“A Changing Accra”: Residents discuss urban challenges and future in architecture-inspired forum

“When I look at Accra, I see a city that has an identity crisis,” said photographer and blogger Nana Kofi Acquah. “If you look at the city, there’s nothing that tells you where we were, where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.”

Indeed, even in the past few years alone, Accra as a city has morphed and changed, with so many forces at work – government, large and small-scale private development, ad hoc housing development.

“In the last so many years, the city [of Accra] has changed tremendously,” echoed Nat Nuno Amarteifio. These statements were part of a larger conversation, a panel discussion of the city’s changing urban landscape, where more than 100 residents of Accra – long-time residents, visitors, students, expats and returned diaspora – came to add their voice to the discussion. The event, organized by  Adventurers in the Diaspora, included built environment professionals from architecture and planning, all of whom had grown up in Accra:

Osei Agyeman, an architect and former president of Ghana Institute of Architects,
Ralph Mills-Tettey, professor and architect, author of Visions of Accra in the 21st Century,
Osei Ankam, urban planner,
Nana Kofi Acquah, ­­photographer and blogger, and
Nat Nuno Amarteifo, architect and former mayor of Accra, who served as moderator for the panel and Q&A session that followed.

Listen to the (almost) full audio of the event (45-minute panel, followed by a 1-hour long Q&A session), available here:

In Accra, certain neighborhoods are growing, changing, evolving, and the result is a “new face” for the city. But these changes come with their own challenges, and in the urban space, these changes must work within specific limits. The well-known challenge in Accra is the challenge of working with – or around – the city’s outdated planning controls and policies: “Overhauling governance in Accra to make it more congruent with the rate of change with where the city is going is something that nobody even dares think about,” Amarteifio said.

The result is that the city is developing, but for the vast majority of space, and for the past decade, it’s happening on “autopilot,” to borrow the word that Osei Agyeman used to describe the city’s lack of planning — individuals, households, families and residents are creating their own environments, with little guidance or input from the local government.

But at the center of the city’s development is tension: “There’s a lot of conflict in terms of how people perceive how the city must happen,” Agyeman said. “Everybody wants a piece of the city to make sure that their wellbeing is catered for…Therefore, the man who sells sugarcane in a wheelbarrow along the road believes he has every right as the one who passes by in his car, as well as an estate developer. In as much as there is no harmony or direction in terms of what we want from the city, there’s always going to be some amount of conflict.”

This individuality brings vibrancy, economic opportunity and culture to the city, but it’s also a downfall for the city’s lack of planning direction: This go-it-alone mentality, in terms of how people act and interact, leads to a series of “disconnects” – a modern-day, local example of Accra’s tragedy of the commons. 

Conversation highlights

During the conversation, architect D.K. Osseo-Asare and urban planner Kuukwa Manful and I traded tweets back and forth, sharing our opinions and discussion information with our followers and those interested in urbanism in Accra. You can check out the Twitter discussion by following #ChangingAccra:


What do you think? Did the panel hit on the issues you see in Accra, or do you see similar challenges in your city? How can we add to this discussion?

2 Responses to ““A Changing Accra”: Residents discuss urban challenges and future in architecture-inspired forum”

  1. Victoria says:

    Great article on the Global Urbanist that I think speaks to this conversation – ACTION. In his article “Density promotes sustainability, but does it promote civic engagement?” (see: http://globalurbanist.com/2013/06/04/density-civic-engagement) Andy Carr looks at the highest density cities in the United States, looks at U.S. cities where volunteerism is also highest, and looks at where they match. Wondering where? Here’s your answer answer:

    “Seattle and San Francisco, for instance, both contain several major universities in their metropolitan regions, have well educated workforces and strong employment figures. For each of these west coast cities, educational organisations account for the largest shares of volunteers, perhaps also benefiting from the relatively close proximity of their universities to denser urban cores and mass transit routes. Salt Lake City and Jacksonville, two of the nation’s most religious metropolitan areas, have substantially more volunteers participating through religious organisations.”

    So now my question is, how can we capitalize on this in Accra, a city where there are a plethora of educational institutions, as well as religious resources? This city is definitely not short on both. I’d wager that a number of people volunteer already through their educational and religious oufits, but this opens up an interesting opportunity for further engagement, and it’s a great a response to what many participants at the “Changing Accra” event last week asked: “How do we move forward?”

  2. […] article “A Changing Accra” is featured in the September 2013 issue of ArchiAfrika magazine. Have a look at the entire issue […]

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