For those who have been away from Addis, for some years, upon returning home, they will be surprised witnessing the fast urbanization and a number of new high rise buildings in the metropolis ,the same also holds truth for the city's dwellers. But for architects and urban planners, what matters most is the livability and resilience beyond the physical change and the expansion of the capital.
Dawit Banti, who has over 20 years of teaching experience in architecture here and abroad, is currently teaching building construction and urban designing at Addis Ababa University of Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EIABC).
For him, from late 1960s until 2003, Addis was sleepy. “ All of a sudden in 2003, the city began to experience construction boom . We and the public sector were not ready for the boom. There were not enough local contractors apart from lack of quality and control measures.”
In such breakneck construction speed , it is obvious that quality will be compromised in a bid to meet the pent -up demand of housing in Addis. “ So you might say we are trying to change the tyres of car while we are driving it , if you think of quality now , What we have been doing so far is that appreciating what we have and also take risks of something,” he says, adding that :“ We are 100 million plus people, the largest landlocked country in the world in-terms of population, If you want to satisfy the housing demand of the people , there are no other options than maintaining the boom .”
Nevertheless , what needs to be done to keep up the boom in parallel with the activities that enhance the livability and resilience of the city?
Dawit says livability is all about social formulation. “ We have to work for social cohesion . We have to really be worried for suburbanization and gated communities. We have to come up with idea of mixing social status via filling up social and income divides.”
The population of Addis Ababa is estimated over four million and its annual population growth rate is now four percent. This means every year 160,000 people emigrant from various states of the country to the capital city.
As a matter of fact these huge number of migrants are currently working in all construction sites of the city . Have we ever asked ourselves where do these migrants live or get affordable housing ? Most of them live in makeshift houses at river basins and nearby mountains in the city.
He urges that the city’s administration and pertinent bodies to come up with inclusive approach to integrate the migrants. “We have to bear in mind that the rivers and the mountains of city are already burdened by migrants.”
According to Dawit, apart from trying to stop migrants from its source developing the secondary cities and towns is a must. “Urbanization is the catalyst for growth . You have to urbanize, if you want to grow the economy .But , is the infrastructure ready to accommodate hundred thousands of people coming every year into city ? ”
Livability also has something to do with open spaces and green areas. The city needs to have numerous open spaces and green areas like the park between Hilton Hotel and Foreign Affairs Ministry building, he adds.
Nowadays , Addis Ababa seems to be planned for automobiles only . This is because there are not enough sidewalks and cycling lanes in the city.
“ Foreseeable future ,our urban planners are now thinking of reserving spaces for the public transport line like railway, likewise are we giving spaces for cyclists ? We are just beginning to construct our city. Planning city for vehicles in the 20th century is failure,” Dawit reiterates.
He also indicates that building houses at peripheries of the city and putting massive public infrastructure to bring back people to the center is a loss.
Addis needs to be future proof in a bid not to worry about the technology of the future. “ What are cars going to be in the future , all will be electrified, we need to clean our rivers.”
Speaking of resilience, he says it has to do with observation of shocks and stresses . “ if a pandemic breaks out in Addis Ababa, it will really attack us quickly as what happened West Africa during Ebola outbreak in 2014, so are we ready for this kind of pandemic? , do we have enough sanitation and water supply in Addis ? This is because we are going to face stress and shocks due to globalization, climate change and the like.
The needs for good planning and appropriate architecture outside Addis are just as big. If projections of population growth come true, Ethiopia may need 20 new cities of 5m people each by 2050.
“Of course ,we will worry about quality in the near future. Quality is not something you bring it quickly, look at the building around me , some of them are shabby. I am really worried about them, ” Dawit says, adding that : “I am really hopeful that the recent unfortunate events of the loss of lives and collapse of building under construction will be a weak up call for us to slow down a bit.”
BY DANIEL BEYENE