Featured in Town Planning Review 92.6: Theorising small-town urbanisation in sub-Saharan Africa: a multi-scalar approach

The editors of Town Planning Review (TPR) have selected the following paper as the Featured Article in TPR 92.6.

This paper is published Open Access and is free to read:

‘Theorising small-town urbanisation in sub-Saharan Africa: a multi-scalar approach’ by Agnes Andersson Djurfeldt

When asked to describe the paper and highlight its importance, the author stated the following:

Across the global South, local governments have expressed aspirations towards elevating their cities into so-called global cities. The consequences of such plans for the urban poor raise important questions around inclusion and justice, but understanding and planning for more mundane processes of urbanization may be more critical to the prospects for social and economic inclusion. Sub-Saharan Africa contains the lowest share of urban population globally and, alongside South Asia, it has the strongest concentration of global poor. Studies suggest that the poverty-reducing effects of moving to smaller towns are more pronounced than migration to larger cities.

Most of the poor live in rural areas and, with limited urban development, their lives will continue to be stretched across space, combining rural and urban sources of livelihoods. The absence of formalized social security systems also means that individuals and families rely on each other for support in times of hardship or to perform welfare functions such as childcare. Often, these have spatial implications involving transfers of goods, money and people between different places.

A continued reliance on agriculture suggests that small towns are likely to drive much of the urban transition in Sub-Saharan Africa and therefore lower level urbanization needs to be understood not simply as an outcome of demographic and economic change. Instead, lower level urbanization should be approached as a process built as much from the bottom up, through the lived experiences of the inhabitants of small towns. Ensuring inclusivity means that planners in urban areas, as well as policy makers concerned with broader regional or agricultural policies, need to encourage and consider relations that stretch beyond the towns themselves. This applies to the towns themselves, but also to how these towns interact with other urban centres.

The article was written as part of an application for research funding, for a project on lower level inclusive urbanization in Uganda and Tanzania that has since been funded by Vetenskapsrådet (the Swedish Research Council). The project is a mixed methods project which combines GIS with quantitative survey data, ethnographic data and key informant interviews. It will be carried out by a team of researchers from Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana and Sweden. Covid related concerns have meant that data collection is delayed, but we hope to start collecting data towards mid-2022. At the core of the project lies one academic question and one practical. Academically, we are interested in exploring how local policies, embeddedness in kin networks and rural hinterlands, as well as connections to other urban areas, can explain whether urban growth is inclusive. The practical question takes this a step further and asks how we can encourage urbanization that is socially and economically inclusive?

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