HETTNE, 2009, 30
“Transition” implies a transformation between known points in time, “transformation” a structural change into something yet unknown.
1.1 Contextual and Spatial Blind Spots in Urban Development and International Cooperation
As so many sectors within the so-called global South, urban development, urban planning and urban design have been strongly intertwined with the global North’s interventions through colonisation, and, since World War II, through the international frameworks of technical assistance and development cooperation. It is thus of no surprise that within the urban realm most of the concepts and methods for addressing urbanisation processes—in all involved disciplines—have been dominated by approaches developed in and for Western cities (Okpala, 1990; Healey, 2010; Ward, 2010). Furthermore, despite the emerging spatial turn within the academic fields of (mainly) the social sciences and the humanities starting in the 1970s (Low, 2014, 19–21), many development cooperation policies and projects appear to have repeatedly neglected such new perspectives and have thus maintained blind spots for the spatial realm in general, and the related effects on the built environment in particular. Intrinsically linked to the physical world however, urban configurations shaped by both imported concepts and spatially indifferent development policies have determined urban spaces of the everyday lives of urban citizens for better or—too often—worse. Thus, the general failure to genuinely accept locally evolved categories and criteria that could more suitably describe processes on the ground has been one of the key omissions with regard to adequately engaging with the challenges of structural and urban transformation in the respective contexts.
Addressing these issues within the context of African urbanisation, as well as from a perspective of spatial design, urban design and spatial planning, this chapter will briefly introduce the so-called Ring Road project that has been implemented through a collaboration involving Chinese actors and British engineers in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. The Ring Road is one of the subjects of the author’s recently finished dissertation, which follows an empirical bottom-up exploration structured along a methodological framework that combines case study research—as defined by Robert K. Yin—with a narrative inquiry as described within the methodology of phronetic planning research
1.2 Thinking in Transitions and Dialectic Thinking
At the core of the following discussion on why things happen the way they do, and how they could be changed for that matter, lies the crucial distinction between transition and transformation as phrased by Björn Hettne in the introductory quote. The prospect of linear progress has not only substantially formed general discourse on development, it has also enduringly influenced the simultaneously established, official frameworks of development
On a more abstract level, the notion of a transition from A to B can be directly related to dialectic thinking, where a polar construct sets up a directional path for both problem definition, and problem-solving. As Richard Sennett eloquently summarises this well-established approach, ‘in dialectic, as we learned in school, the verbal play of opposites should gradually build up to a synthesis […]; the aim is to come eventually to a common understanding’, and thus reveal ‘what might establish that common ground’ (Sennett, 2012, 18–19). In other words, dialectic reasoning is driven by an iterative but ultimately linear trajectory that converges oppositional suggestions into a synthesis, compromise or common understanding. Since dialectic problem-solving has been a dominant conceptual framework within Western culture, it has been fairly typical within development discourse to review the status of, and define engagement with low-income environments through opposing constructs as well. It is here where the aspiration to encourage development as a transition from A to B usually converges with dialectic reasoning: using real or constructed counterparts has served as the basis for envisioning developmental processes along linear paths. Harold Brookfield (1975), for instance, identifies major dichotomies, such as development and underdevelopment or tradition and modernity, as a crucial part of general development thinking. In his understanding, ‘dichotomies, or polarized constructs, are basic to the simplest structuring of human perception into comprehensible order’, and ‘[i]nevitably […] grow into stereotypes’ where ‘[…] argument often turns to the simpler method—“as if” there were only two classes’ (Brookfield, 1975, 53). According to this statement, general thought often remains in simplistic, dual
Thus, while dichotomic set-ups and their methodological twin of dialectic thinking might satisfy specific arenas of logical and academic analysis, they are rather prone to providing simplistic approaches when it comes to formulating and implementing policies within the complexities of a specific context—even more so if the target of analysis involves a foreign environment. While this presumably leads to set-ups that ‘crudely impose or emulate an idea or practice promoted as some kind of “universal” solution’, it also has an impact on how to engage with the physical environment (Healey, 2010, 6). As Brookfield further states, although many such ‘dichotomies […] are not conceived or elaborated in any spatial context, […] they certainly have spatial implications’ (Brookfield, 1975, 53). In other words, the abstract nature of dialectic reasoning, dichotomic set-ups and linear transitional thinking very likely leads to a disconnect between analytical thinking and its ramifications for physical environments, and thus ultimately incites a culture of contextual and spatial indifferences.
2 Contextual and Spatial Indifference
2.1 Shaping Addis Ababa’s Ring Road with Universal Planning and Design Principles
The following brief portrayal of the Ring Road project in Addis Ababa illustrates how simplistic, linear problem-solving leads to both contextual and spatial indifference, resulting in many challenging outcomes for the city’s spatial configuration, on the one hand, and citizens’ everyday physical environments, on the other. Involving state-owned Chinese financiers and contractors, local authorities, as well as designs developed by Western engineers, the Ring Road can be seen as an exemplary case study on how economic development and cooperation—within the realm of road infrastructure—is conducted in contemporary Africa (Brautigam, 2009; Foster et al., 2008, 2009). It also serves
Introducing the first urban highway to Addis Ababa, the adopted approaches to the planning and design of the Ring Road have been strongly influenced by global design norms established and conceived outside of Ethiopia and Africa. Predictably, modern road and highway guidelines have been dominated by American and British standards. While one of the most representative sets of American standards—namely the design policies published by the American Association of State Highway and Transport Officials (AASHTO)—is mainly directed at the context of industrialised countries, the British Transport and Road Laboratory (TRL) has additionally produced a series of so-called Overseas Road Notes (ORNs) specifically aimed at developing countries and mainly focusing on guidelines for interurban and rural roads (TRL  2003). Accordingly, the Ethiopian Roads Authority’s (ERA) guidelines on rural roads primarily use TRL codes, whereas the Addis Ababa City Roads Authority (AACRA) has compiled its Geometric Design Manual mainly along the lines of American and Australian standards (ERA, 2002; AACRA, 2003). AACRA’s design manual provides an overall planning and design framework, establishing procedural guidelines regarding urban road categories, road and intersection design, landscaping, pedestrian facilities, safety measures, etc. Unsurprisingly, the combination of AACRA’s adoption of American and Australian design standards, the hiring of a British engineering company, and the use of a relatively efficient set-up with Chinese finance and contractors fostered the use of global, ready-made concepts and designs rather than exploring alternative approaches derived from local circumstances, customs and necessities. This approach has been dominated by a fairly technical attitude, where vehicle flows and capacities are at the centre of considerations and the spatial or cultural-related issues of non-motorised actors are startlingly neglected. In a context such as Addis Ababa, this turns realities upside down: although the majority of traffic participants are pedestrians, road design uses vehicle flows as the main determinant, while pedestrian connections are treated as mere add-on elements. Such a top-down approach to planning inhibits a more systemic perspective that would allow a better understanding of cultural and local specificities: as Tefera Teshome reports in his investigation into the Ring Road, for example, many local citizens would have been willing to contribute their own
Using such simplified solutions has certainly been an effective method in the short term: the historically tremendous amount of road constructions (through and beyond the Ring Road) that Addis Ababa has been able to produce within a short amount of time presumably illustrates a potent transition from dusty roads towards an asphalted road network. Yet many of these projects display a clear deficit when it comes to qualitative spatial aspects that go beyond material or technical properties. In the case of the Ring Road, well-established procedural, planning, and design aspects were clearly favoured over a more qualitative, locally driven set of characteristics that could have made it possible to—at least partially—seek a new interpretation of what an urban highway could be in the particular social, economic and spatial context of Addis Ababa.
2.2 Creating Inadvertent Spatial and Social Side Effects
Looking at the various spatial and social effects that the design of the Ring Road has caused in Addis Ababa shows how spatially indifferent design features can produce challenging spatial set-ups beyond the abstract technicalities of site allocation, vehicle flows, curvatures and safety measures. The most influential and imminent spatial feature of the Ring Road is its schematic section design. Placing four high-speed lanes in the middle of the road creates a rather rigid spatial barrier not only in the form of the road as such, but also through the applied design itself. The resulting safety measure to place continuous guard rails and concrete partitions along the street and between the road lanes simultaneously produces an impermeable corridor for road users, and, more crucially, a critical obstacle for the pedestrians living in the adjacent neighbourhoods. Losing the different degrees of permeability that normal urban roads, and even arterial urban roads, usually offer, the Ring Road has physically segregated neighbourhoods along its whole perimeter. Closely related to this is pedestrian
But the Ring Road corridor not only hinders pedestrians’ efforts to cross it conveniently, it also complicates vehicle drivers’ lateral movements: in order to get across the Ring Road, drivers have to take a ‘detour’ over the roundabouts and intersections (Bekele, 2012). Furthermore, the installation of a high-speed channel, which is, for most of the time, completely separated from connecting streets, has created challenges that are directly linked to specific local conditions. Coming from a fairly Western understanding of transportation planning, such corridors are usually designed under the assumption of a steady and consistent (high-speed) traffic flow. Even small disruptions of this flow can create substantial traffic jams. Yet in the case of Addis Ababa, such consistency is hardly a given factor. To mention just some examples: the poor material condition of many heavy-load trucks or buses slows them down significantly and often results in the blockage of one lane, or sometimes both lanes (see Figure 8.5); the roundabouts, where all the local modes of transportation come together, create congestion that extends directly into the high-speed corridor; the insufficient maintenance and quality of the Ring Road generate obstacles—such as potholes or pools of water—that considerably slow down the intended consistent flow within the high-speed corridor.
Another crucial spatial effect of the Ring Road’s schematic section design is caused by its rigidity. Combined with the overall planning process, the given layout seems to be fairly immune to situational adjustments that go beyond purely technical or functional means. By taking the chosen design as the given solution that accommodates the quite generally calculated capacities, even simple and minor possibilities for adjustments have not been considered. This can be shown, for instance, with the continuous implementation of the same section for the frontage roads. As it turns out, in densely populated more urban areas, these roads are often overcrowded by local vehicles, minibuses, and commercial activities. In contrast, the same layout is outsized in less populated
Lastly, there is the issue of physical maintenance, which is related to design decisions for both road layout and materiality. On the one hand, there is the problem of property damage through both accidents and misappropriations. The instalment of relatively valuable elements, such as steel guardrails, incites many citizens to use the Ring Road as a free resource for construction materials (Teshome, 2011). On the other hand, there is a major problem with the Ring Road’s drainage system, which has been designed according to British standards, but obviously (and somewhat surprisingly) did not take into account issues of local maintenance capacities, or climatic conditions, resulting in both constantly clogged and undersized drainage pipes. This repeatedly results in flooding (of the Ring Road and other newly built streets) during the rainy season (Bekele, 2012).
On an urban scale, one of the Ring Road’s basic justifications was to better regulate traffic and urban growth between the city centre and its peripheries (ORAAMP et al., 2002). Through its circular set-up, the project was supposed to firstly divert through traffic from the city centre and secondly distribute both traffic and urban growth efficiently to the city’s peripheries (Mo et al., 2008). Yet, looking at the changes along the project’s perimeter, the Ring Road has not only served as this link between centre and periphery, but has itself become
As indicated above, the most direct and challenging impacts on citizens’ everyday lives caused by the Ring Road are characterised by aggravated crossing conditions. Both the Ring Road layout and the installed overpasses—rigid, ready-made structures replicated along the whole perimeter—can deliberately adapt neither to their immediate spatial surroundings nor to the existing cultural and social customs of Addis Ababa’s pedestrian context. Roads as well as the overpasses are often confronted with the realities of street vending, pop-up bus stations, providing shelter, or the presence of animals (see Figure 8.7 and Figure 8.8).
The issue with animals illustrates quite specifically how both planning and design ignore the local context. Donkeys, for example, are still used as an important mode of transportation, especially within the peripheral areas and by people from the lowest income groups. The detours that the Ring Road imposes on these non-motorised participants, directly affects their daily movements, time lines and incomes. Similarly, low-income households that generated a substantial amount of their income through informal petty trade
Considering the already high number of accidents involving pedestrians in Ethiopia’s cities—according to the 2002 Scoping Study on Urban Mobility from the World Bank, Ethiopia has ‘one of the highest rates of road accident fatalities’ with 90 per cent of fatalities being pedestrians in cities—the Ring Road’s set-up clearly has not contributed to a substantial improvement (World Bank and UNECA, 2002, 40). Again, a sort of disconnection between the contextual realities and the design approach can be observed. Yet, whereas studies—such as the World Bank’s—usually reveal that many of these accidents are caused by poorly defined and marked pedestrian facilities, or by pedestrians’ erratic movements and behaviour in urban traffic, the proposed improvement measures mainly adhere to common notions of technical problem-solving. Apart from educational measures such as awareness campaigns, the Scoping Study on Urban Mobility, for instance, proposes the construction of additional bridges of a pedestrian-friendly design or even subways, and the installation of ‘taller pedestrian barriers […] to channel pedestrians to these facilities’ (World Bank and UNECA, 2002, 41-42). However, given the local social and economic context, it is rather unlikely that the observed challenges can be resolved just by applying more technical and educational procedures—which are, once again, chiefly conveyed by an approach developed for industrialized countries and cities.
A further aspect that links spatial transformations with the socio-economic realm is signified by resettlements. In the course of implementing the Ring Road, the city government had to relocate and compensate dwellers affected by the increased spatial needs of the respective designs. Some sources, such as Mo et. al., state that ‘local people forwardly assisted [the authorities] and were satisfied with the compensation for resettlements’(Mo et al., 2008, 7), while other sources report repeated challenges during these processes. According to Teshome’s investigations, for instance, house owners complained that compensation for their demolished houses was too low because the applied formulaic calculations did not take replacement costs into account (Teshome, 2011). In the case of demolished Kebele housing units—the state-owned, low-end housing stock—tenants were paid ETB 1,200 (USD 146) in cash, which was supposed to cover relocation to other rental units and additional rent costs for 12 months (Gebreselassie, 2012). Within and after these 12 months, the government promised to provide alternative Kebele housing units. In view of the general housing shortage however, many inhabitants refused to take cash compensation, and demanded alternative housing units right
3 Alternative Views on Urbanisation and Spatial Formation
3.1 Addressing Urbanisation Through a More Ordinary and Less Ideological Mindset
The approaches and results briefly illustrated by the examination of the Ring Road project show how rather simplistic and technocratic understandings of
With regard to reframing existing concepts of urbanisation and urban processes as such, there is a series of critical, contemporary accounts that suggest a more reality-based, multifaceted, contextual attitude towards research and practice. Two important perspectives within this body of research and literature are briefly addressed here. Jennifer Robinson’s book Ordinary Cities—Between Modernity and Development (2006) is a foundational example of this position on a global scale. Based on a postcolonial critique that during the past century dominant strands of urban research and practice were directly influenced by the overall discourse on modernisation and ‘under-development’, Robinson suggests an alternative vantage point when addressing cities all over the globe. Instead of ideologically labelling cities as modern and traditional, or developed and underdeveloped counterparts, Robinson demands ‘that theorising about cities should be more cosmopolitan, should be resourced by a greater diversity of urban experiences’, suggesting that this could ultimately lead to an understanding of every city as an ordinary entity in its own right (Robinson, 2006, 6). She further argues that this would require ‘an urban theory substantially committed to comparative work’, which is generally ‘suspicious and cautious about deploying categories and hierarchies and eager to promote strategies for city improvements that build on their distinctive and individual creativities and resources’ (Robinson, 2006, 6).
Mainly focusing on the African context, the work of urban scholar Edgar Pieterse argues along similar lines. According to Pieterse, a thorough and adequate understanding of particular urban realities and processes demands a broader base of fundamental knowledge and research: unfolding a multifaceted pool of knowledge, cultural mindsets, ideas, concepts and disciplines would ultimately lead to a deeper and more genuine understanding of what constitutes African cityness (Pieterse, 2010). To achieve this, he suggests that we ‘cross-fertilise ethnographic texture, sociological patterning and topographies, spatial practices and registers and interpretive metaphors that stem from speculative philosophical enquiry and literary theory in the broad sense of the term’ (Pieterse, 2010, 217). According to Pieterse, this approach would not only foster necessary, more contextual and comprehensive knowledge on African cities, it would also offer a path ‘towards a more dispassionate approach’ that could level out many of the extreme ‘a priori moral assumptions about what
3.2 Acknowledging the Importance of Spatial Production and Spatial Agency
While the deliberations of Robinson and Pieterse represent seminal contributions to starting re-conceptualising the study of urban issues on a methodological and theoretical level, a comprehensive inclusion of what the role—and potential—of physical space might be is still rather restrained. Yet, intrinsically linked to spatial outcomes, an exploration of new conceptions of urbanisation and urban development would have to be accompanied by investigating new notions of what the role of physical space and the built environment might be. Usually within an environment of spatial indifference, spatial formations of territory and the built environment are serving as abstract vessels that physically absorb economic progress. Territory and built structures therefore mainly represent the general, yet essential, substrate that serves to process the desired development—without consciously including the unconditional social practices that are part of everyday spatial production. Keller Easterling, for instance, convincingly describes the results of such overall processes deriving from global networks of exchange and production as spatial products that are procedural by-products of financial flows and their underlying organisational patterns rather than deliberately planned physical environments (Easterling, 2005). Under such premises, the physical environment’s function is based on a sort of spatial servitude, where space, territory and the built structures are mainly conceived as the necessary material translators of political and economic activities.
Seeking to depart from such a one-sided understanding of the physical realm, the theoretical work of sociologists Henri Lefebvre and Bruno Latour offer instrumental insights and potentials. When it comes to addressing the production of social and physical urban spaces, Henri Lefebvre’s writing on
One of the most substantial impulses that non-human objects—for example, the built environment—can participate in as actors within the social sphere derives from the so-called actor–network theory (ANT) as most prominently formulated by Bruno Latour. Latour qualifies non-human elements as determining components of society, which, indeed, can feature inherent agency as well. Given the fact that for most social models agency is directly linked to intentionality, reflexivity or meanings—a condition only humans
4 Dialogic Design, Dialogic Planning and Collective Ground
4.1 Moving Away from Linear Spatial Problem-Solving Towards More Adequate Spatial Practices
Driven by the similar aim to dissolve the rigid structure of dialectic discourse and thinking in opposites, Richard Sennett considers an alternative and more open framework for discourse. By referring to the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, who conceived the expression dialogic discussion, Sennett reflects on this notion ‘to name a discussion which does not resolve itself by finding common ground’: although, in consequence, ‘no shared agreements may be reached, through the process of exchange people may become more aware of their […] views and expand their understanding of one another’ (Sennett, 2012, 19). The deliberate set-up of a dialogic discussion, where a synthetic solution ‘by a play of contraries leading to agreement’ is not the final objective, would allow ‘bouncing off views and experiences in an open-ended way’ (Sennett, 2012, 24). What if Sennett’s differentiation of dialectic argument and dialogic discussion was extended to spatial planning, and design processes? A dialogic design and planning approach, as it were, that would automatically contest the notion of seeking transitions from A to B, or ideal, universal, and common solutions at all costs. Dialogic planning would encourage simultaneously testing different prototypes, proposals and models. In doing so, it would more adequately address the multitude of given real-life issues by contributing—in the words of Patsy Healey—to a ‘“pool” of knowledge’ that fosters an open, diverse collection of actors, ideas and approaches within the realm of physical spatial production (Healey, 2010, 6). But a truly dialogic set-up would not only encourage a larger variety of possible ideas and solutions; it would crucially alter the way that actors from different cultural, economic, disciplinary and geographic backgrounds could cooperate with one another. Dialogic design and planning would ultimately mean that all respective stakeholders—neighbourhood representatives, local and foreign experts, local authorities, designers and NGOs—would have an equally important seat at the table from which to bring forward respective knowledge, concerns and proposals regarding how to conceive, design, implement and maintain the built environment. It would also mean that such a group would not have to agree on one or two common, overall solutions, but could negotiate, for example, a set of different approaches that were tailored for different social, economic and spatial circumstances. And finally, dialogic design and planning would inherently include the notion of spatial agency, since the produced proposals and prototypes embedded within particular built environments would induce a direct discourse on spatial impacts, challenges and performance as well.
4.2 Using the Power of Collective Knowledge
Although the propositions and deliberations put forward in the previous paragraph might seem diverse, they nevertheless share some mutual criteria that could, when associated with each other, offer a powerful integrative and comprehensive approach for spatial practices. Departing from abstract dialectic and transitional problem-solving, they all offer a) ways towards less universal but more reality-based solutions; b) more inclusive, open-ended planning and design processes; and c) a more comprehensive and interrelated understanding of policy and space. In contrast to an exclusive and conventional top-down arrangements of experts, models or methodologies, this approach would consist of a collective body of knowledge, evolving from a bottom-up attitude and feeding its power from truly transdisciplinary (including local residents, neighbourhood associations, industry experts, academics, public administrative staff, politicians, activists, etc.) and interdisciplinary (including actors from the fields of design, urban design, urban planning, anthropology, sociology, economics, engineering, cultural studies, etc.) set-ups.
In reference to the common ground sought by a dialectic argument, a dialogic discussion could thus aim towards a collective ground, where both a collection of ideas and a collective constellation of actors would aim at resolving complex urban issues with a heterogeneous, open, extendable and flexible set of different concepts, ideas and approaches. Dialogic modes of thought and exchange could eventually move away from oppositional set-ups that drive transitions towards precast solutions, and instead promote a plurality of ideas and techniques. Intentionally configured as a productive ‘site of struggle’ (as suggested by Patsy Healey) an approach based on a dialogic discussion would further incorporate actors and aspects that are often excluded from such processes—such as small-scale personal initiatives, cooperatively organised networks and locally-driven practices—and thus be more receptive to alternative takes, and more resilient towards unforeseen changes (Healey 2010, 6).
Based on the above-mentioned propositions, the idea of a collective ground would act as a relational network of concepts that comprises a) an ordinary and dispassionate attitude towards urban studies; b) comprehensive spatial analyses and the awareness of spatial agency; and c) an open-ended dialogic approach towards problem definition and solution finding. With regard to the presented case of urban road construction, for instance, such an approach would start the planning and design process with some essential questions to be answered by all involved stakeholders (local citizens, local and international experts from various disciplines, governmental representatives, NGOs),
Ultimately, allowing a flatter hierarchy and a more basic array of questions, ideas, concepts and possibilities, seeking collective ground could not only—as Garth Myers imagines—‘point to the multifaceted urbanity in African contexts as a great value to global understanding of urbanism’, it could also begin to dissolve the notions of opposite, transitional set-ups for urbanisation, design practices, urban planning, and economic policies as mainly defined by Western standards (Myers, 2011, 7). From this perspective, structural change into something yet unknown would literally mean opening up the way for a multitude of contextual, inclusive and innovative spatial practices that could not have been solely imagined at the desks and in the minds of established experts, administrations or remote foreign actors.
This chapter is based on the author’s dissertation, which was supported by the Department of Architecture of ETH Zurich, the Future Cities Laboratory in Singapore, and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). The author would like to thank all involved reviewers for their critical and helpful input.
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