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Cities Research Seminar Series: Exploring a New Urban Agenda for Africa

Just a decade ago most African governments were at best, aspatial in their development ambitions, and more often than not, anti-urban. In 2016, the political and policy landscape looks significantly different. At a pan-African level, the African Union and the Economic Commission for Africa actively promote “sustainable urbanization”, encourage democratic decentralization, and work with various institutions to enlarge the flow of finance to address the massive infrastructure deficits that place a break on sustained economic growth and human development.

However, there is a real danger that generic policy prescriptions of the international policy circuit will unthinkingly be imposed on Africa. In the midst of the globalization of urban development policy prescripts that inevitably accompany the Habitat III processes, this risk is even more acute.

In recognition of this, Cities Alliance and the African Centre for Cities are seeking to advance more contextually relevant and bold urbanization policy perspective that more meant as a provocation than neat solutions. At the core of this argument is a desire to confront the interconnected challenges of systemic un- and under-employment, large-scale service delivery deficits, environmental degradation, ad hoc technological investments and unresponsive governance.

In this talk I will present the outlines of this argument as the beginning of a sustained engagement with the research of the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and new partners on the African continent.


Speaker: Edgar Pieterse

Professor Edgar Pieterse is an urban scholar, writer and creative agent whose interests include the theory and practice of interventions and imaginaries to make the Southern city more just, open and experimental. Edgar is founding director of the African Centre for Cities (ACC) at the University of Cape Town and holder of the DST/NRF South African Research Chair in Urban Policy. His research and teaching gravitates around urban development politics, everyday culture, publics, responsive design and adaptive governance systems.

He is consulting editor for Cityscapes—an international biannual magazine on urbanism in the global South. His most recent co-edited books are: African Cities Reader III: Land, Property & Value (2015), Africa’s Urban Revolution (2014) and Rogue Urbanism: Emergent African Cities (2013). He serves on the Advisory Boards of: Indian Institute for Human Settlements (Bangalore), LSE Cities (London), the Gauteng City-region Observatory (Johannesburg), Open Society Foundation of South Africa, among others. He is co-lead author of the Urban Chapter for the International Panel on Social Progress. He is also the Chairperson of the Cities Alliance Africa Think Tank and the Panel of Experts supporting the Integrated Urban Development Framework of South Africa.

Current research is focussed on the governance of flagship public projects signalling a “turn-around” of fortunes in Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, Kigali, Lagos, Luanda and Nairobi, alongside a manuscript that seeks to articulate the everyday and broader processes of urbanisation in Africa and Asia. Lastly, he was co-curator of the African Urbanisation component of the International Architecture Biennale of Rotterdam-2016 focussed on the Next Economy.

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