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Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Unplanned Settlements in Zambia

BlogTalkRadio had an interesting discussion this weekend on unplanned settlements in Zambia. The medium is becoming very popular as a way for Zambians at home and abroad to share views. This particular programme raised some interesting issues on "city planning". One issue which was unfortunately not discussed was the challenges of "isolated settlements", an issue that is critical in the context of national development planning.


  1. Excellent program.

    I could create a synopsis for the solutions:

    1) Share 50% of national revenues go to local councils, so they can provide services locally, including in the rural areas.

    2) Agricultural jobs can keep people in the rural areass.

    3) Farmers and ordinary citizens must be secure in the ownership of their land. There has to be land reform, as well as a working out of what the nature of land ownership will be - title deeds and individual ownership, or maybe some kind of legal recognition of usufruct or right of use.

    I was a little disappointed in the woman from Glasgow who wanted to be anti-Mugabe without frankly knowing most of the facts. But she's pro-Giuliani. :-/ And she laughed at the person who said he was for Mugabe, but she didn't have any concrete arguments against his opinions. Also, she thinks African people can't handle technology? Anyway...

  2. The producers at Brain Drain are doing a great job picking topics and guests it seems, with another timely subject and lively discussion. I am not certain if any concrete solution was proposed which met with consensus support, but overall a good example of civil society in action.

    I was disappointed that there was no real discussion of strategies for upgrading conditions in existing informal settlements, especially water and sewerage. For example, ultra-low pressure drip systems can be added to regular water systems without large upgrades in pumping or piping systems, and can provide the few liters per day of clean, potable water necessary for life. Similar to many modern irrigation systems, hundreds of dwellings can be fed from a single low pressure valve, filling containers slowly over the course of the day. Nothing spectacular, not enough to make anyone want to stay in a makeshift house if something better can be offered later on, however it can help to stave off disease, which is always more expensive in the long run.

    I did think that some good points were made by each of the presenters, and I found myself agreeing with both sides on the usefulness of Google Earth. I have been working with topo maps and aerial photos ever since I was a guide when I was a young man, and it is very much an acquired skill. Features which are impassible on the ground can look very insubstantial from the air, which is where the low quality of coverage comes in, and for most of Zambia at this point the resolution is simply too low to make out more than very general features. That said, in the growing number of areas where the resolution is clear enough, it is rather amazing what having that clear overhead view can do for planning (for example someone should break the news to the kids at Kabunda Mission that their football pitch located at lat. 11d11'04" S, long. 28d43'03" E may be a trapezoid or some sort of rhombus, but decidedly not a rectangle). Sports facilities are good things to look for, because they are fairly standard indicators of scale, tennis courts can be especially helpful as they are pretty much identical and have lots of different sized rectangles in them. Most schools in Zambia have football pitches, so can be used to help judge the size of local dwellings and other buildings nearby.

  3. Another area I was naturally hoping they would discuss more is the historical context.

    For the interested reader, I have uploaded Chalo Mwiba's paper on The Colonial Legacy of Town Planning in Zambia

    The main conclusions from the paper :

    The need for evolution in Town planning practice

    From the discussions so far, it can be seen that town planning has not achieved much in Zambia. Inasmuch as this is attributed to the colonial legacy in terms of policy, legislation and urban management framework, little has been done after independence to redefine the policies, revise the legislation and reform the agencies for town planning. The legacy of colonial town planning practices has therefore continued in urban form and land uses, housing, land alienation, development control and the local government systems. There have been attempts to change the inherited colonial systems, with varying results. These changes have been inadequate or inappropriate as is the case with housing and legislation (the Town and Country Planning Act) or compounded the problems as is the case with land alienation and the local government.

    Whereas one can identify the town planning philosophy and urban policy in the colonial times, these are distinct in the post independent Zambia. The urban policy and philosophy of town planning should be developed and interpreted in the Zambian context and not the British or international perspective so that such policies, legislation and reform of the planning agencies can address town planning problems specific to Zambia such as access to land and upgrading of squatter settlements. To do this, town planning has to be evolved. The paper is therefore concluded by suggesting the evolution required in the practice of town planning in order to bridge the past and the future.

    Redefinition of the town planning philosophy, urban policy and legislation

    Problems that led to the founding of town planning such as congestion and urban decay are no longer relevant to the African towns and cities of today. The legislation developed and the institutions set up were transferred to the colonies or have been copied (See Home, 1987: pages 170-191). Thus they are provisions which are irrelevant or cannot be implemented. In Zambia, for example, the Town and Country Planning Act, Chapter 283 (sections 6-14) has established the Town and Country Planning Tribunal [where a member has to be a chartered planner from Britain when there is the Zambia Institute of Planners!] for appeals against decisions of the Planning Authority or the Minister (section 29). The provisions in the same legislation to prepare Structure Plans, as presented earlier, has no impact on the practice of town planning in Zambia whilst development control is not implemented by the local authorities. This has compounded problems or resulted in inefficient town planning practices. A new town planning philosophy and urban development policy need to be developed that would address specific urban problems experienced in the African cities such as urban poverty, access to land, accommodating the poor, HIV/AIDS, informal trading and greening the cities.

    Reform of planning agencies

    The death of Zambian local authority systems and its repercussions for town planning poses a challenge for planners. The implemented reforms have incapacitated local government as an agency for town planning, entangling the profession.

    The challenge for the planners now is how to avoid or stop implementation of policies that negatively affect the profession and the people at large. For the Zambian case, the system has already collapsed and the question is on how to increase efficiency in the town planning agencies and restore public confidence. As local government has collapsed, should it be resuscitated – how far can planners influence its resuscitation having failed to stop it from collapsing – or should new agencies be established? There have been suggestions to establish an autonomous body that should have responsibilities for land alienation, development control and have powers to source funds for planning (Mwimba, 2001: 14).

    Use of technology

    The benefits of computer technology applications in planning include reduction in internal costs, speeding up of problem solving and rapid analysis of alternative solutions, improvement in the quality and consistence of decisions, faster processing of applications, stimulation of innovation and efficient storage, retrieval and updating of data (Mwimba, 1997: 9-10).

    Therefore technological innovations in computing have a lot of promise for planning in increasing efficiency, providing timely information and reducing chances of erring when making planning decisions. The use of computers to help solve town planning problems in Zambia cannot be doubted. Unfortunately computing technology in town planning is only used by foreign firms when preparing Structure Plans or implementing projects in urban water supply and digital maps are prepared for land use and township layout as a matter of necessity. Only Lusaka City Council is establishing a database for upgraded settlements with the support of Swed Survey and has attempted at establishing an Environmental Management Information Systems. The town planners are quite literate in computers especially in word processing used in preparing reports.

    Non application of computer technology might be due to insolvency of the agencies for planning both the local authorities and central government or mainly the lack or prioritization due to ignorance in the benefits of computerization which are presented above. The other reason might be that planners, having seen the myriad benefits of advanced applications such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) want to apply such technologies.

    Where no basic form of planning practice has been computerized, such applications might not be sustainable and efficient. What town planners need is to start with basic computerization of planning tasks, for example by establishing databases of applications for plots or applications for planning permission. Such simple computerization, as already experienced, can result in avoiding double allocation of plots, identifying plot ownership and fast response to queries in applications for planning permission. Apart from making town planning efficient and responsive, the public image and confidence in the planning agencies would be increased.

    Rethinking of town planners

    The failure of town planning in Zambia to contribute to the spatial and socio-economic development of the nation is not solely attributable to the colonial town planning practices but also to the post independent, Zambian town planners. Although there are other factors for which they had little influence or control such as government policies that have resulted in collapsing of the local authority system, reasons can be found in the pioneer planners and the current planners. The pioneer planners, some of whom are currently in government and are holding top positions, have not supported the planning profession. They failed to sustain the Zambia Institute of Planners from 1991 until 2000 when the upcoming young planners revived the institute. The pioneer planners need to rethink and support the town planning profession by actively participating in the activities of the Zambia Institute of Planners, facilitating the prompt employment of the young graduates and ensuring that the capacities of the young planners are built (for example, by participating in the preparation of structure plans). The young Zambian planners need to seriously fight for the sustenance of the town planning profession for little has been achieved by the profession and is faced by a lot of challenges. They have to define their identity, the critical issues and get involved in the definition of the planning philosophy. The young planners therefore should be involved in redeeming the lost image and develop a new identity by evaluating the past, reviewing the planning ideology and the planning system, and the environment within which planning is practised in the country (Taylor 2001: 13-14). To save the image, the planners should strive to serve the client – the public – with efficiency and prompt. They should fight for revision of planning process and procedures which are bureaucratic and strive to change the planning institutions which have a reputation for inertia, inefficiency and bureaucracy. To achieve this, the planners need to be political and not regard planning as a technical profession only (Taylor, 2001: 2). Politicians should be advised about the costs of political decisions to the planning profession and the residents for most decisions are made in the interest of politics without looking at the implications or costs (such as sale of council houses which has contributed to the death of the local authorities). In Zambia, the town planning issues are apparently not being addressed. Instead, and unfortunately, there is a shift from planning towns to planning people, i.e. neglecting town planning and concentration on socio-economic planning, leaving the town planning problems unresolved. This can be evidenced by the number of socio-economic planning activities being supported such as the preparation of the Transitional National Development Plan and the number of donor-supported projects for development planning with none for town planning. The planners therefore need to redefine and interpret town planning in the Zambian context and be dedicated to the ideals of the profession. Where conditions are not existing to facilitate efficiency as in Zambia, planners need to come together to fight for their cause through professional bodies such as the Zambia Institute of Planners for there is an opportunity to make planning responsive, the colonial legacy is no longer an excuse, thirty eight years after independence.

  4. There is a good Special Report by on the success of community gardens and other food security projects in and around Cape Town, South Africa which aim to address the problems of dwellers in unplanned communities. Includes slide shows and videos. The success of the programs is in large part attributed to, "a formal urban agriculture policy approved by executive political leadership."

  5. The City of Curitiba, Brazil, is famous for many things in public planning circles, especially transformation of unplanned settlements "in place". One of my favourite inventions is the Lighthouse of Knowledge, which combines the functions of library, internet access point, youth centre, and literal police watchtower. I especially like the message that it sends to children in potentially vulnerable circumstances, the safest place in any neighborhood is also the place where they keep the books, just head for the lighthouse. This is an approach to community policing that I highly recommend for Zambian cities and unplanned settlements.

  6. Yakima,

    I follow two interesting blogs on issues related to slums and "informal trading" (related to slums) written by the same person.

    I find them useful in tracking what is happening around the world especially on unplanned settlements!


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