The term urban design to the layperson would conjure up images of static, historical and grand Architectural landmarks that serve communities.  We think of libraries, courts, theatres, transport hubs and economic centres; of course, this is only part of a greater whole.  

Urban design goes beyond the physical geography and built environment and involves urbanites’ socio-cultural and economic aspects.  Interaction and use within these spaces significantly affect the city’s populace’s positive health, safety, and economic outcomes.

Ways to Implement Urban design in African cities:

Capacity building 

Urban structures, which include the organisation of streets, suburbs, towns, and regions, are the fundamental framework for building vital and inclusive infrastructure.  During the pandemic, cities in African cities were disproportionately affected.  Necessities like food, employment, sanitation, transportation, education, and healthcare were frequently in limited supply in communities where partial or complete lockdown was enforced.  Poor infrastructure and historical and socio-economic conditions may have contributed to these overt inequities. 

Therefore, the onus lies on future policymakers to build cities accessible to every citizen from the socio-economic spectrum.  The effective contemporary urban design will further allow the functional integration of economic, technological, social, and educational spaces, fertile ground for Afrocentric innovation. 

These non-material aspects of urban geography and design constitute the factors that foster production capacities as they align with the demographic needs of a city’s residents.  By providing accessible, resilient, and sustainable infrastructure to meet these needs, communities can mobilise socio-economic and socio-cultural assets in their development.

Green Energy

With the fallout of Covid-19 exacerbating city living conditions, the need for green and renewable energy has never been more evident.  Green energy sources have the potential to drive down energy costs as well as the related, indirect systemic costs.  This could mean affordable housing, sanitation, healthcare, transport, education, greater food security, and public safety. 

Moreover, “Green Energy” also goes beyond energy production; it involves employing materials and processes that build cities that modulate energy consumption and diversify their energy sources.  

The importance of mitigating extreme energy consumption becomes evident when we consider that approximately 70 per cent of global energy needs are found in cities.  This need, in turn, feeds the cycle of production and emissions, which are economically, socially, and ecologically unsustainable.

African cities and Urban Design

If Africa is to take its place among the leading global nations, our urban spaces, both in design and use, must resemble urban areas that fit a modern and technologically integrated African city.  A strategy to ensure this is to guarantee that our cities are “walkable”.  

“Walkability” goes beyond the ability of pedestrians solely traversing the city but looks at the accessibility of significant services and goods being available on foot within minutes.  By expanding sidewalks and decreasing lanes, city planners can start to focus on the citizens, decrease pollution, and increase activity and health. 

Additionally, planners must include dynamic areas that result in adaptable and multifunctional spaces.  This will help answer the need for space where incremental urbanisation occurs.  It will also ensure that people can afford to stay in economic hubs by allowing them to use a single room for work, home and play.


Urban design could be a great boon to Afrocentric development; not only is it built on the ideology of diversity and inclusion, but it can also consider the needs of the urbanites and design future spaces and places that reflect an authentic African answer.


Francois De Bryun


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