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The problem with Africa's new tech cities

Posting in Cities

African countries from Kenya to Ghana are investing billions of dollars in new cities, with many built, usually from scratch, around the technology industry. The countries argue that the new city projects will help spur economic growth and development.

As Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki said at the groundbreaking ceremony of the $14.5 billion Konza Technology City: “It is expected to spur massive trade and investment as well as create thousands of employment opportunities for young Kenyans in the ICT [information communications technology] sector.”

A focus on infrastructure investment and innovation, what could be the problem? Jane Lumumba, writing for Next City, spots a few. Namely, the desires of private investors coming before the needs of local governments and citizens. Another concern is that these cities, built miles away from major cities, could further polarize the rich and poor. That's if the new cities survive in the first place.

One foreboding example of this type of development comes from Angola and could keep other countries from jumping on the new city bandwagon. Lumumba reports:

Nova Cidade de Kilamba was built by a state-owned Chinese investment company on an assumption of housing deficits and a need to provide mixed-use buildings in the outskirts of Luanda, the capital city. Today, this development is empty. The neighboring slum dwellers are unable to afford the expensive apartments, and better-off residents don’t want to move away from the central business district’s economic activity and amenities. It is clear that this project was not well thought through. Indeed, it was a fantasy and has remained so since its inception — an ominous sign for the many other New Cities popping up around the continent.

Will cities like Konza suffer the same fate? Development presses on, so we'll soon have another example to point to, for better or worse, in this great urban experiment.

Why Africa Should Be Wary of Its ‘New Cities’ [Next City]

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— By on May 2, 2013, 2:59 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure