1 June 2019

Ethiopia: Addis, a City Built for or Around Us?

opinion

Here's a quote that has been on my mind lately " the creative adult is the child who has survived." The more I think about this quote, the truer the message.

I was speaking with a fellow African who was in Addis for the first time and looking at our beloved city with a fresh pair of eyes. It is always interesting to hear other's perspective as, we the dwellers, are quite used to how things, for better or worse. His first reaction was that Addis is not clean, I could not argue with that. All I could say though, is that Addis is much cleaner than it used to be. I was explaining that we are now being influenced and adopting practices of Umuganda from Rwanda, Labor day from Jamaica and many other Caribbean countries as well as a few other African countries including Nigeria and Tanzania who have a day out of the month dedicated for cleaning the city by city dwellers.

But then he said something that made me pause and think. He appreciated how much construction, growth and change there is in the city. He can tell that there is an economic boom that has taken place yet, he said, it does not look like the city is built for people. I knew exactly what he meant, but asked him to explain. He noticed the traffic which often feels like it is on purpose, i.e. not because there are not enough roads or there are too many cars, but because of lack of facilitation of traffic, bad driving that can easily be corrected. He also mentioned the lack of pedestrian walk on many of our streets, where cars and humans are bumping against each other on the roads etc...

He then drew my attention to the new buildings and construction that is going on all around the city. He found they are not "people centered", the city dwellers are supposed to move around the new buildings, transport systems etc... and not the other way around, meaning buildings, spaces and transport systems built around the needs of the city dwellers.

I am not a architect, engineer, designer or urban planner, but I know that there is an essential difference between building for and building around something. When you are building for, the central element of all the designs are based on a study of whom you are building for, you look at their needs, wants, practices etc... And then you map out how you will put your structure up. On the other hand, when you are building around, the main purpose of the structure you are putting up is not defined by those who are around there. The decision of what the structure will look like etc... is not dependent on who is around, rather on what the builders want to put up there. Once they have decided what they want, they then think about how can we build it here. The reality, needs and wants of the dwellers is secondary or even tertiary concern.

If you take a minute and think of a few buildings and other construction around where you are sitting or standing when you read this article, I can bet you there are at least a few of them that are built around us. So the main question now is, can that be changed?

Perhaps it is the child in me but I truly believe that we are gifted with many men and women who have the creativity to transform what was built around us, to something that's built for us. All they would need is a few open ears and minds who are willing to understand that if we keep this way, Addis Ababa, will look less like a flower and more like an unlivable concrete jungle.

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