use structure of Harare should be at the centre of debate on sustainable transport adoption. There have been efforts to promote mixed use development. In the inner city, commercial areas are expanding into neighbouring residential areas such as Eastlea and Avondale. Mixed use development need to be taken with caution however. With poor regulation and decisions over the percentage of mix, it has become more of ‘land use down-raiding’ than mixed use development. High value land uses (commercial) are displacing low value land uses (residential) for the urban periphery due to the decay of the inner city.

The economic inefficiencies caused by an unsustainable land use structure which currently characterise Harare will increase the BRT’s reliance on government subsidies to ensure affordable fares. Dar es Salaam is an example. Conflicts over affordable fares sparked controversy among operators, the Tanzanian government, and residents. Given the volatility of our economy, reliance on subsidies will jeopardise the success of the BRT. The inefficiencies also impact the prospects of transport corridor expansion as with such an expense per km the system will not be able to generate enough revenue for expansion of routes. For example, since 2010, the City of Cape Town and the South African Government have spent about USD 20 million to operate a BRT in Cape Town but generating only USD 4 million in revenues. The Cape Town BRT cannot sustain itself without external financial injection. As City of Harare draw lessons and reference adoption of similar BRT system in neighbouring countries it is critical to draw balanced lessons of what made them succeed and fail for better informed adoption.

3. Shifting the travel behaviour of urban residents

To complement the regulation of the metro buses that has been advocated by traffic experts, behaviour of urban residents is another critical challenge to be addressed. For more than 20 years now, urban residents are used to the convenience of multiple commuter omnibuses that have no stipulated timetables. Adjusting that behaviour requires integrated efforts of regulatory enforcement and behavioural economics. Without a change in behaviour, commuter omnibuses will continue operating, serving the niche of convenience. Other than the regulation, the city requires to work with behavioural economists to determine the incentives that will ensure an effective transition from commuter omnibuses to the timetabled metro bus system.

4. The essence of concurrent inner city urban renewal

We should also remember; the adoption of BRT system requires to be an integral part of inner city urban renewal. The inner city has been succumbing to urban decay for years now. Without the urban renewal, mixed use development will prove to be difficult and the demography that make up the inner city currently will not sustain a viable operation of the Bus Rapid Transit system. This is so because an efficient BRT system should also incentivise motorists to return to public transport. Currently significant part of motorists left the inner city for suburban office parks and residential areas due to decay of the inner city. In adoption of the bus transport system, successional urbanism is important. Most recent projects have been launching project to climax from the start such as operating all possible routes from the onset. This leaves room for adjusting to lessons drawn from the operation of few bus routes. In the case that the city of Harare adopts BRT, BRT Lite (BRT with reduced functionality such as automatic ticketing) should be its highest consideration for it has reduced operational cost such as the  MoveWindhoek. The success of Lagos’s BRT-Lite compared to the comprehensive BRT of Cape Town is good evidence to this. The city’s failure to address these four critical issues will only lead to a bus system which cannot sustain itself without external financial injections and cannot expand to new routes.

This article was published by The Opinion in collaboration with the African Urban Institute.

UN Urban: The Politics of language in Human Settlements Financing


In the international development, the emergence of new ideas and policy issues as well as scarce funding for development have led to the notion of transform or perish among development organisation. UN Habitat has been one organisation on the periphery of the UN system facing relevance and funding challenges as urban issues evolve and proliferate in language and scope.

The assessment on the effectiveness of UN Habitat by a High Level Independent Panel appointed by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres concluded with a flagship recommendation, establishment of UN Urban. Proposed as a coordinating agency, UN Urban will bring together UN agencies on urban issues that forms the current operational work of UN Habitat. Thus, it will pool funding, expertise, interest and knowledge on implementation of the New Urban Agenda across the UN system. This came after three major findings by the panel. The findings include (i) tensions between normative and operational roles of the organisation thus working at both policy and technical levels, (ii) bureaucratic governance structures and (iii) financial incapacity. Normative work implies the norms, policies, standards and framework that govern human settlements while operational work is the tangible, technical projects in the field.

Established in 1978, UN-Habitat is a non-resident agency of the United Nations headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. It has four regional offices (Africa in Nairobi; the Arab States in Cairo; Asia and the Pacific in Fukuoka; Latin America and the Caribbean in Rio de Janeiro). It also has five Liaison and information offices in developed countries and 55 country offices. In its existence, the Habitat Conferences are a turnaround and pivotal to the transformation of UN Habitat. The first conference led to the formation of the organisation, where the second conference strengthened and now the third is guiding the institution’s reform.

Habitat Conferences: The transformation lever of UN-Habitat

The establishment and transformation of UN Habitat is guided by the flagship United Nations Conferences on Human Settlements (Habitat I II III) held every 20 years. In these conferences, the UN Habitat has been using transformation language and expansion of mandates to survive the funding challenges that development organisations face in an ever-increasing competitive world of development financing. Formed from Habitat I Conference by amalgamation of the Commission on Human Settlements and United Nation Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS Habitat) it became UN-Habitat in 1978. In the late 1990s the organisation faced an identity crisis and funding difficulties. The Habitat II in 1996 with the Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements and the Habitat Agenda incorporated some trending issues into the urban agenda. These include poverty eradication, sustainability, environmental protection, respect of human rights and freedom restoring the relevance of the organisation. The increased portfolio was strengthened by UN Habitat turned into a programme in 2002, the UN Human Settlements Programme and appointment of a new director, Anna Tibaijuka who changed the face of the organisation. The Habitat III conference held in Quito in 2016 placed cities at the centre of achieving sustainable development though the New Urban Agenda. The recommendations from the Habitat conferences have been to increase the relevance of urban development as an “idea in good currency” for funding competitiveness.

The decline of funding for urban development

The intensity of funding decline for human settlements programmes was recognised as early as 2005. Major partners of Cities Alliance (such as UN Habitat, USAID, SIDA, World Bank, CIDA, GTZ, DFID) iterated the increasing competition for funding from other development issues. These issues washed away the public support for urban development compared to other issues such as conflicts, HIV/AIDS pandemics, and post-conflict reconstruction. The notion of funding availability for urban development in the age of competing funding needs relies on whether urban development is still an “idea in good currency” or not. As powerful for public policy formulation, Donald Schön characterised “an idea in good currency” as an idea that “…change over time; obey a law of limited numbers; and lag behind changing events”. Resilience of ideas against being driven out by new ideas is pertinent. This is particularly so for urban development which began in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the now UN Habitat was formed at the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat I).

Several ideas have become of good currency ranking higher in international policy agenda partly attributed to a matter of language and paradigm shift. Sustainable development, good governance (relating to wider set of environmentalism and democratisation) which are more appealing to Western publics are encompassing the concept of urban. A good example is the World Bank that moved from the ‘Site and Services’ projects it offered in the 1970s particularly housing to address challenges up the chain of housing delivery, corruption. Thus, it now mainly focuses on good governance of institutions that provide urban services. Struggling informal settlements upgrading in a world of rights, conflicts, environmental crisis has led to UN reintroduce the controversial term ‘slum’ into the habitat vocabulary, through the Cities Alliance initiative, “Cities Without Slums”. This is a dangerous term as Alan Gilbert warned on the negative connotation associated with it and the incite instant solutions by government so get rid of slums. Nevertheless, the UN introduced the initiative to particularly publicise the seriousness of informal settlements in developing countries to development financiers in efforts to attract more funding for slum upgrading.

Scope versus strength in UN-Habitat mandates reforms

One of the key influence to the proposal for establishment of UN Urban is the tensions between normative and operational work of UN Habitat. Financial incapacity is a major influence behind operational work overshadowing normative work.  It is critical to consider that reducing UN Habitat’s scope (from operational and normative to just normative) will not reduce its strength as an ‘urban champion’. UN Habitat’s normative work is supported by non-earmarked core funding while operational work receives support through field projects, technical cooperation funds and special purpose funds. As operational budget, is greater than the critical normative, the organisation has been regarded as a consulting agency given the way to explore funding outside the UN for operational work. This has been attributed to decreasing core funding that left UN Habitat with no choice but to solicit operational work beyond the UN.

The Panel found that member states are worried about the declining normative work by the UN Habitat and the need to strengthen its normative role. Also, the funding trends also shows worrying figures regarding the future of normative work. In the SG’s report on reform of the development system, decline of funding over the past 10 years is noted as funding continue to decrease. UN Habitat’s budget comprise of UN regular budget allocations, UN Habitat and Human Settlements Foundation contributions and technical cooperation contributions. The decline of regular budget funding and the foundation’s general purpose funding for UN Habitat’s normative work (about 7 percent budget in 2016 or 11.5 percent if overhead are included) has led to increased reliance on technical cooperation funding and the foundation’s special purpose funding amounting to 88 percent of the overall funding in 2016. The panel highlighted the straying of UN Habitat from its mandate has led to loss of trust by its funding sources. It is critical to explore how the tighter focus on normative work will ensure adequate funding to sustain UN Habitat throughout the next twenty years given the ever-declining UN system funds.  By reducing its scope, the proposal should make sure they do not weaken UN Habitat’s strength as the ‘urban champion’ in implementation of the NUA. Thus, research should be highlighted and play a critical role in bridging the normative work and operational work to be coordinated by the UN Urban. Elevation of the role of research will also strengthen the synergy between normative work and the operational work that will be coordinated by the newly established agency, UN Urban.

The successful establishment of UN Urban will be pivotal in placing urban agenda at the core of the UN system as various agencies contribute their share and collaborate. In the smoothening of normative and operational mandates of UN Habitat it is critical to ensure the strength of UN Habitat is enhanced for in events of the interest generated by establishment of UN Urban declines, UN Habitat remain the guardian agency of urban issues in the UN system.

Gilbert Alan (2008) The Return of the Slum: Does Language Matter? International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 31(4) 697–713

Schön, Donald A (1971), Beyond the Stable State, Temple Smith, London, pages 123–124.

United Nations, (2017) Report of the High Level Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance Effectiveness of UN-Habitat. Advance Unedited Version 01 August 2017

This article was first published by African Urban Institute and is republished with permission.

The sustainability irony of suburban solar carports


African cities are in a race to keep up with the global trend of environmental sustainability and renewable energy in urban areas. At the same time the rapid urbanisation worsened by inner city decay has led to the rise of suburbanisation in most African cities. As a result, the suburban areas and suburban commercial centres are gaining popularity, both among environmentalists and urbanists in African cities. Far off the beat however is the emerging trend of installation of solar panels on rooftops of parking lots at suburban shopping centres.

The rise of suburban solar carports in African cities

The idea of solar carports in African has been advocated for mainly by retail companies who seek to reduce their environmental footprint. This is critical for their sustainable business competitiveness and reducing the energy costs of their business. In Nairobi, Kenya, two companies, SolarAfrica and Solar Century installed 3,300 solar panels at the car parking lot of the Garden City Mall a 32-acre Garden City Development along the Thika Superhighway. The solar carport which opened in September 2016 will be generating an estimate of 1,256MWh a year cutting carbon emissions by 745 tonnes a year[1]. Other than energy generation, the solar carport at the mall is intended to attract more customers for a weather protected parking facility.

Makro Stores Solar Carport

Not far from Kenya is South Africa, where Makro Stores is spearheading installation of solar panels at parking lots of its stores. After its first installation on parking lots on Carnival store in Brakpan, Makro Stores is now embarking on a countrywide installation.  Makro Stores has so far reported an estimate of 193 tonnes in carbon emissions, saving about 100 tonnes of coal and 267 000 litres of water. Solar panels on parking lots of shopping centres surely reduces operating cost of retailers, not to mention the environmental certifications they may get for energy efficiency there by increasing their competitiveness and lure more prospective investors who are concerned about the environmental sustainability of the companies.

Suburban solar carports around the world

Solar Carport City of Los Angeles

It is out of these merits that solar panels on suburban parking lots has gained momentum globally. There is a growing number of solar carports mostly suburban shopping centres. Los Angeles, one of the most automobile dependent city in United States has been experiencing a rise of solar carports. The City’s Department of Water and Power has been embarking on installing solar panels at parking lots to maximise the unused space in parking[2].  In Hull, England the City has been installing solar panels on the multi-storey car parks generating energy which feeds into the power grid[3]. In June 2016, New South Wales’s Sydney Markets boasted the largest purposely-built solar carport in Australia, a total of 911kw of solar energy to the Market[4]. It is not exclusively an African cities phenomenon. Nevertheless, for African cities the trend has been in resonance with the increasing suburban sprawl most cities are experiencing. The urban population growth in African cities has led to suburban housing, increase in car ownership and automobile dependency and proliferation of suburban shopping centres. As if this trend is enough to squeal loud for urban sprawl renewal, the emergence of suburban solar carports is contrary.

Environmental morality and negative environmentalism

In recent years of environmental movement, there has been a rise in adoption of fragmented approaches to sustainability. Suburban solar carports are one of the environmental approach which lack holistic overview of sustainability in context of a city. Urbanists and environmentalists have been fighting urban suburban sprawl for long. In efforts to repair urban sprawl in emerging cities, solar carports provide cosmetics to environmentalism at the loss of sustainability progress. As Andres Duany characterised it, giving second breath of life to suburbia by putting an ethical overlay on it, the proliferation of suburban solar carports, portray environmentalists as living in harmony with suburbia.

The rise of automobile ownership and dependency in emerging cities is of critical sustainability concern. ‘Thanks’ to solar carports, for the environmental immorality of automobile dependency is cushioned by solar carports as shopping centres lure more customers at a lower operating cost. On a serious note, the proliferation of suburban solar carports at city level retrogress the progress towards repair of urban sprawl. The sprawl repair efforts are affected by suburban automobiles’ newly gained ‘environmental ethics’ for doing good to the environmental through renewable energy. At the end the proliferation of solar carports yield negative environmental effects of increasing automobile dependency and its contribution to carbon emissions.

In designing urban environmental solutions, be it energy, transport or vegetation preservation, it is critical to consider the holistic view. Small-scale environmental interventions can impact the sustainability of the city if not scale-proofed. Suburban carports (driven by retailers in African cities and surprisingly by municipalities in developed economies) poses a challenge for overall sustainability. The viability of solar energy as sustainable alternative energy is influence by how its setting affects other environmental parameters of the city. In this case the suburban sprawl and automobile dependency. Otherwise this solar-carports proliferation in the name of environmentalism tend to portray “suburbia is here to stay”.

[1] The Star. Africa’s largest solar carport is turned on.
[2] WashingtonPost The Best idea in a long time. Covering parking lots with solar panels. 
[3] Hull Dailymail. Solar Panels help power council buildings
[4] Renew Economy. Sydney Market Solar car park to be Australia’s largest as new install takes capacity to 911kw

This article was published in collaboration with the African Urban Institute

What happened at Habitat III


Every 20 years the world convene to talk exclusively about the future of cities. In 2016, the Habitat III conference gathered more than 30 000 ministers, mayors, policymakers, urbanists, and allied professionals. Quito the capital city of Ecuador hosted the four-day United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development popularly known as Habitat III. Flagship launch at the conference was the New Urban Agenda, a 23-page document that is a 20-year guide to urbanisation and human settlements.

Habitat III is third in a series of the urban conferences. The first conference was in 1976 and the second conference in 1986. The third conference, which happened after transcended urbanisation trends globally, 20 years after the last conference, challenged the conference to be futuristic and concrete on setting the sustainability agenda of cities. The conference came as a ‘reinvigoration’ of global political commitment to sustainability of towns, cities and other human settlements. The reinvigoration together with the pledges and obligations came to be the New Urban Agenda, a new strategy on urbanisation for the next 20 years.

What is the New Urban Agenda?

Flagship adoption at the conference was the New Urban Agenda, which lists 175 commitments and principles to guide the visions of cities for the next 20 years. After four months of drafting and revising which was characterised by negotiations, the 193 member states officially signed and adopted the agenda on the 20th of October 2016. The negotiations of the drafting faced constraints as diplomats disagreed over the language and the role of the UN Habitat in driving the agenda particularly the “rights to the city” narrative. Such contentions illustrate possible hurdles in the implementation of the agenda by member states.

Key issues in the agenda are climate change, safer and efficient public transit systems, ending of extreme poverty, urban equality and social justice, with emphasis on migration. Key to note on governance issues was the emphasis on the leading role of national governments in setting up national urban strategies. Such localisation empowered the prominence of mayors as key in international urbanisation issues. Local authorities and grassroots received attention for inclusion in the agenda though without further detail of their inclusion and on ‘appropriate’ conditionality. A prior World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders in Bogota from 12-15 October concretised empowerment of local leaders, where local leaders outlined their role in the agenda. In the age of cities as economic engines and global economic powerhouses, the “right to the city” seek to create “cities for people, not for profit”. This challenges planning to revert to its primary role of serving public interest.

Key themes discussed at Habitat III

Several issued were discussed at the conference and key among them were housing, migration, infrastructure, climate change and inclusiveness. Inclusiveness was the conference’s key theme by granting right to the city. Housing was a key narrative for inclusiveness in its provision as a basic need. Of course, it came with criticism on how a universal policy can be transformed into a local success given the variations on urban housing provision. Inclusion of migrants and refugees in the cities was another key component of inclusiveness emphasised by “right to the city”. This narrative also pushed the need for local and regional leaders to have a seat on the global discussion tables without the influence of national governments, for migration is a global issue. The infrastructure theme provoked the urban finance issue as local leaders are in quest for direct access to international finance for their cities and towns.

The Post- Habitat III

The success of the Habitat III conference lies mainly in the successfulness of the New Urban Agenda. As a global policy and strategic guideline until 2036. The success of the New Urban Agenda, however, is constrained by its non-binding nature and lack of practical advice to the local and regional leaders on how to drive the urban agenda differently. The agenda outlines the need to produce evidence from implementation. What the agenda misses though are indicators of implementation progress and ways of measuring progress. As the dust settles from the flagship conference, what remains to answer is how does the Agenda incentivise city inclusiveness in the hostile forces of cities as economic engines? How will it keep the excitement of empowered local leaders intact for the next 20 years? Empowerment of local governments was a key outcome of the Agenda. Coming to implementation possibilities of local government power and financial autonomy being considered a zero-sum game can constrain the whole framework of the agenda.

On the Edge: Harare’s Urban Heritage and forces of Urban Informality

Manica Cycle Building integrated into Steir Kinekor

Historic buildings in Harare that shape the city’s urban heritage are on the verge of collapse. Efforts to prevent further demolitions and alterations have been initiated but are these efforts going to hold back the forces of informality?

In 2015, the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) and the City of Harare (CoH) launched the Historic Building Plaque Project. This was a project to setup plagues on historic buildings marking them for protection from any alteration or demolitions. This project came after alarming demolitions and alterations of historic building in Harare without consent of the regulatory authorities.

Historic buildings in Zimbabwe are protected under the Building Preservation Order (BPO), which prevents them from demolition or architectural alteration for their awarded architectural merit. The buildings awarded architectural merit have survived more than 50years and some dates from 1910. Flagship buildings include Market Hall, The Ranch House College, Queen’s Hotel, Parliament of Zimbabwe, Mashonganyika Building and Cecil House.  Most buildings are located along Robert Mugabe Road and the rest scattered around the city. The NMMZ Act Chapter 25:11 and the Regional Town and Country Planning (RTCP) Act Chapter 29:12 stipulate protection of all historic buildings by law. The Acts requires owners to notify NMMZ and CoH at least 14 days before the work starts on protected buildings.

Building Preservation in age of Informality

There is a remarkable variation in historic building preservation in Harare. From prestigiously preserved Cecil House in Northern region of the Central Business District (CBD) to the dilapidating Corner House and White House building in the Southern region of the CBD.

Fereday and Sons Building
Fereday and Sons Building

Most buildings along Robert Mugabe Road have been subject to uses not compatible with age of the buildings, which has led to structural damage and decay. Most of these buildings are used for retailing, hardware stores and as office space for small to medium enterprises. Other than general decay of location these buildings, historic buildings also succumb from low value caused by restrictive zoning ordinance on building heights. They also lack  improvements in ablution facilities to cater for current uses. The Market Hall is one of the oldest civic structure, which was used for council offices, motor spares and warehouse. This was later turned into a people’s market in 1900s and now a flea market as Gulf bazaar. Nevertheless, Manica Cycle building (corner Robert Mugabe Road and Sam Nujoma Avenue) is one of the most successful preservation projects in that region. It was integrated into a redevelopment, Steir Kinekor without architectural alteration. Other buildings include Standard Bank buildings and Meikles shop which maintained their original use and tenants.

Manica Cycle Building integrated into Steir Kinekor
Manica Cycle Building integrated into Steir Kinekor

On the Northern, side of the CBD is the existence of well-preserved and sustainably occupied historic buildings. Flagship among them are Cecil House, Mashonganyika building (Supreme Court), Munhumutapa building, Parliament building, and St Mary Cathedral building. Most of these buildings are occupied by functionally compatible uses, and have sustainable occupancy that matches ablution capacity. Financial capability to maintain the character of the buildings is major influence to the differences. Financially less capable owners and/tenants in the Southern part struggle to maintain the buildings.  Such disparities illustrate the divide in how historic buildings are being preserved and underlying challenges leading to dilapidation of buildings in other parts of the city.

Cecil House in Harare
Cecil House in Harare

Efforts to address these dilapidation and demolition problems have been oriented towards regulatory tightening as preservation methods are outdated and legislation is inadequate. Efforts to preserve the buildings also rose as renovation of some buildings was including compartmentalisation without consent of the Local Planning Authorities at the damage of architectural preservation.  Smart growth adoption and rise of small to medium enterprises that increased the demand for commercial space are major factors to urban heritage dilapidation.

Rethinking Heritage Preservation in Transition

Disparities in historic buildings preservation in Harare are evident. The properly maintained and sustainably occupied buildings on the Northern side of CBD buildings. On the other hand are dilapidating buildings in Southern region as tenants lack adequate funds to effectively preserve them as well as incapacity of ablution facilities for overcrowded uses.

Harare adopted preservation regulatory instruments of cities in developed economies, which are now experiencing stable urban development. Harare is in transition characterised by informality. Given the disparities of the state of the historic buildings segmenting the Building Preservation Order application, can  be an effective way of saving the historic buildings which are on the brink of collapse. Integration, as evidenced by success of Manica cycle building could be an alternative comprehensive measure to restore the historic buildings in dilapidation along Robert Mugabe Road. In this way, Historic buildings will be the drivers of urban renewal in the sections of the city succumbing to urban decay thereby playing vital role in shaping the urban fabric. This could also change the perception of country-orientated heritage tourism in Zimbabwe, as urban heritage tourism blossom from these historic buildings integration projects.

Political barriers of regarding historic buildings as colonial legacies can be a deterrent to the preservation projects, which mostly lack enough funding and human capital to inspect and enforce legislation. Fore fronting historic buildings as vantage points for urban renewal through integration, projects can prove to be effective way of incentivising historic buildings preservations in the decaying regions. The Historic Building Plaque Project may prove to be a successful initiative as an informative initiative. Preservation goes beyond awareness. The economic challenges of funding preservation by incapable tenants requires economic intervention other than legislation and awareness.

This article was first published by Urbanizim Institute

Debunking New Urbanism in Harare


Harare is evidencing a new wave of urbanisation and urban development in the past five years, characterised as New Urbanism, but is it so? If it is, how effective is its application in Harare?

The Herald of September 12, 2011 featured an article New Urbanism the way to go which explained and justified the new pattern in development as a model of best practice. Relating to recent urban development as New Urbanism in its aspiration to become a world-class city by 2025, Harare faces challenges in designing and executing New Urbanism approach.

New Urbanism is an urban planning movement started in the United States after the peaking of oil, which led to the choking of suburbanisation. As a sustainable model for planning 21st-century cities, the approach is adopted globally as best practice. New urbanism has ten principles that form the pillars of urban sustainability, shown in tab below:

[toggle title=”Ten Principles of New Urbanism” load=”hide”]1. Walkability: Most services within 10-minute walk of home and work
2. Connectivity: Interconnected street grid network spreads traffic and eases walking
3. Mixed-use and Diversity: A mix of shops, offices, apartments, and homes on-site, neighbourhoods and blocks,Diversity of people – of ages, income levels, cultures, and races
4. Mixed-use housing: A range of types, sizes and prices in closer proximity
5. Quality of Architecture and Urban Design: Emphasis on beauty, aesthetics, human comfort, and creating a sense of place
6. Traditional Neighbourhood Structure: Importance of quality public realm; public open space designed as civic art
7. Increased Density: More buildings, houses, shops, and services closer together for ease of walking
8. Green Transportation: A network of high-quality trains connecting places & pedestrian friendly designs
9. Sustainability: Eco-friendly technologies, respect for ecology and value of natural systems
10. Quality of Life: Taken together these add up to a high quality of life well worth living

Source: CNU Charter, 2005

Fragmented Principles in Harare

New urbanism has been adopted in cities in a comprehensive approach. Its principles are interconnected and complementary in functionality. Fragmenting the principles can create more challenges than it solves. Critical to note are the four principles of walkability, mixed use, densification, and green transportation. For example, densification without mass transit worsens traffic congestion; walkable communities without mixed use planning will increase pedestrian travel distance while mass transport system without densification causes transport inefficiency. The new urbanism principles in Harare nevertheless is fragmented in its application. As Harare seeks to address the urbanisation challenges of inner city decay, traffic congestion and urban sprawl comprehensiveness is vital in designing urban renewal projects. The current approach has led to the following challenges in New Urbanism application.

Mixed-Use Development and the risk of Land-use “Downraiding”

In 2014, City of Harare enacted Statutory Instrument 216 that allows commercial land uses in residential zones. Behind this was an increasing demand for commercial uses outside the Central Business District (CBD) due to rise of small to medium enterprises and decay of the inner city. As some commercial activities left CBD for office parks, other encroached the nearby residential zones including Avondale, Milton Park, Belvedere, Eastlea, Newlands and Highlands. Thus, the City of Harare expanded the CBD boundary to accommodate the expanding demand for commercial uses. Nevertheless, this was potrayed as mixed-use development in keeping with modern urban development trends.

Harare CBD Expansion

Given the importance of strong regulatory instruments in mixed use planning, the loose regulation has led to land-use ‘downraiding’, where high-value land-uses (commercial) displaces the low-value land-uses (residential) for the urban periphery. These displaced residents are moving to the suburban areas creating further sprawl to the already problematic sprawl in Harare. In the end the degree of mix in the expanded CBD if remain unchecked creates more problem that it initially seek to address. This is evident for example the long-time proposed mixed use in Inner city through Local Development Plan 22 that covered the northern region of the CBD. Combined with economic turmoil the area’s residential allocation was overtaken by commercial uses and the remaining residential uses are in dilapidation.

Green Transport: Mind the distance mind the mix

Harare faces remarkable periodic traffic congestion challenges within its inner-city. Centralisation of commercial activities and unsustainability of the current mode of transport, commuter omnibuses are main factors to congestion. City of Harare has been embarking on proposals to address the congestion challenge by reintroducing the mass transport system of the conventional buses. There have been negotiations with an Indian company, Passenger Utility Transport Company (PUTC) to supply 500 65-seater buses worth US$58 million for the A1 Metro bus system. As one of the fundamental pillars of new urbanism, mass transit needs complement of mixed use planning and densification for it to be effective. Mixed use determines the travel patterns of the urban residents. Low mix of uses entail one-sided travel pattern as people travel to work and services all at once and conversely. Also a major cause of periodic congestion in Harare. Densification is also fundamental as density influences the efficiency of mass transport systems. Calibrated effectively, mixed-use planning and densification shortens or eliminate travel trip of urban residents.

Commuter bus rank in Harare
Commuter bus rank in Harare

The proposal for mass transit system in Harare is happening at the peaking of urban decay of the inner city. The inner-city has been characterised by commercial uses leaving for the nearby residential suburbs a process explained earlier and interpreted as new urbanism but rather not. Some of the vacuum left by these commercial uses have been replaced by the retail sector, informal trading. In adopting mass transit system, demographic analysis is key to map out the travel behaviour and likely patterns. On the current state of the inner-city, adopting mass transit in isolation of other principles entail providing mass transit to the informal economy and the retail sector. This demography has different travel patterns compared to the formal and business sector’s travel behaviour which inner city mass transit is designed on by default. Contextualisation of the mass transit system is fundamental for green transportation projects to be effective especially in a volatile economic environment.

The Challenges Densification faces

Several initiatives and plans to densify Harare have not materialised the way they have been planned. Particularly attributed to the economic challenges for densification to be financially viable, the construction industry has been hit hard. Example is the redevelopment of the Kopje area. Efforts to densify the area led to the success of two high-rise buildings including Kopje Plaza and surrounded by dilapidated buildings as well as informal practices. As new urbanism is being used to revitalise the city, incentives are necessary to promoted densification as well as regulatory adjustment to facilitate densification.

New Urbanism and Participatory Planning

One of the objectives of New Urbanism to concretise the sense of community in urban neighbourhood. Citizen participation plays pivotal role in determining the concerns of the urban community. Looking at Harare, the participation side requires a shift. The earlier featured article illustrated how concerns and objections of urban residents were disregarded as the City of Harare paved way for the commercial uses in residential areas in the name of modern trends. Given that the objections that were raised indicated an imbalance in mix of uses, urban planners proceed to follow market forces and jeopardise the sense of community in these zones.

Moving ahead

As the city of Harare proceeds in initiatives to accommodate the increasing urban demands, comprehensiveness in design of its plans is crucial. Blueprinting best practice models requires contextualisation and New Urbanism is about context. The four principles if adopted in fragmentation can set the city on a retrogressive path as it develops. Thus, participatory planning and external shock-proofing of the development plans plays a fundamental role in determining the success of the urban development interventions. It is important to remember that while New Urbanism and Smart growth (twins separated at birth) are for the same outcome, new urbanism is conceived as private-sector and market driven. Smart growth is government policy oriented in enactment of regulatory frameworks. Harare should determine its priorities and design comprehensive approach to address the concerns of the local communities.

This article was first published by Urbanizim Institute 

Behind the African Union Passport and Challenges Ahead


The 27th African Union (AU) Summit ended with a flagship launch in Kigali on 18 July 2016. The African Union passport was launched at the summit, a step seeking to facilitate the free movement of people and commodities within the continent.

This launch followed a year after the signing of Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) in June 2015 combining COMESA, SADC and EAC regional communities. Rwandan President Paul Kagame (Summit host President) and Chadian President Idriss Déby (African Union Chairperson) were the first recipients of the AU diplomatic passport, a launch that set 2018 as target for completion by member states. The e-passport comprises of diplomatic passport for heads of states, passport for frequent business travellers as well as passport for the rest of the African citizens. The launch has received mixed reactions most of them regarding it as a blue-sky idea farfetched for a continent with multiplicity of challenges. Not far from the reactions, the passport launch has its root motives and has challenges lying ahead of its expectancy.

About the African Union e-passport

The AU e-passport proposal was raised by some member states in 2014 as a follow-up to the implementation of the Agenda 2063. This came as a remedy to Africa’s low level of visa openness. Looking at the timeline of Agenda 2063, the launch is one, which also acted as a ‘quick win’ in the implementation process. This quick win is intended to motivate and increase the commitment of member states to Agenda 2063 as it also aligns with the TFTA agreement. As the passport is a response to member states (Seychelles, Mauritius, Senegal and Rwanda) who pushed for it, a few member states do not recognise it. This illustrates the challenge the passport will face in its efforts to challenge the status quo of member states with least visa openness. Furthermore, the AU passport was an initiative to leapfrog the bureaucratic process of negotiating with member states on increasing their visa openness where currently only 13 out of 55 member states offer liberal access (allow all Africans to enter without visa or to get one on arrival).

The Challenges Lying Ahead

Other than the acknowledged merits of the passport which cut across economic, political, social  and environmental spectrum, five critical challenges pose risk to the successful implementation of the AU e-passport.

  • Non-compliance by Outlier-Member States

One thing to remember is that regional integration in Africa builds on the cooperation to fight challenges rather than cooperation to maximise the strengths of member states. As such, this form of integration is vulnerable to member states’ economic boom, as they tend to regionally diverge during their boom and commit less to Regional Economic Communities. One example is Angola as the SADC’s reluctant trader during its oil exploration. As such, member states who realise the possibility of large waves of labour migration such as South Africa may be reluctant to adopt the AU passport. Critical to note is to look as how the AU passport proposal unfolded. The countries in the top 20 of Visa openness (Seychelles, Mauritius, Senegal and Rwanda) were the major proponents of the passport. As this resemble the status quo on visa openness, the lack of enthusiasm and fore-fronting   by member states on the bottom of the continent’s visa openness renders the role of the AU passport cumbersome.

  • Member States’ Incapacity

A common lesson from AU’s 50 years of experience is that member states lack adequate capacity to implement the continent’s flagship initiatives. From the Lagos Action Plan, Monrovia Declaration the commitments have not seen much fruition since member states mainly lack capacity to implement them. AU passport is another launch to face such a drawback. Majority of member countries on the bottom of visa openness index which the passport seeks to address also lack capacity to manage effectively the administration of their own passports. Given that, the AU e-passport uses the biometric system, which only 13 countries in Africa currently offer, it poses pressure on countries with less capacity to execute effectively the initiative. This might be in turn a justification not to implement the initiative. Given the incapacity challenge, the popular reaction among African citizen has been why not directly interrogate the visa openness of the less open countries without imposing the administrative burden of a new passport. While the continent-wide system will have to rely on the trust of each member states to avoid passport fraud, the incapacity of other member states might render the whole system vulnerable to passport fraud.

  • Lack of Marginal-Proofing

As African Union has member states in different stages of development, the launch of the AU e-passport will affect member states differently. Among the most affected members are the less developed countries who have their industrialisation in infancy or in stagnation. These are the countries, which are facing high level of labour emigration and the common challenge of brain drain. The introduction of the passport if unchecked will worsen the labour emigration of these countries. In this case, marginal proofing of the initiative is crucial which could harmonise the AU passport with the Commission’s industrialisation strategy to maintain the development balances. This is another case of development initiatives, which are focusing more on migration of labour than regional distribution of industries.

  • Harmonisation of African Citizenship

The launch of the AU e-passport faces the citizenship law variations across Africa. There are variations in Citizenship law across the continent where almost 50% of member states recognise dual citizenship while the rest do not, variations in the right to a nationality. Given the considerable pool of African Diaspora, the AU commission also has a responsibility to align the initiative with harmonisation of the passport to various citizenship laws and how the populace which is considered stateless or with refugee status will be addressed in the implementation of the e-passport. This extends to need for clarifications on how member states  address the refugee policy which can be controversial since refugee policy has been discretion of member states.

  • Musical Chair Syndrome

The AU e-passport launch happened at the twilight of Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s chairpersonship. While the outgoing chairperson ticked it as a flagship achievement, the passport is yet to face the test of change in leadership during its two years of implementation (2016-2018).The change in the chairpersonship is going to have considerable impact on the progress of adoption of the Pan-African passport on top of the commission’s monitoring and evaluation challenges. As such, it risks becoming another flagship initiative, which will lack a follow-up in its implementation until the excitement goes away.

As Africa execute its 50-year road map the Agenda 2063, the AU e-passport proves to be supportive of other pillars. Other than the recommendations to the challenges lying ahead of the passport, and learning from the Union’s 50 years of existence, it is imperative to realise that a series of small fixes to the existing system could be the continent’s next big thing.