Paul Jenkins. Urbanization, Urbanism and Urbanity in an African City: Home Spaces and House Cultures. Africa Connects Series. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 296 pp. $100.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-137-38016-6.
Reviewed by Cristina Delgado Henriques (Faculdade de Arquitectura)
Published on H-Luso-Africa (July, 2015)
Commissioned by Philip J. Havik
A Transdisciplinary Perspective on Maputo's Peri-Urban Area
Urbanization, Urbanism, and Urbanity in an African City: Home Spaces and House Cultures is the result of the Home Space research project which analyzes the city of Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Drawing on his extensive experience of working in African cities, Paul Jenkins has assembled impressive life stories of urban dwellers. He includes both a detailed investigation of particular sites in Maputo and a broad synthesis of relevant scholarly literature on urban planning in sub-Saharan African cities. The book also presents a critique of the principles and objectives of urban planning in Africa presented by other authors (for example, Karen Tranberg Hansen and Mariken Vaa, Isabel Raposo and Cristina Salvador, and Vanessa Watson) who, for some years now, have been stressing the need for a different approach for intervening in these territories. Jenkins aims to contribute to a new empirical approach to African urban studies, where the key idea is “to develop an understanding of African cities for what they are, and not for what they should be” (p. 18).
The book is divided into four parts. The first part, “Introductory Material,” clarifies the book’s aims and objectives, and introduces the intellectual approach, in line with “empirical evidence as a basis for reconsidering what may need to be a revised normative approach” (p. 17). This part also includes a detailed discussion of recent perspectives on housing, home, and peri-urban areas in Africa.
The second part, “Contextual Material,” discusses the in-depth empirical study at three different scales and levels of analysis. Starting with the macro-level, Jenkins analyzes Maputo as part of the sub-Saharan African region, southern African subregion, and Mozambique’s urban system. He revises the literature on patterns and processes on urbanization and places Maputo in this context. The statistical indicators (mainly demographic) also rank Maputo in the region and within Mozambique. The next scale, the meso-level, focuses on the “physical urban development of Maputo.” Jenkins describes various plans designed for the city. This discussion culminates in an analysis of the structural plan currently in place and of the plans for the major new urban infrastructures that are being built. Finally, the micro-level contextualization allows the reader to understand the selection of sites for the empirical study within the Maputo metropolitan area and the city of Maputo.
In “The Empirical Material,” the third part, through a set of reports of life stories of residents of the peri-urban areas of Maputo, the author provides dwellers’ imagery of urbanity. Jenkins selected these life stories from a set collected for the Home Space project. He uses a transdisciplinary approach with, what he calls, disciplinary “lenses.” Photos and drawings accompanying the reports allow the reader to have a more realistic idea of the studied field. This section of the book ends with a “discussion of key issues arising from the findings” (p. 137).
The last part, “Concluding Material,” resumes the “key current concepts that the research program sought to query,” namely, “the nature of rapid urbanization in the region,” “the difficulty in defining what is ‘urban,’” “the construction of ‘informality’ in urban areas,” “the reemergence of a discourse on ‘slums,’” and “the conception of planning” (p. 223). Reinforcing the idea that this book does not pretend to put forward a normative approach, Jenkins raises some queries and proposes a transdisciplinary approach and “new ways of thinking and doing (in academic, policy-making and professional/practice circles) through engaging with knowledge, actions, beliefs, values, and aspirations of the majority of residents now and in the future of Sub-Saharan African cities” (p. 243).
This is an essential book for those working on or studying peri-urban areas of sub-Saharan African countries. The development of the critical deconstruction of urban planning discourses, as well as of the practices they drive, is undoubtedly a positive perspective of the book, given that this is combined with a deep knowledge of the reality of the city of Maputo. Jenkins articulates well the diversity of issues and themes in the introductory essays, and the wide variety of topics covered at different scales provide empirical examples for policymakers.
Presenting life stories in a condensed and representative format is also a challenge achieved through key issues and common expressions of urbanity. These life stories are intended to illustrate how action through everyday activities can be a tool for co-participation, incorporating new processes, decision methods, and development strategies. The positions Jenkins presents, such as rethinking the state’s role in urban development, given the state’s relative weakness, are interesting. However, it is not clear from the text how to incorporate these practices, considering the lack of technical and financial resources.
A multidimensional approach is evident in this work. It incorporates a critical view of the inherited planning approach and of the physical planning imported from the North, without engaging the population and its concepts of land use and rights. And it stresses the need for more transdisciplinary insight. The vast amount of information presented in the book is sometimes difficult to absorb, and for this reason the introductory essays and the long list of notes are fundamental for an understanding of the key issues.
The book will probably be more useful for scholars than for practitioners. One of its basic contributions lies in the survey of reflections, practices, and urban planning experiences in Maputo. It can also serve as a useful source of information for researchers working in the field. The book provides a window onto contemporary approaches toward urban planning in African cities, by involving those who actually produce the city.
. Karen Tranberg Hansen and Mariken Vaa, introduction to Reconsidering Informality: Perspectives from Urban Africa, ed. Hansen and Vaa (Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 2004), 7-24; Isabel Raposo and Cristina Salvador, “Há diferença: Ali é cidade, aqui é subúrbio: urbanidade dos bairros, tipos e estratégias de habitação em Luanda e Maputo,” in Subúrbios Luanda e Maputo, ed. Jochen Oppenheimer and Isabel Raposo (Lisbon: Edições Colibri, 2007), 105-138; and Vanessa Watson, “‘The planned city sweeps the poor away...’: Urban Planning and 21st Century Urbanisation,” Progress in Planning 72, no. 3 (October 2009): 151-193.
. This plan was approved in 2008 and not in 2010 as noted by the author (p. 100).
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Cristina Delgado Henriques. Review of Jenkins, Paul, Urbanization, Urbanism and Urbanity in an African City: Home Spaces and House Cultures.
H-Luso-Africa, H-Net Reviews.
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