Urban imaginaries and socio-economic exclusion

Researchers:  Onyanta Adama, Andrew Byerley (Affiliated Researcher since 2014), Ilda Lindell (Affiliated Researcher since 2012) and Mats Utas

African cities are widely represented as sites of disorder and chaos, decay and crisis, as ungovernable and beyond state control. Against this background, one can currently discern the emergence of certain urban imaginaries that envisage the reversal of this state of affairs and a different path for African cities. These imaginaries tend to be shaped by concerns with economic competitiveness and to be informed by Western planning ideals that are perceived as universally valid models for urban progress. Internationally circulating ideas articulate with state actors’ rationalities and set into motion particular interventions aimed at modernizing the African city, at creating order and regularizing the ‘irregular’. This project addresses contemporary processes or strategies that are gaining prominence in urban Africa, in the pursuit of modern and orderly cities.

Central sets of questions are:

1. What are the processes of city visioning that come to shape dominant representations of the good city in specific urban settings? That is, who has the power to define ‘the good city’ and who belongs in it? How are such visions legitimated?

2. How are dominant urban imaginaries and related interventions changing contemporary patterns and dynamics of socio-spatial inclusion and exclusion in specific African cities? In particular, what are the short- and long-term effects of specific strategies and interventions on the lives of disadvantaged urban groups in particular urban contexts?

3. How do these groups perceive, experience and respond to dominant city visions and specific interventions with an impact on their lives? How do they contest, subvert or embrace dominant visions and strategies – by for example, contesting evictions, reclaiming lost spaces and asserting their place in the city, acting in ways that subvert dominant imaginaries, or by striving for inclusion in the revamped city? What are their own visions for the city?

4. What alternative visions are eventually emerging that are socially inclusive, in tune with the endeavors and needs of the majority of urban residents and that may be the basis for an alternative to increasingly segregated and fragmented forms of urbanism?

Andrew Byerley
Ilda Lindell
Mats Utas
Onyanta Adama
Urban development
Urban planning
modern cities
socio-economic exclusion
urban imaginaries
urban progress
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