My ideas about urban planning and development in third world countries have been scattered. I have not had time to think through the concepts to arrive at solid ideas that would help and contribute to the healthy debate about how poor countries can go about developing their urban areas sustainably. Nevertheless, there are general theories I have held for many years that have not changed much about what governments in the global south can do to make their cities and towns much better than they are currently.
Urban planning being an art and a science is one of the trickiest areas of study as it deals with various aspects of human life including social, political, economic and technical phases of a given area. To achieve a balance amongst the four spheres is the most delicate maneuver every urban planner faces. I am a modernist urban planner with very deep-held views that support modernity against any theory of informality and disorder that are commonly associated with the urban poor. My modernist approach is greatly informed by my background, where I was born and my life’s aspirations. I believe that urbanization is about modernity. Though modernity could be defined differently by different people, there are key ingredients that should be agreeable to all. These include; modern housing, modern transport, well-kept green belts and good quality of life for people generally.
Whereas I also believe that every urban area ought to encourage social equity so as not to antagonize the poor and the disadvantaged, their protection should not be at the expense of modernity. Every city has its back street; a run-down area that is usually filthy and not well kept. Such areas are often associated with the poor. However at the same time, any city that seeks to become progressive and have a better outlook must strive to create its best areas with a modernity touch. Just like a private home, not every place looks very tidy. The kitchen may not necessarily be the cleanest places in a family home. But the living room must be kept in good form at all times.
International development partners have for long confused governments in the Global South that informality is a good thing and should not be discouraged. They argue that poor people have equal rights to the city as the rich. Whereas I agree with the position that governments should not wantonly evict poor people from their areas without first identifying where they should be relocated, and that indeed poor people have a right to belong to the city, they don’t have a right to live in a disorganized environment. Chaotic cities are unproductive cities and chaos mainly thrives in places that are not modern. It’s true that poor people live near city centers to get employment and income. This is only for as long as city authorities have plans to modernize poor neighborhoods into better human settlements. Otherwise the city gets stuck and compromised by sacrificing modernity at the expense of protecting the urban poor.
So what is the best approach least developed countries can take to improve their urban areas? They need to create structures and systems. This is perhaps the most important thing they should address. Without systems and procedures that are well laid out, most of the interventions shall only remain temporary and at best shallow. By systems we mean that the city must play by the rules and regulations which themselves should be well drafted and these too should stand a test of time. Laws governing the city should be well thought out and once passed should be strictly enforced. No city should be run on the whims of an individual. Every policy and action should be based on law and the law should have been accepted by the key people at drafting stage. Secondly, cities are as good as the people who govern them. Cities ought to attract only the best and ensure that they retain them. Cities that has high staff turnover tend to become unstable in terms of implementation. The roles ad functions of staff ought to be clearly spelt out and the same applies to departments and sections.