Have you ever taken part in a community design process in some way? As far as I remember, I did such things in the seventies every time there was a need to embellish the neighbourhood together. The reward for doing this was usually a soft drink of red or yellow colour, someties maybe even some snacks.
Now with the current pandemic, policy makers have been more actively rethinking of how to make a city more livable. A common tendency seems to be that those smaller neighbourhoods with active communities are something that is worth getting back to. Recently I read about Stockholm and how they would like to take into consideraton “the space outside your front door — and that of your neighbors adjacent and opposite.”* So much so that the immediate surroundings within one-minute range from your home is what counts the most. I’ve seen glimpses of something similar – at times – in the policies by the commune of Saint-Gilles/Sint-Gillis in Brussels, where some streets have been transformed according to teh wishes of the inhabitants. (I will probably come back to this at some point later.)
Stockholm’s own one-minute city plan aims at having streets that have been strategically designed by the immediate local community. In many ways this is how Senegalese cities seem to work, allthough so far you may need to replace the word “designed” with “taken over by silent anarchy”. Within the one-minute radius most of the neighbourhoods here are formed organically and as such they represent the immediate needs of the population in an informal way. Carpenters, welders, shoe makers, fruit sellers.. you name it! This is what the article refers to as “open, generative street culture”* and what the policy makers in Sweden are looking for.
Positive signs are in the air as far as community design process in Dakar is concerned. Save Dakar, a civic movement has been actively pursuing the idea of turning the city greener. To add to their campaign, I would like to suggest, for starters, that sidewalks should be claimed back for pedestrians instead of their being occupied by giant 4×4 cars. This problem goes back as far as I can remember… New political imagination about urban planning does not seem to be too high on the agenda of the decision makers but let’s hope that the civil activism that we are now witnessing will be able to change that!
As far as urban planning in Saint-Louis is concerned, it has – surprisingly – manifested in a very active way since March 2019 with sewage works and new paved streets. The work is still ongoing and when things get ready we may have a rainy season without long-lasting giant lakes taking over entire neighborhoods. But what may be missing is a dialogue between civil society and the decision makers. It seems that there is a plan but few people know what it is. If, for instance, you are a small entrepreneur, the street may be dug up right in front of your shop or restaurant etc. and then everything just stagnates for days.
The good thing with both the one-minute city plan and the Senegalese “organic model” is that essential services are easily accessed from people’s homes. Yet, Senegal may be going to the opposite direction and this one-minute lifestyle will be endangered: in Dakar and some other cities the French supermarket chains are gaining ground and popularity while markets and small butiks suffer. The supermarkets don’t beat small sellers only with prices and wider range of imported goods but also with this certain halo of luxury about going to a supermarket, that they have been able to generate. You can park your car right next to a Casino or an Auchan, and as we know, whoever that has a beautiful car will have whatever excuse there is to show it to the rest of the world.
*Make Way for the ‘One-Minute City’ article by Bloomberg (link copied 23 January 2021)