People living in Pikine, Saint-Louis, are urging the city to stop dumping trash at their backyard. Children are at risk of getting diseases when they play here, swimming in the river is no longer possible and even the mangrove is dieing. The rainy seasons bring about hellish visions of mosquito infested lakes with floating islands of trash. The nauseatic smell never leaves. In an attempt to ease the situation even temporarily, they brought land to berry some of the plastic and relocated the dumping ground some hundreds of meters further in the west.
Aram, Petit and Babacar dream of a public space where it would be safe, green and cosy to hang around. In Pikine, one of the biggest neighbourhoods on mainland Saint-Louis, there are no green areas at all. They would also like to practise fish farming in the river in the future.
Nearly a year ago they organized a noisy sit in at the gates of the city hall but that lead to no action whatsoever. They have also taken part and organized World Cleanup Days in the area but stronger measures are needed to clean up this mass of trash and to process it somewhere. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Pikine have no other choice than to keep inhaling it into their lungs. For how many more years?
Saint-Louis is still fighting agains rising sea levels and coastal erosion. These days you see big trucks that frequently bring massive pieces of stone to the coast line with Eiffage financing a new attempt of stopping the ocean from advancing and swallowing up people’s homes. I took these photos in 2019 in connection with an exhibition in which some of my fisherman friends speak out about what is going on in their lives.
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.
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.
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!