ArchiAfrika 2011 conference: discussing the future of African cities

City outskirts Casablanca. Photo: Olivier Jobard (Courtesy of post-traumaticurbanism.com)

The urbanization of the African metropolis is an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of humankind, as urban growth is no longer directly linked to industrial or economic growth. One of the biggest challenges is, therefore, to find solutions to accommodate the ever-growing number of urbanites who live in these rapidly growing cities, and devise ways in which new forms of post-industrial production can take place.

The periphery of African cities has always played an important role as a zone of absorption or reception for new developments. It has not only been a site of urban extension, the dwelling location of newcomers or the refuge for outcasts of the city center. Moreover, it has functioned as an important locus of acculturation into city life and a vivid zone of transition between rural and urban ways of living. Within the contemporary African metropolis the question of the periphery gains topicality as it is increasingly defined as the new living zones for those at the top (gated communities) and the bottom (shantytowns) of the economical spectrum.

Can the periphery of African cities be thought of as a full-fledged part of the city that reaches beyond a mono-functional zone for dwelling? How can the connections between city center and periphery be conceived? Does the open character of the periphery offer the opportunity to think about a new combination of productive and consumptive landscapes?

All these issues were part of the discussion at 2011 African Perspectives conference, a symposium that brings together top academics and professionals engaged in design and architectural work around the continent. The conference, organized by ArchiAfrika (co-founded by African Architecture Matters director Berend van der Lans) out of the Netherlands, was held from November 3-7, 2011 in Casablanca, Morocco (the biggest city in the Maghreb).  This year’s main theme was the ‘The African Metropolis’, offering the challenging topic of urban growth in Africa.

One of the projects presented at the conference was ANAM, a brainchild of Dr. Aloy & Gesare Chife Foundation. It is simultaneously a model city and a new model for sustainable development in Africa. A project that fundamentally reorganizes society in order to bring about real and lasting change, Anam City is variably referred to as agropolitan or rurban in development planning circles — that combines the benefits of modern urban living with those of rural communities and traditional productive landscapes.

The next conference will be held in 2013 in Nigeria.

A man roams the outskirts of the medina. Casablanca, 2009. (courtesy of seanstiller.com)

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