In 2013, new initiatives explore urbanization trends in Africa

The new year is here, and with it, a new chapter full of new opportunities to explore, study and discuss urban development in African cities. This list spotlights a handful of initiatives, websites and projects  to look forward to in 2013.

1  First-ever Social Media Week taking place in the continent (Lagos, Nigeria)
Social Media Week is a biannual, global event “exploring the social, cultural and economic impact of social media.” Two times each year, this week-long event takes place simultaneously in more than a handful of cities (in February and March). 2013 will mark the first time Social Media Week takes place in the continent — Social Media Week Lagos takes place in Lagos, Nigeria, February 18-22nd.

This first-ever continent-wide week will bring people from around the continent to discuss, share, network to discuss how the tools of social media are enabling people to work, to work together and to share information. With content-specific hubs focused on Media/Arts/Culture/Entertainment, Business/Innovation/Technology and Policy/Education/Government/Society, there is something for everyone.

I had the opportunity to interview Ngozi Odita, the Executive Director for Social Media Week Lagos, about the role of social media more in connecting people in Lagos, and she points to some great examples of how social media is fueling innovation in the city.

2  Launch of Informal City Dialogues, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, to discuss informality in six global south cities 
According to the OECD, half of the world’s population (1.8 billion) is employed in the informal sector. This month marks the start of the Informal City Dialogues, a Rockefeller Foundation-supportive initiative running from January to September 2013. The dialogues will examine informality and urbanization in six cities: Accra, Bangkok, Chennai, Lima, Metro Manila and Nairobi.

This initiative draws emphasis on integrating an array of stakeholders as planning agents in the city (“In each city, the Dialogues will involve a diverse group of citizens representing public, private, civic, industry, non-profits, local philanthropies, workers, street vendors, urban poor groups, academics, women and youth”). Informal City Dialogues aims to not only discuss the existence of informality in the city, but also to develop a vision for the city’s future.

Official logo for the Informal City Dialogues project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and documented by Next City magazine.
Official logo for the Informal City Dialogues project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and documented by Next City magazine.

3 Internationalization of the once US-focused online magazine Next City
Next City magazine, an online magazine exploring issues in the world’s cities, will be blogging, reporting and developing multimedia for the initiative; in addition, this online magazine, launched ten years ago, will mark its next decade by internationalizing its content. From Next American City to Next City, the magazine opens 2013 with a wide lens on urban issues facing the world’s cities, including in the global south.

4  University of Cape Town-launched State of Cities in Africa Project builds knowledge, applies research to African urban transition
The University of Cape Town’s African Centre for Cities last year launched this project, with the aim to develop applied research, knowledge and discussion related to the myriad ways the urban transition plays out in African cities. One of the major results is the African city reporting project, featuring in-depth articles on specific issues in cities, published on From examining the  terrorist threat of Boko Haram in Lagos to art and public spaces in Johannesburg to the public vs. private forces driving Accra’s development to snapshots of Ancient Cairo, the project is singular in its unique focus on the continent’s cities. In addition, for each of these cities, the investigator/reporter is an established urban development specialist in his or her own right, like Mohamed Elshahed, the founder and editor of Cairobserver, an amaaazing blog on the Egyptian city (also on Twitter). The project affords new ways to examine a city you know, or to explore those you have yet to visit.

5 New magazine CityScapes provides interdisciplinary lens with which to view urban cities in Africa and the global south
Excuse my current obsession with the African Centre for Cities as I mention another one of their initiatives — in early 2012, the centre launched CityScapes, a biannual magazine with the intent to “fairly represent the complexity and multi-dimensionality of the urban, with particular emphasis on articulating emergent practices and ideas from across the world.” The magazine sources articles from urban specialists, photographers, writers, sociologists and more who bring their disciplinary expertise to the critical analysis of cities.   These pieces are complemented by stunning photography as splices of life from the cities described, bringing you a real exposure — and better understanding — of the current urban dynamics in the cities they discuss.

Cover page for the inaugural issue of CityScapes magazine, published by the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town.

6  URB.IM continues creating a global community for inclusive cities 
URB.IM (as in “urban improvements”) launched in mid-2012 as a global network of practitioners exploring urban development challenges and solutions in six Global South cities: Nairobi, Mumbai, Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City and Lagos. The site aims to “establish an international community of practice and learning, sharing ideas and experiences in order to innovate, replicate, and scale working solutions to the problem of urban poverty.” With discussions like health, innovation and the urban poor; safety in informal communities; community organizations, tenancy and title; and education options for girls in slums, URB.IM serves as a forum to explore a singular issue across six different cityscapes. Check out each week for a new topic, and you can follow URB.IM on Twitter. Participate in the discussions that follow the articles to provide your own insights, or discuss your responses and reactions to what you’ve read.

7 The World’s Bank’s Striking Poverty initiative crowdsources knowledge, data and tools on development
Aleem Walji, Practice Manager of the World Bank Institute’s Innovation team, asked: “How about creating an open platform bringing together the best people, technology, policy, and tools to solve the world’s hardest problems?” The online space Striking Poverty is the result. Since its launch in October 2012, the online space has featured conversations on mapping and disaster management (a theme I readily appreciate), climate change, and slums and service delivery for the urban poor, among others.

Feel free to comment and suggest other initiatives are out there to “shine my eyes” for in 2013!


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