A renewed focus on urban development planning is necessary to create the right spaces in African cities that can accommodate the needs of the people on the ‘last development frontier’


Infrastructure is one of the most important drivers of real estate investment and municipalities can play an important role in supporting this development. However, experts attending the recent African Real Estate & Infrastructure Summit on ‘Developing Future Cities’ agree: when it comes to infrastructure and urban planning, Africa needs to create its own concepts, opposed to looking abroad for solutions.

The summit, which also aimed to assist African cities and governments in securing new international investment for economic development based around commercial, retail, mixed-use and industrial real estate and infrastructure projects that will contribute to Urban Development Plans, saw leading African cities showcase their urban development plans and discussed the challenges and opportunities of their urbanisation.

Professor Vanessa Watson from the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at the University of Cape Town (who was part of an exciting speaker line-up at the summit, focusing on ‘African cities for sale. World-class, smart, eco or just profitable?’, says rapid growth of African cities means that urban development is required, but notes that the vast majority of this growth is of poor and unemployed households. “The very small urban middle-class offers limited opportunity for real estate aimed high-income households. Finding housing models for lower income households is absolutely possible and offers far greater opportunity.”

Watson, the author and co-author of seven books, and a founder and on the executive of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town, has over the last decade focused on the development of a particular area of planning theory, which also links theory to practice. There are two aspects to this: placing power and conflict as inevitable and central to planning processes, and grounding planning ideas in an understanding of social diversity and difference. Her focus is a response to the problem that most mainstream planning theory has been developed in the global North, and explicitly or implicitly claims universality, while in fact it is often not helpful to planning practitioners working in the rather different conditions of the global South and East.The African Centre for Cities undertakes research on how to respond to the positive dynamics of urbanisation in Africa through urban policies, which avoid growing socio-spatial inequalities and marginalisation of poor communities.

“My practical concern with the future of African cities has directed my interest over the last decade to planning education on the continent, and how the next generation of professional planners is being educated and produced. Hence my role in setting up the Association of African Planning Schools and the various projects which have emerged through this network. “More recently I have developed an additional interest in the new economic forces re-shaping African cities, in particular the private-sector driven property development initiatives, often originating with international developers and built environment professionals. These new forces are likely to greatly exacerbate processes of marginalisation and exclusion of the poor in cities of Africa.”

She says: “New forms of urban planning in African cities seem to be dedicated to transforming them into replicas of Dubai, Shanghai and Singapore. Many international property developers, architects and engineers label African cities as the globe’s ‘last development frontier’, awaiting urban make-overs which combine the worst architectural fantasy features of Dubai, Shanghai and Singapore.

“We need to find approaches to real estate development which are not only for the wealthy, and which find architectural and planning approaches which are not simplistic ‘cut and pastes’ of cities elsewhere in the world,” she says.

Creative ways

Her vision for the real estate industry is to be able to create a sector which fully understands, and responds to, the context in which it is working—political, economic, social and environmental—a sector which caters to the full spectrum of income needs; a sector which is prepared to look for creative ways to deal with the very unique issues of African cities in sustainable ways.Kobus van der Vyver, Unit Manager: Property Development Services at Urban-Econ (specialising in the field of development economics), another delegate at the summit, says the real estate sector, as with any economy, is an important asset class for investment. However, due to its relative stability and confidence instilled in investors by the fact that real estate is fixed and tangible, this sector is one of the most important sources for wealth creation and bringing stability to the markets.

He suggests that we therefore need to ensure more market penetration, expansion of the markets beyond only the larger cities and metros to secondary cities and towns.

“As a research firm, one of our main challenges is the lack of reliable information to project market gaps and inform project feasibilities. National level information is often easy to find, but the information problem is particularly pertinent when information is required on a local level.” Other challenges he mentions include:

  • Slow progress in administrative processes and decision-making that often leads to delays in development in the real estate sector and in return lead to opportunities being lost.
  • The importance of market research is also often underestimated.
  • Opportunities are less well-defined and thus difficult to package.
  • Language barriers in particular countries cause barriers to entry.
  • Lacking legislation architecture to guide and enable convenient cross border trade and investment. This is of particular importance when businesses are required to import products for operations or construction.
  • A lack in locally based skills to support development projects (particularly in rural areas).
  • Political instability often discourages investment into Africa. This is further also linked to exchange rate uncertainty—uncertainty with regards to return on investment.
  • Currently implementation models attempt to duplicate processes and functions that work in model developed countries, however this is sometimes considered ad the major reason for real estate developments not being successful.

Despite these challenges, Van der Vyver is excited about a number of projects ongoing in Kenya. These include the Langton mixed-used development north of Nairobi near the Windsor Golf Estate. Other ongoing initiatives in Kenya include the Red Coral Mixed Land Use Development, CDC logistic operations in Nairobi and Mombasa as well as projects in Makuyu Sam, Sumburu Kwale and Athi River.

Other infrastructure projects

  • The new Azuri International School Market Feasibility Study and the Trianon Mixed Development in Mauritius;
  • The Walvis Bay Local Economic Development Plan and Strategy and the Swakopmund Platz Am Meer Waterfront Shopping Centre in Namibia;
  • National Property Investment Market Intelligence, Aba African Market, Enugu Medical Centre, Abuja Market Intelligence Study and Lilly Hospital in Nigeria;
  • Lusaka International Airport expansion and the Mtendere Sanitation Connection Action Plantation in Zambia;
  • Mixed-use development surrounding the Free Trade Area in Lagos in Nigeria; and
  • Mixed-use development creating partnership between TWK, Developers and Other government institutions such as DBSA and EPWP in South Africa. The aim of the development is to create a more sustainable economic based and create rural jobs to offset issues such as seasonal employment. Projects are aimed at enhancing the tourism and agricultural sectors as well as addressing housing and education needs. Therefore, utilising the real estate sector (commercial, retail and residential) to create an environment to improve the well-being of the local community in a sustainable manner.

New emerging market

“Rapid growth with high potential return on investment can be expected should the product be in demand. Africa is regarded by many as the new emerging market, the new frontier or last untapped market.

However harnessing opportunities requires innovation and understanding the uniqueness and individuality of cultures in different countries.

“The greatest mistake in Africa is to try a one size fits all approach,” says Van der Vyver.

comments powered by Disqus


This edition

Issue 92


Opportunitymag The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) presents a wealth of opportunities for South Africa, but factors such as a l… 13 days - reply - retweet - favorite

Opportunitymag The Saldanha Bay Industrial Development Zone (SBIDZ) is the first special economic zone (SEZ) to be located in one… 13 days - reply - retweet - favorite

Opportunitymag The Africa Energy Indaba 2020 is the summit to attend amidst all the exciting and revolutionary developments in the… 3 months - reply - retweet - favorite