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Town planning schools:The challenge of planning African Cities

In this article, Professors Vanessa Watson and Babatunde Agbola discuss a paradigm shift occurring in Nigerian Planning Schools: from the American and European planning theories that have so far been applied in Nigeria to new theories more suited to dealing with the unique challenges presented by African cities.

According to Watson and Agbola (2013) in their book ‘Who will Plan African Cities’, “Planning is the single most important tool that governments have at their disposal for managing rapid urban population growth and expansion and Nigeria would seem to have an abundance of this tool to affect and effect the desired changes in the Nigerian urban space”.

Today in Nigeria, ,there are 49 Planning Schools, 31 of which are in Polytechnics and Colleges of Technology, while Urban and Regional Planning are taught in 18 Universities spread unevenly across the Nigerian geographic space. This is the largest assembly of planning schools on the African continent. The most poignant question, however, is how these number of planning schools has and their products impact the morphology of Nigerian cities or the livelihood of its citizens?

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That these number of planning schools and their products have not positively or evidently affected the morphology of Nigerian towns and cities may be traced to three factors: either the curricula of the planning schools are faulty or; the products of these schools have no leverage to practice what they learnt; or both.  In the view of Watson and Agbola (2013), it is more of a faulty curricula which feeds wrong professional practice which seeks to produce Euro-American cities on the African continent

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Most planning educators in Nigeria,are products of top rate schools in the global north of Europe and America, including this writer. The received knowledge by these educators are mostly in contradistinction to the needs, aspirations and indeed, realities of African cities. The result is the transplanting of America and Europe knowledge of city plan to Nigeria . Yet, the form, functions and processes of these Africa cities are uncommonly different. Many of the attending problems of Nigerian cities are not the contending issues in the global north. No wonder Nigerian cities remain undeveloped but growing and its major problems remain unsolved.

This need has been accentuated by the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS) beginning in 2008 when a major conference on evolving a new curricula by African Planning Schools was held. At that conference, thoughts of African Planning educators were distilled and five major themes that should be entrenched in all African Planning Schools curricula were identified as:

  • Informality
  • Access to land
  • Climate change
  • Collaboration between planners, communities, civil society and other interested parties
  • Mismatch between spatial planning and infrastructure planning

In addition to this effort and confronted by daring challenges of urban development in Nigeria, the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP), and the Town Planners Registration Council (TOPREC), have encouraged Planning Schools to come up with revised curricula to take into consideration topical issues of practical relevance to the lives of Nigerians. Taking the lead, for example, the TOPREC Mandatory Compulsory Development Programme (MCDP) 2013, an annual mandatory seminar series for planners nationwide was based on Climate Change with a message that all planning schools should include these in their curriculum.

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These curricula changes to include all the five identified issues are being pursued with dedicated seriousness by TOPREC as they go on periodic accreditation and any planning school that do not have issues of common and practical relevance are refused re-certification.

The required change is very challenging but with collective determination of the planning schools and the unrelenting enforcement by the statutorily supervising bodies, the battle for a more realistic curricula for Nigeria’s planning schools can be evolved and implemented.

With this, the urban form and landscape of Nigerian cities can be more inclusive, growing with development with the possibility of having decidedly Nigerian cities with which the city residents can relate and be proud of as their own cities.

 SOURCE: Future Cape Town

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