A One-Minute-City

Fresh meat, open in the evenings”

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 wayr. 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)

Afropolis 2020 Saint-Louis

Afropolis 2020 Saint-Louis

What makes you remember a street? Is there an area in town to which you return often? Why? We all know how specific areas within any given city have their own feel and pace, depending on the time of the day. I was always a walker and in whatever town I lived, I always developed a fast understanding of my own favorite neighborhoods. In the case of Saint-Louis, it’s the northern part of the island, or the sandy stretch of land further north by the Mauritanian border in Goxum Bacc and Sal Sal. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic I started my days by walking around the island very early in the morning, and the first thing I do is check the surface of the river as some sort of a fortune teller or weather forecast. I would also choose my first walk or bicycle route of the day always by the river even in the non-pandemic times. 

With Covid-19 the pace of life has changed and even more so with the Ramadan in full swing. This change will – I hope – manifest also in my video installations for Afropolis. I have chatted with friends and listened to them talk about their hometown and it has been very interesting to hear what they like about this town and how they would change it if they could. I chose to shoot on the streets with a mini DV camcorder on purpose as I have come to realize that digital does not always convey so well what I am hoping to show. I like this extra-economical boundary of 60 minute-cassettes because that puts me in a completely different mood with planning my work. Additionally, it has been my interviewees who gave me ideas for locations to shoot.  

Afropolis 2020 Saint-LouisA Takkusaan Production (2020), Duration: 45:14 (In French & Wolof)

A post-covid face lift

This is a short update to what has bee going on in my neighborhood in Saint-Louis since November 2020. The island has become one massive construction site with new canalization and soon-to-be paved streets and cemented sidewalks. It feels as if everybody were preparing for the better day, including the town planners – a new post-covid face lift in the making? Apart from this, life goes on more or less the usual way except for small businesses, many of which are still in an extended waiting mode for the borders to be opened to non-residents or European tourists. When the day comes, we will all be able to walk the streets with a little less sand in our sandals!

What is Afropolis?

Entrance to Saint-Louis market on the mainland

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.

Out of the Box

I am starting a series of beginnings through various media; alternative photography, short films and text. As far as short films are concerned, “Out of the Box” will be the first one out (of a larger box still, hahhahah) in connection with Soundscapes from the Sahel. What does this mean? It means that I am teasing out improvised beginnings of stories of fictional characters, inspired by my relatively large archive of photos. You know how it goes, when you suddenly look back at some photographs that you took years ago and you immediately reconnect with the time and place of the photo. But what if someone who does not know you nor the background of the photo would  interpret what the story behind a particular photo is. That is what I want to play with. Stay tuned!

What’s in the box? Clicking the image takes you to a mini trailer on Vimeo.