Implications of City Boundaries on Urban Development


By Mutabazi Sam Stewart

Cities come in various shapes and sizes. Some are big yet others are small. The administrative boundaries define a city. Although some have larger boarders than the actual built up area, some cities are really small. A city like Kigali surprisingly has a larger area surface than Nairobi yet in real sense Nairobi has a bigger built up area. The boundaries of a city does not necessarily mean that the city is big. It just means that they have prospects of having the city expand into that bigger space with time.

Some cities like Kampala have almost their entire fully built up. Kampala city is one of the smallest cities in Africa, at least going by the administrative boundaries. The boundaries of the city have stayed the same since colonial times. The city therefore has transcended the original boundaries, spilling over to the neighboring metropolitan areas. In fact the metropolitan region of Kampala city are much bigger than the city itself. Kigali on the other hand has a small built up area while a large part of the city area jurisdiction remains largely rural and unoccupied. This therefore mean that the boundaries of the city do not necessarily define the size of the city itself.

However there are instances where the size of the boundaries and the built up area correspond with each other. A city like Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a very gigantic urban conglomerate both in area size and built up space. This city has the largest area size of any capital in Africa extending over 9,000 square kilometers in size. No wonder the city is poised to become one of the largest urban centers in the world in the next few decades. Another example of a city that is densely built is Cairo in Egypt with slightly over 3,000Km of area space. Most area of Cairo are fully built with very few on the fringes not yet put up. Cairo is one of the largest sprawl of an urban area in Africa.

The question is whether one needs to have larger boundaries of a city or to restrict the city to a smaller area that is fully built up. Each may have positives and negatives depending on how one looks at it. Most politicians in Africa love smaller administrative units to serve their interests. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether the city boundaries are small or large. What really matters is that people will always look for space to build irrespective of the political boundaries of a city. When space runs out in a city the people will start building on its fringes and the city will keep expanding beyond the demarcated political boundaries.

The most important point to note though is that sometimes when the boundaries of the city are small, it limits the city managers to adequately plan for their city. Smaller cities are more complicated to plan compared to larger ones. In a city like Kampala that is already completely built up, it becomes very difficult to reorganize it without running into more problems. Cities that have larger area spaces are easier to plan because they have what I may call “extra leg room” They have adequate space to plan and implement many things compared to smaller ones.

Besides when the city managers have an already built up area, it may be challenging to carry out certain plans since some of those plans could have effects on the neighboring areas which are not directly under their jurisdiction. One of the areas that gets affected is that of transport management and regulation. Cities that are close to each other yet with different governing structures may find it a very big challenge when leaders do not agree on how to handle the transport within these two distinct areas. The revenue sharing is always the problem as neither is willing to compromise on what they think they should be getting. What happens in this case is that the people in such areas suffer with very poor mobility systems because of lack of cooperation by the managers.

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