For long, urban theorists have considered African metropolises either failed cities with hardly any services available, or more optimistically constant works-in-progress, and recently even as areas where the existing informal economies and social networks can teach us lessons for other rapidly growing urban areas. So, how is it? I am about to find out.
Afropolis is my multidisciplinary art project in which I aim to communicate through image and sound some of the dynamics of living in Addis Ababa, Dakar, Nouakchott or Saint-Louis, for starters. The idea for this sizzled in my head for the first time a long, long time ago when I witnessed how in Dakar there was no space for pedestrians to walk safely because all the pavements had been (and they still are) taken up by massive 4×4 cars. I was wondering: Where is this leading? Are there urban planners and if so, is their ultimate goal in life to have a ridiculously big and expensive 4×4 car that they can park just about anywhere at the expense of the poor pedestrians?
Another, more recent phenomena that also pushed me to start this project was the “satellite cities” and luxurious residential areas that are being created in numerous countries, often with foreign investments, in the outskirts of big cities, or in some cases in the very heart of them. This process of changing the city is visually very appealing to me and tickles my sense of place, and of space.
I am asking: how do these cities work? In this part of the world urban dynamics seem to have layers and layers of their own specific twists and I would like to poke those layers and document people’s views, hopes, imaginations and their own experience of the urban environment, whether they call it “home” or otherwise. Don’t get me wrong: I am not building a case against what does not work in a city, quite the contrary: with Afropolis I want to envisage and promote the amazing energies of these cities. Hopefully it will lead to reactions, suggestions, and collaborations among those of you who feel somehow connected to these places. In the long run I hope to be able to reveal stories on and by people living in urban environments and their in centres, peripheries and in-betweens.
I am not a real tech guru and neither am I very keen on diving into the secret world of plugins that would allow me to share media between two blogs, allthough I must say the idea sounds good. That would, apparently, first require an upgrade of my Worpress subscription to something with a “business” prefix, so instead I have decided to migrate selected posts and photos from my earlier urban adventures to my more generic website which is… here!
So, for some background regarding how the urban world is developing: it appears that for the first time in recorded history, a majority of the world’s population is now classified as urban. The United Nations forecasts that between 2010 and 2050 the urban population in developing countries is likely to almost double from 3.6 billion to 6.7 billion and that about one-third of this growth will occur in just three countries: Nigeria, India, and China, with sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent expected to absorb the majority of overall growth. (1)
I’ve switched to thinking about urban space in a more constant manner since very long. A while ago I read in the news by Pressafrik (2) a short piece of news about how the workers in the Senegalese ministries, some of them now located in Diamniadio, have gone on a strike because of their difficult working conditions. Their problem number one is transport, or to be more precise: the lack of it. There are very few bus connections to Diamniadio and due to their schedule the actual working day is cut very short. They also claim not to have running water. What a start.
I drove past Diamniadio the other day and took some photographs from a moving car. The area, some 30 km from Dakar and seen from the motorway still looks like a ghost town but of course it will rapidly change. This is literally an urban space in the making, a city starting from scratch, and it is rather exiting and at the same time daunting to think how soon the empty space between this spot and the outer suburbs of Dakar will be filled with human habitation!
1) Anjali Mahendra and Karen C. Seto: Towards A More Equal City. Upward and Outward Growth: Managing Urban Expansion for More Equitable Cities in the Gobal South. A working paper for World Resources Report. World Resources Institute, 2019.
What will Dakar look like in 50 years from now and who will then have access to the sea? This and some other thoughts about the situation with coastline in Dakar will feature in my next documentary film that I am starting to work on. For reference, here is a cross post called Corniche – Live Your Dream from my other blog with a couple of photos from Les Mamelles, and another link to a 59 seconds long trailer for Afropolis 2021 Dakar, the film-to-come. Stay tuned!
Here is a couple of early shots from Place Van Meenen & Place Morichar in Saint-Gilles, Brussels. I am doing new research on this neighborhood and I’m looking for new places where to shoot video and show “what Saint-Gilles is all about” with its very mixed population. This commune is one of most densely populated districts in the whole of Belgium and represents a population with over 140 different nationalities. I am particularly attracted to Place Van Meenen next to the Town Hall because of it’s steep streets, big shady trees, cafés and frequent trams rumbling by. Other favorite spots include several small squares and street corners with tiny bars run by the Portuguese and Brazilians… so chances are good that some of them will feature in my next film in which I would like to hear them tell what they think of their part of the town.
For a couple of weeks my home street has been going through some serious sewage works that started from the main mosque in the north and has been approaching our house ever since. For a few days they have now rumbled the earth right in front of the house and left a terribly noisy water pump to run through the night. Goodbye quiet nights of curfew!
I felt extra confined today for a short moment when I could not walk out of the house because of mountains of sand that had been piled up along the front of the house. But that was only a good sign. It meant that the loose earth was soon going to cover everything that had been opened up earlier, and then the works would move on in the street towards south, away from the house! When that work was done, the guys had a lunch typically in the Senegalese way on the spot. No fuzz!