The Kilamba City controversy. What can African cities learn from it?

In 2012, Kilamba New City located 30 km out of Luanda made global headlines as Africa’s first ‘ghost town’ constructed by Chinese companies. Following the intervention of the Angolan government to make the constructed housing affordable through subsidies, the occupancy rate of the newly built city rose, debunking the ‘ghost town’ narrative. As much as the controversies were extensively covered in media, the debate also extended to academics. In the academic journal, Environment and Urbanization, a University of Cape Town Professor Vanessa Watson, refuted the socio-economic sustainability of the new city. In her paper, African urban fantasies: Dreams or nightmares, she argued the unaffordability of the housing to most Luanda residents. This has been a characteristic of most financial investment-driven projects, detached from the realities of urban Africa, urban poverty. Following this publication, a year later was Allan Cain, the Director of Development Workshop, with a direct rebut. In his article, African urban fantasies: past lessons and emerging realities, he argued how African governments are drawing from past experiences to make their dreams a reality. He referred particularly to the Kilamba city’s increasing occupancy rate as progress in socio-economic viability of related projects.

Ever since the story of Kilamba city took a new twist from a ‘ghost town’ to a town with considerable occupancy rate, the controversy has lost the momentum. In the whole Kilamba City controversy, however, one dimension of the argument has been missing (at least in the same spotlight). The environmental sustainability of recent Chineseconstructed projects and other allied projects. The poor environmental sustainability emphasis for most new urban development projects demonstrate a critical case of ‘putting the money where the mouth is’. Housing provision and affordability is the most critical challenge facing African cities given the large backlog of urban residents seeking housing. As a result, other consequences of housing provision that pertain environmental sustainability such as urban sprawl, peri urbanisation and automobile dependency do not get critical attention in comparison.

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