The Power of Urban Agglomeration; Lesson for African Cities

By Mutabazi Sam Stewart

Cities start as Townships

The history of cities world over is almost similar. They start as small trading centers where people carry out certain activities and or reside. As activities gather traction and become popular, more people are attracted hence swelling the numbers. With increasing population comes demand for certain services. The mall trading Center thus keeps expanding as it receives new people who are seeking to offer services or who are looking for the services. The history of most African cities tells us that most of our urban areas started in a similar way many years back. Most of them were convergence centers where traders met to exchange goods. As the city expands outwards, it must reach its limit due to various reasons.

When the city can’t expand anymore

The city can no longer expand beyond a certain level. However, we must take note that no city in the world grows singly without neighboring side-shoots. There will always be growth centers around the city which are of different sizes depending on the level of business in the country as a whole and the city itself. In a few cases, some of these centers have surpassed the mother city and become bigger in size and influence.  Though rare, it happens especially in Europe where original central business districts became too crowded thus businesses shifting to new hubs which meant more business to the new town and less for the old one. We know for instance that the area where the CBD of Rotterdam in Netherlands was located in the 1960s has since changed to another area all together. One of the reasons is that the place where the main railway station was built (Rotterdam Centraal) inadequately became the midpoint of the city. Rotterdam is not necessarily a big city. Nonetheless it has different city hubs with different offshoots around the main city center.

A case of Kampala Uganda

 In Uganda, the CBD has largely remained the same around lower Nakasero and part of Namirembe for over one hundred years. However other cities grew in nearby area around the city namely, Nakulabye, Wandegeya, Nakawa, Katwe-Kibuye, Natete, Bwaise among others. These were townships that grew close to the city but we’re somehow independent of the main city itself. As the city kept expanding, the townships somehow got merged with the original city itself this creating a large metropolis. This clustering of individual units of townships is what is called urban agglomeration.

What is Agglomeration?

Agglomeration is the clustering of cities as individual units growing together but not coherent forming a continuous urban area. In China it’s called Megalopolis which means “World of ideas” or big city or area with many ideas.   Another word is conglomeration or aggregation. It can also mean sticking of particles to one another or to solid surfaces. A new term was coined to take care of African urbanization which is Africapolis. Polis in Greek means city

What causes agglomeration?

In economic terms agglomeration can be equated to localization of industries. When industries are located within the same locality, they enjoy common benefits that accrue to them by the mere fact that they are close to each other. Likewise, agglomeration just like localization has potential benefits to cities when it is well understood and taken advantage of. The power of agglomeration can be witnessed in cities and towns close to each other, though independent but supplementing each other in terms of growth. It turns out that each town will have its own strength which it may be able to share with the other towns. One of the most visible advantages of agglomeration is quick and easy mobility of goods, services and people across the individual townships.  Transport costs are therefore brought to a very minimum compared to if cities that are located wide apart from each other. Close proximity of cities also ensures that the cities can compare notes and agree on what each can do for the greater benefit of all.

Advantages of Agglomeration

Agglomeration brings individual strength of cities which when combined with the rest gives greater momentum for growth of the entire region in terms of sustainable growth. Agglomeration must never be confused with urban sprawl and neither does it apply to a metropolitan growth. Agglomeration has far more advantages over limitless urban expansion to cover a large expanse of land such as is the case with Cairo City in Egypt. In fact most cities in Africa are growing into large metropolitan areas having swallowed up townships that were previously independent and close to the main town Centre as described above. The cities have continued on their expansionist trend without due consideration to the challenges this may create. Against this background, Africa has been on its continuous journey of expanding her cities into very large metropolitan areas “swallowing” all the townships around them. Some of the cities are too big and too complicated to navigate. Already we have seen this happen in cities such as Nairobi, Kinshasa, Johannesburg, Lagos, among others. It’s time to rethink our cities growth trajectory and future outlook bearing in mind the potential dangers and likely benefits.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *