Planning without planners

Maputo (Source: Faculdade de Arquitectura e Planeamento Fisico, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane)

For more than a year now, a group of researchers has been conducting an expansive study of houses and households in Maputo’s suburbs. By “suburbs” I mean the part of the city where not so long ago most homes were built of reeds, where sewage systems continue to be an individual affair, where procuring water is a major occupation, and where most people in Maputo live. The researchers are an international all-star team of architects and anthropologists: Júlio Carrilho, Ana Bénard da Costa, Paul Jenkins, Jørgen Eskemose Andersen, and a number of others in Mozambique and in Europe—people who you’re bound to come across if you care about the growth of post-independence Maputo. And now they’re working together. They’ve picked about 100 homes to work with, and I attended a seminar in Lisbon a few months ago where they discussed some preliminary results. The numbers are astonishing.

Maputo, with about two million people, is some twenty times the size as it was in 1950, and more than double what it was in 1980. This is actually not particularly astonishing. Cities all over Africa have grown at similarly rapid rates over the last half-century. (But you know what’s crazy? Lagos. A city of about three-quarters of a million people in 1960, when Nigeria became independent, will have an estimated 23 million by 2015.)

Two-thirds of the surveyed homes in the Maputo suburbs had televisions. A reminder: Only one in eight Mozambicans even has electricity. Of those with electricity about half live in Maputo. In Mozambique, Maputo is an island of (relative) plenty.

Almost three-quarters of households had expanded their home in the last decade. 30 percent were currently in some phase of construction. 12 percent declared the intention to expand. What does this mean? It means that you always have your house on your mind. It means that the city is always remaking itself. It means you need a LiveCam on every dusty corner to have any hope of keeping track of the changes. Google ought to do this.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it just by walking down a suburban street, but almost three-quarters of households had at least one tree in their courtyard. It’s a green city, said Jørgen Eskemose Andersen, a Danish architect. The trees are often fruit trees.

More than half of the studied area (which is actually a sizable chunk of Maputo) was built in an unplanned way—without too much concern for street widths, plot sizes, etc. But of the part that was planned, one-third was unofficially planned. Homeowners hired “moonlighting topographers” and just laid out parts of the city themselves.

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5 Responses to Planning without planners

  1. Benedito Machava says:

    Hi David. This post touched me in a particular way. And I will keep in mind this sentence: “you always have your house on your mind”. Nothing could be as true as this saying. That´s what housing is in Maputo. A dream, an idea…

    I would like to read more of this.

  2. Wendy says:

    Your house is your retirement, your legacy, everything in Mozambique. Love that someone thought to ask that question about the tree in the courtyard!


  3. Hello David,

    Do you have any more information on Maputo’s city planning efforts, reports (in public view, of course) that we could read?

    There was a recent story in the paper about homes built illegally being demolished and I wondered whether this course of action by the municipality was an invocation of city planning and management or simply a case of tenants “not paying up”.

    It seems that in Maputo, everyone loves to give a speech about how things can be improved but what we really need to hear is from the authorities.

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