Funded by: Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei
January 2019 / December 2021

UrbanAfrica - Urbanisation in Africa

The urban demography is changing significantly in developing countries under the pressure of the rural-urban migration. Not surprisingly, a substantial part of the urban growth of the next thirty years is projected to take place in Africa and Asia. While the share of Asian urban population is expected to stabilise, that of African will grow steadily. The consequence is that the continent will soon face critical challenges related to constant urbanisation.

Based on the experience of the past decades, much of this growth will be concentrated in a few very large cities, mostly the capital and some second-tier cities. Although concentrated urbanisation creates opportunities through agglomeration economies and access to jobs and primary services (i.e. education and health services), it also induces social problems related to waste management, the provision of water, access to sanitation and modern energy, and traffic congestion. The experience of other developing countries shows that, when structural changes in the economy do not follow the rapid urbanisation, this results in wide spatial expansion. Nonetheless, this is coupled with the marginalisation of peripheries characterised by a low quality of life, sometimes even lower than in rural areas.

The project is intended to investigate how alternative patterns of urban development with varying degrees of spatial concentration contribute to the economic development of countries, to the improvement of social conditions of the population especially in marginalised areas, to increase the resilience to extreme climate events. To this aim, a variety of approaches will be employed stemming from quantitative data analysis for cross-cities comparisons; to spatially downscaled geographical analysis to look at specific trends within cities; to articulated case studies. Thus, ensuring a full understanding of the multiple aspects involved in the process of urbanisation in Africa with the ultimate goal of delivering clear-cut policy indications for sustainable planning in the continent.

Main Results and Outputs
  • Urban expansion and socio-economic growth in African countries.
    Driven by the evidence that many highly urbanised countries in Africa have now escaped the low-income status to become middle-income, promoting urbanisation is often indicated as a successful strategy to reach the economic development of Africa’s cities. Nevertheless, problems related to the negative environmental and social consequences of urbanisation (pollutants emissions, congestion, waste management) and the insufficient capacity to provide adequate infrastructures and services become secondary to the goal of economic development. The project will look at the effects of both, urbanisation and urban concentration on the economic growth of countries and cities as well as on social and environmental indicators. Consequently, the project aims at providing an estimate of the economic benefits and of the social and environmental costs of concentrated urbanisation in Africa. Most importantly, comparing these costs and benefits of alternative urbanisation patterns may ultimately provide some guidance towards a better integration between economic, social and environmental performance of cities.
  • African metropolitan areas boundaries.
    Whereas the relationship between urbanisation and economic development has been proven robust in the context of western cities (especially in the US and Europe), African cities present marked differences, which require a systematic assessment. Among the possible causes, there are a lack of comparable data at the city level and a lack of a clear and shared definition of the city boundaries. The Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region includes many different countries, with diverse administrative structures and differentiated definitions of cities. In collaboration with other programs within FEEM, the present initiative aims at filling this gap working on a harmonised definition of city, which also includes the commuting zones, where most marginalised areas often concentrate. The effort is expected to result in a database of SSA cities boundaries combined with detailed information on key urban topics such as land use, population, income generated, economic structure, and social conditions.
  • Resilient cities.
    Many cities in Africa have adopted several strategies to respond to climate change in the urban area, with varying degrees of success. The project is intended to collect the best practices for the purpose of testing their effectiveness within the urban context. Exploiting environmental or infrastructural shocks, the focus will be on assessing the different responses of cities to adjust to these changes. The approach will be to compare the different levels of economic and well-being changes after these extreme climate events and to isolate the determining factors for an effective strategy to resilience.
Project team
Project leader
Beghelli Silvia
Research Fellow Read more

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