The first novel in my upcoming trilogy has a working title Rue de Longue Vie – or: Street of Long Life – and it tells a story that happens mostly in Senegal, with backslashes in Brussels and Nouakchott. Yesterday I went to collect some visual support that I can later use when I write about Brussels related events and now I feel like I should do this more often! This was a quick hop to the Midi station and Gare de l’Ouest, then a ten-minute-walk around two blocks in Ixelles with a fast-paced point-and-shoot tactics. A couple of times I felt like like a voyerist or private eye (too much TV maybe?), the essential thing was to capture something essential that I need in the story. The devil is in the detail!
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)
Bi ma njëkkee ñëw Dakar lu jege ñaar fukki at ci Plateau laa daloon ci goxu jaaykat yi ci “centre-ville”. Waaye, bi ma tambalee dal ci Yoff walla Ngor ci ben néég walla studio, ñaari gox yépp nekk ci bët gannaaru dëkk bi, te bi ma miinee koñ yooyu ci wetu géég gi, laa leen def sama dëkkuwaay. Boo tammee dem ci yenn gox yi nga xamantane dangay lëkkëlook waa foofu te mbirum tourisme yobbuwula, mbir yi dañuy yomb lool ci yow. Booy faraldi dem ci benn bërëb ay yooni yoon, dangay mel ni ku fa bokk ba romb sax waa foofu. Ku mësa nekk Senegal ku nekk war na xam li may wax foofu. Kon, fan yii dama xalaat ne wut beneen dëkkuwaay dina wara nekk lu neex. Bu ma leen laajoon lan ngeen may digal ci ban koñ laa wara dëkk?
Am na yenn gox ci Dakar yu ma neex lool, su fekkee sax xamuma noonu bërëb yooyu. Xëyna bërëb yooyu dafay mel ni lu nekk ci man te damay am lu may yëg buma nekkee ci bërëb yu ni mel. Xam naa ne dafay niirook lu doy waar, waaye bi ma nekkee xale dama féntal sama bopp am po taxoon ma mënoona jàpp ci sama xel ay mbir yu bare ci ay gox, koñ, tali, garab, kër ak lépp lu taxaw ca bërëb ba ma nekk. Mësuma bayyi jikko jooju te léégi bumay fatteliku Dakar, Point E mooy njëkka ñêw ci sama xel ni dëkku taax, ak ay taleem yu bari yëngu yëngu, garabam yu am ker yi, dugg génn ya ca daara ju kawe ja. Point E dafa boole gox bu bare yëngu ak ay bërëbam yu amul benn coow yi te bi ma njëkkee teg samay tànk ci taleem yi am na ay at léégi, dafa meloon ni dama fa xam ba pare. Te mënuma wax lu waral loolu. Dafa meloon ni dama xam gox bi ba noppi te xame ko dafa yomboon lool ci man. Te am na piscine olympikam bi nga xamantane dafa may xëcc ma fay dem di fééy. Bi nga xamee ne léégi dama ne dama bëgga bokk ci waa dëkk bi, gis naa ne fii laay nekk.
Ci atum 1946 «Plan Directeur d’urbanisme» dafa tëraloon ay sart ngir nit ñi ci Point E topp ay yoon yuy yemale tabax yi ngir nekkin yu neex ci gox bi. Fan yii li am ci gox boobu jeggi na dayo ndaxte ñungi gis ay tabax yu kawe di juddu fépp ci biir gox bi. Foofu dafa soppeeku ci ni mu meloon ci dëkkuwaay gu neexa nekk ak ay tabax yu kawe.
Ba léégi mënuma xam lu waral ñuy woowe Point E noonu. Su fekkee am na ku nu mëna xamal lan la “E” bi di tekki, nungi lay déglu! Dakar du la mësa naqari, rawatina turi kóminam yi ak arondismà am yi. Gueule Tapée itam tur bu am solo – gox bu rafet itam – ak Patte d’oie koñ yu ma gëna neex lañu. Buñu fatte SICAP itam, SICAP dafa lëkkëloo ak lu rafet lu mel ni: Baobab, Amitié, Keur Gorgui… Sama kumpa du jeex ci bëgga xam lu waral ab bërëb ñu tudde ko tur wi mu yore. Dinaa ñëwaat lu gëna leer ci loolu ci beneen “post” bu bees.
Ab laaj: lan mooy sa bërëb walla koñ bu la gëna neex ci Dakar? Ndax am nga fenn ci dëkk bi foo sopp walla foo bëgga dëkk, te su amee, mën nga nu wax lutax? Maangi leen di gërëm bu baax ci seen ndimbal.
The difference between the desert and the city of Nouakchott is striking, but on a second thought there is something about the city that marks the visitor with strangeness and resemblance of the desert, like vague echoes from just outside the city where the vast space of sand and quietness hits you on the face. I made a video installation for one of the upcoming exhibitions on Afropolis and in this work-in-progress you can see images shot in Nouakchott in one day during one walk. As such, the film attempts to show one omnipresent aspect that strikes me the most in this city: privacy. Everything seems hidden, private, behind walls. In comparison to cars, edestrians are a rare sight. While shooting, I was also interrupted by guards on every second street corner and got momentarily interrogated by a police officer. Public space in Nouakchott seems more private than anywhere I have ever been. I call this short film a prelude to the documentary that I am going to make later on. It has footage also from the desert, shot in a very improvised way on a couple of short and very windy moments, during a trek between Chinquetti and Terjit.
Hope you enjoy this short excerpt called Afropolis 2020 Nouakchott: A Prelude (link to a clip on Vimeo)
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!