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Characterised by discord, lawlessness, noise, high levels of pollution among other metrics; navigating oneself in most African cities has been a well-documented nightmare that the media and academic writers have written about; time and again. Owing to rapid African population growth and urbanisation, today’s cities have become critical centres of civilisation. Statistics by the world bank show that whilst 54% of the world’s population lives in urban areas 80% of global outputs (by value), measured by the gross domestic product (GDP), are produced in urbanised areas.
In a quest to address the current menace, solutions involving smart cities and urban development have provided a beacon of hope and have been subject to debate for quite some time now with some regarding the two as two opposing polarities such that we must abandon one to achieve the other, however, the recent trends tend to gravitate towards the Africa of my dreams where we will be able to achieve a sustainable blend of smart city technologies in urban development.
The British Standards Institute (BSI) defines a smart city as the effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens. Techtarget.com further elaborates a smart city as a municipality that uses information and communication technologies to increase operational efficiency, share information with the public and improve both the quality of government services and citizen welfare.
On the other hand, urban development can be loosely defined as the result obtained after careful integration of planning and implementation efforts by civil and design engineers, project managers, architects, environmental planners and surveyors. The main pillars of urban development rest upon figuring out the best ways to handle natural expansion, urban renovation and sustainable development.
With the above definition of urban development, we can now start to ponder on how can we explain or correct the spontaneous and unmanaged growth of African urban centres? Characterised by a complex mixture of planned settlements and squatter camps growing at the same pace and the trend of regulated and legal establishments are growing at the same pace as the unregulated and illegal establishments in other sectors such as transport and retail. But for a viable solution to be implemented, the visionary has to live in the future before it materialises to become the present.
Reflecting on the ancient African cities that we stand to marvel up to this day, for example, the pyramids in Giza (2630 – 2611 BC), the Great Zimbabwe (11th – 15th Century AD) among other historic monuments scattered all over Africa. These establishments are a reflection of the vibrant towns and cities that were, in ancient times, build on the backdrop of tremendous feats reached by our forefathers through the use of the most advanced technologies at their disposal. The above serves to expose the growth potential that Africans have not only through the availability of raw materials but through application of science and technology to solve our every day (contemporary) problems, it can also serve to instill hope and confidence for better African cities to my fellow Africans by reminding them that what was once possible, we can do it once more now that we have advanced technology and vast knowledge of the sciences.
Also, looking back (in today’s lenses), the primitive nature of the technologies that were available back then, with only stones as building materials (not glass, concrete & steel), and with hoes and axes as the only tools (not cranes, excavators or earthmoving machinery). It would only leave one to wonder what kind of sophisticated cities the Pharaohs of Egypt or the founders of Great Zimbabwe would have built and the nature of urban development we would have, had they been born during our time when we now have advanced metallurgy and more efficient mining techniques, wireless internet and mobile phones, better medicines to cure a plethora of ailments among many other advancements that my current generation is now taking for granted.
In part inspired by the movie Black Panther and the rich African heritage and diversity. The Africa of my dreams is the one in which its inhabitants will re-innovate their ways to live in complete harmony with the environment and wildlife where pollution levels and inefficiencies will be at the minimum. This will be achieved through the establishment of vibrant smart cities which will extend urban development to incorporate self-aware infrastructure like smart buildings smart traffic and street lights among other innovations. The smart infrastructure will constantly communicate with the city’s inhabitants, with other infrastructure and also that is capable of sending and/or receiving messages from the general environment so as to relay them to town planners, civil engineers and other decision-makers to enable make informed decisions pertaining to updating the urban developments master plans and to extend the cities’ growth. This will unleash a new dimension of environmental friendliness and energy efficiency and Africans will be able to embrace the technologies we have at our disposal to achieve zero emissions by 2050 through the use of solar, nuclear and hydro energy for our homes and electric vehicles.
The Africa of my dreams will not be reliant on donations and foreign aid but its citizens will finally be able to harness the vast natural resource base the continent generously offers to build infrastructure for the betterment of the standard of living for the city dwellers. The African cities of the future will be in a state such that they will attract foreign visitors by their orderliness, cleanliness, peacefulness and grandeur as it has been in our ancient cities. And for one to be known as having visited an African city, it will be a source of pride to any visitor.
And yes, the movie Black Panther only scratches the surface of the Africa that I envision in my dream and I hope that vibranium (the fictional super metal depicted in the Black Panther movie) will be discovered in Africa just before I wake up.
Isaac .T. Chikutukutu is Software developer-turned-data-Scientist, holder of an Honors in Business Studies & Computing Science, participated in several projects spanning from Web & Mobile Software development, Networking, Data Collection & Analysis and Computer Vision for over four years.
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