Prof. Ato Quayson’s new book Oxford Street: City Life and the Itineraries of Transnationalism explores the history and dynamics of one of Accra’s most popular and globalized streets – the stretch of Oxford Street in the Osu district. Quayson is a professor of English and director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto; his book Oxford Street is based on more than 10 years on the streetspace, not only examining and researching the urban planning history, but also observing and dialoguing with its users on the street’s dynamic characteristics. The result is a detailed study of one of Accra’s most interesting streets, and a window into better understanding the city’s urban spaces and distinctive growth that blends local and wider transnational aspects.
In this interview with African Urbanism, Quayson shares insights from the book, his research and learning process of studying and writing on Oxford Street. Catch the Introduction to his book below.
AFRICAN URBANISM: In your more than a decade of studying Oxford Street, what are some of the fundamental changes you have seen in the streetscape?
ATO QUAYSON: I think the most significant changes have taken place firstly with respect to the speed at which new shops open and the range of renovations that various shops undertake to make themselves more attractive than their competitors. Thus within the ten or so years of my research, the place that is now Oxford Street Mall was previously MTN. Today’s Ramona was simply Kwatson’s and Barclays was a large supermarket called Afridom. Matumba nightclub was Black Caesar’s, Koala was decades previously called Cedar House, a secretarial school, and so on and so forth.
But perhaps most interesting is the range of banks that have located their offices on Oxford Street, from Liberty Bank, to Amal, to Barclays, etc. Only recently (July 2014), I noticed that some estate developers are building a high-rise condo building at Danquah Circle which is provisionally being called Oxford Street 1. This is further evidence of the concentration of finance capital along this barely mile-and-a-half mile stretch.