Rally the troops
Dakar’s iconic, frequently battered and always speedy bus service – car rapide in French – faces extinction if a municipal plan to clean up the streets is pushed through. Since the 1970s these customised, blue-bottomed, yellow-topped Renault minibuses have roared through Senegal’s seaside capital, touts hanging from open doors as it deposits commuters across the city.
Their cultural value is such that a vintage car rapide is installed at the Museum of Mankind in Paris. Yet that matters little to city authorities who, with World Bank support, are encouraging owners to trade in their old buses for newer, larger ones in a quest for safer streets. Many will miss the car rapide but its replacement may yet earn the love of the Dakarois: at this year’s Dakar Biennale charming black and white portraits from photographer Antoine Tempé were displayed on their backs.
A lack of affordable housing is a challenge all over the world. In Saudi Arabia, the government has announced that it will provide new housing for 100,000 low-income families over the next year.
Q&A - Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana
City-planner, Cape Town
Makalima-Ngewana is a city-planner and ceo of Cape Town Partnership (ctp), a public-private organisation that has played a crucial role in regenerating Cape Town’s once-moribund city centre.
How has Cape Town’s CBD been transformed?
Getting diverse stakeholders to agree that Cape Town’s cbd was worth saving and working together to make this happen was a crucial first step. Twenty years ago businesses were shuttering in the area and urban flight was a huge issue. Since the establishment of the ctp in 1999, more than r24bn [€1.4bn] has been invested in the area and the cbd is seen as one of the safest in South Africa.
Violent crime in Cape Town’s CBD was reduced by 90 per cent. How was that achieved?
One strategy was to convince building-owners to incorporate retail space at the bottom of their buildings rather than parking. This makes buildings more permeable, increases the footfall in the area and leads to more eyes on the street, all of which contribute to enhanced safety and security.
How did you persuade people to spend time downtown outside of working hours?
An early strategy focused on lobbying property owners to convert commercial space into residential. More recently we introduced City Walk, which connects significant places in the urban heart of Cape Town through wayfinding and walking tours, including retail and public art.
Like an Egyptian
Egypt’s capital is beset by problems. Here are a few measures that might help.
- Egypt’s traffic snips 3 per cent off its annual gdp; the capital’s 20 million inhabitants need modern trams and a rapid-transit bus network.
- Encourage drivers to switch to compressed natural gas.
- Invest in the zabbaleen, the informal rubbish collectors who have served the city far better than the corporate waste firms contracted by the government.
- Divert resources from satellite settlements aimed at a wealthy minority to upgrade the impoverished, neglected neighbourhoods that house two thirds of the population.
- Illiteracy in some of Cairo’s schools is as high as 80 per cent, partly due to overcrowding, while there are just 33 hospital beds for every 10,000 citizens.
Let there be light
Describing Africa as the “dark continent” may be a lazy and racist stereotype but it is true in one sense. Fly over it on clear nights and you’ll spend hours staring down at blackness broken only by the occasional constellation of light from a city or town.
The failure of African governments to provide ample power suppresses commerce and education, worsens crime and impoverishes citizens. Not even the continent’s cities are immune. Power cuts are commonplace in the more developed urban centres of South Africa and outages define life in Lagos. Meanwhile, loadshedding and brownouts (drops in electrical power that cause lights to dim) alternate darkness and light across urban districts of Kampala and Kigali, and suspiciously frequent “engineering works” plunge Nairobi into gloom.
But for some these challenges are opportunities. Just as mobile phones allowed Africa to skip the landline era, off-grid solar energy is transforming the way its cities get power.
Kenya-based M-Kopa has found success in providing off-grid solar power to households and businesses that are either excluded from traditional electricity supplies or frustrated by their unreliability. Customers make a down payment for the solar-power kit and pay monthly instalments via their mobile phones until they own the system that can power lights, phones, radios, televisions and, soon, fridges.
Others are making the grids fit for purpose. In Durban, Tasmanian company Entura is exploring the use of mini hydro-generators to supplement existing power supplies. Elsewhere, Africa’s largest wind farm is under construction in Kenya’s arid Turkana region and will feed its energy into the national system, while geothermal power tapped from under the Great Rift Valley is already reducing reliance on oil and coal, and ensuring that Nairobi can keep the lights on – most of the time.