Addis Is Wide Awake

There is an amazing construction boom shaping the silhouette of Addis Ababa city scape to new heights. Steel and glass are now competing with all things old and organic. But some things never change: neighbourhoods such as Piassa, Arat Kilo, Siddist Kilo and Mercato with their buzz and sudden quiet and cosy back streets, small cafés and boutiques still charm me more than any other area. City planners in Addis work in ten-year-chunks with Kazanchis having recently been “the place”. Now things are moving on to Sarbet, the next priority area. The year 2020 marked a new ten-year urban planning period and now we already see glimpses of a future Addis with projects such as The Riverside, La Gare and Adwa Museum in the heart of Piassa.

The foreign investors of some of the latest housing projects are referring to “a new era for the country and continent at large.” That era is also made of a massively growing young population. I heard somebody estimate that Ethiopia’s urban population will reach 74 million by 2050 while the country’s current population – 113 million souls – will also grow respectively to 205 million by that same year. 

The target of the New Urban Agenda set by UN-Habitat is to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. The Ethiopian government and the Prime Minister have not been sitting with their hands crossed: The first phase of the Riverside project has just been launched in October, running from Entoto to Bambis Bridge. The idea is “to enhance the well-being of city dwellers by putting river flooding in check and creating public spaces, parks, bicycle paths and walkways along the river banks” with the project scheduled to be completed in May 2020.

This plan looks like manna from heaven for pedestrians! And for the record: what also is cool about Addis is that it has already been designed so that pedestrians can actually walk in most parts of the town’s main roads on wide sidewalks. Compare this to downtown Dakar (Plateau) for instance and it feels like in the latter there are no sidewalks at all as they are all hidden under giant four-wheel-drives parked on them! The pedestrians are pushed to walk on roads and leer around for fear of being hit by cars coming from behind.

Addis has a fair share of visual contrasts: green and shady areas, steep hills, wide streets, city rail bridges, corrugated iron – a lot of it and in all colours – giant billboards, enormous construction sites with night guards sitting in their small temporary huts… everything seems to be going through a constant process of transformation. In a timespan of ten years, suddenly even Arat Kilo condominiums look outdated, yet they can still be considered comfortable housing and not the least because of the good location but also because after 10 pm it is q u i e t. To someone who lives in Senegal this is a luxury. 

I have the habit of chatting with taxi drivers so I on many occasions I have asked them where they would like to live in Addis. Many answered: Sarbet, the place where “most of the ambassadors live.” Then there was Sam, one of the drivers of Ride – a local taxi system – who would summarise it in just one word: “Anywhere!” Not bad for a big city.

Dear reader: I am also curious to know what is your favourite part of Addis? Where would you decide to live if you could choose freely? Thank you very much in advance for any comments and thoughts.

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