In urban planning, few endeavours have sparked as much debate and criticism as the establishment of Sheger City, encircling the vibrant capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. This audacious plan has come under fire from various quarters for many reasons, including its unprecedented nature in city planning, unjust implementation, and questionable long-term sustainability. As stakeholders question its viability, it is imperative to reassess the plan and explore alternative approaches prioritizing equity, inclusivity, and environmental responsibility.
Unprecedented in World City Planning
Establishing a new city that encircles an existing metropolis is an extraordinary undertaking, rarely witnessed in the history of urban development. While there is a notable example of a high-end neighbourhood being constructed adjacent to Paris without displacing its current residents, the vision for Sheger City is far more ambitious. Encompassing an area three times the size of Addis Ababa, this grand project has already uprooted an estimated 100,000 people, presenting a colossal challenge that begs the question of how it will be effectively realized.
The proposed plan for Sheger City is rooted in the hub-and-spoke model of urban development, which centres around a central city, radiating its influence and resources to smaller satellite cities. While this model is often employed in countries with rapidly expanding cities, critics argue it may prove unsustainable in the long run. The concentration of power and resources in the core city, while leaving satellite cities to fend for themselves, can exacerbate inequalities and regional disparities, hindering overall progress and development.
One of the most vehemently contested aspects of the Sheger City plan lies in its implementation, which allegations of injustice have marred. Numerous individuals who legally purchased land and built their homes have been forcibly displaced without adequate compensation, leading to immense hardships for the affected families. Such actions contradict the fundamental principle of equity in urban planning and run afoul of the nation’s constitutional and international human rights obligations.
Equity is a cornerstone principle emphasizing equal access to opportunities and resources for all, regardless of social or economic status. By disregarding this principle in the forced displacement of Sheger City’s residents, the plan fails its ethical duty and undermines the trust between citizens and their government. Urban development should be a force that catalyzes societal progress, promotes inclusivity, and uplifts marginalized communities rather than exacerbates inequalities and social divisions.
Not Sustainable in the Long Term
Aside from its questionable implementation, the long-term sustainability of Sheger City raises concerns that demand urgent attention. The city’s reliance on Addis Ababa for crucial infrastructure, such as power and transportation services, presents potential vulnerabilities. Sustainability, an essential principle in urban planning, calls for cities to be designed with minimal environmental impact. Establishing Sheger City on such a massive scale would undoubtedly leave a significant ecological footprint, necessitating extensive construction of new infrastructure and the clearance of vast tracts of land. These actions can have far-reaching consequences, disrupting ecosystems, depleting natural resources, and exacerbating climate change challenges.
Environmental Impact and Responsibly Mitigating Risks
Since the announcement of the city’s formation, many apprehensions have emerged. The responsible body that spearheaded the city’s establishment should work to solve these apprehensions before investing too much of the meagre resources available. The environmental ramifications of constructing a whole new town on such a colossal scale are a big issue to scrutinize. Assessing the potential impact on ecosystems, water resources, air quality, and biodiversity is paramount. The design and development of Sheger City should incorporate mitigation measures, such as sustainable practices, prioritizing green spaces, and minimizing pollution. Environmental impact assessments should be conducted comprehensively, involving experts from various disciplines to ensure a thorough understanding of the potential consequences and the implementation of effective mitigation strategies.
A crucial aspect that needs to be addressed is the funding and financial sustainability of Sheger City. It is essential to ensure that the burden of financing this ambitious project falls on something other than the public purse. Transparent budgeting, exploring public-private partnerships, and attracting investment from domestic and international sources can help diversify the funding streams and alleviate the strain on public finances.
Jane Jacobs, a renowned urban theorist and author, expressed her views on urban development and the importance of organic, diverse, and interconnected urban environments in her influential book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Jacobs argued that establishing a new city encircling an existing capital city is fundamentally flawed and unsustainable. She emphasized the importance of vibrant, diverse, and organic urban environments that evolve gradually. Jacobs believed that thriving cities have an intricate web of interconnected neighbourhoods and mixed-use developments.
Encircling an existing capital city with a new town disrupts the natural urban fabric and can lead to an imbalance of resources and power. It concentrates on the development and economic opportunities in the central city, while the satellite city becomes dependent and neglected. This lopsided distribution can exacerbate social and economic inequalities, hampering both cities’ long-term sustainability and well-being.
Moreover, establishing a new city encircling an existing capital city can create logistical challenges and strain existing infrastructure. It often requires extensive construction of new roads, utilities, and transportation systems, resulting in increased energy consumption, pollution, and environmental degradation. Such approaches go against the principles of sustainable urban planning, which advocate for compact, resource-efficient cities that minimize their ecological footprint.
Establishing Sheger City is a complex issue with no easy answers. However, the Ethiopian government must carefully consider the risks and challenges of this plan before moving forward. By engaging in meaningful dialogue with citizens and incorporating expert opinions, the government can ensure that future projects are equitable, sustainable, and beneficial to all Ethiopians.
In addition to the above, here are some other factors that the Ethiopian government should consider when making decisions about urban planning:
- The Impact of Climate Change on Urban Development: Climate change poses significant challenges to urban areas, including increased flooding risks, heat waves, and other extreme weather events. The government should integrate climate resilience measures into urban planning to protect residents and infrastructure from these impacts.
- The Need to Create More Inclusive and Equitable Cities: Urban planning should prioritize inclusivity and address social and economic disparities. This includes ensuring affordable housing, accessible public transportation, and opportunities for all residents, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status.
- The Importance of Sustainable Urban Planning Practices: Sustainable urban planning involves designing cities that are environmentally friendly, resource-efficient, and promote a high quality of life for residents. This can be achieved through green building practices, renewable energy integration, and efficient public transportation systems.
The Ethiopian government has an opportunity to create a more sustainable and equitable future for its citizens by engaging in meaningful dialogue with citizens and incorporating expert opinions; the government can ensure that any plans benefit all Ethiopians. It is crucial to prioritize equity, inclusivity, and environmental responsibility in urban development to create vibrant, resilient, thriving cities for current and future generations.
11th Year • July 2023 • No. 119 EBR