Manhattan transfer

Africa’s new concrete jungles aim up to keep costs down.

Africa is on the move as never before. Every year, millions of Africans abandon the hard, low-income rural life and head off towards the excitement and endless possibilities that cities promise. According to the UN, by 2030 more Africans will live in cities and towns than in rural areas – something that first occurred in Britain circa the 1850s.

Cities are the real wealth creators. All classes of people jostle for the limited space available in which to live, work and conduct business. In Africa’s mega-cities, such as Cairo, Lagos, Nairobi, Kinshasa, Luanda, Abidjan, Accra and Dar es Salaam, prime property in the central business district (CBD) is, metaphorically, worth its weight in gold. The only way to go is up.

Nairobi’s first tower, the Hilton Hotel, was built in 1969, more as a grand gesture of confidence in newly independent Kenya than out of space considerations. It was swiftly followed by the NSSF building and the iconic Kenyatta Conference Centre. Over the next three decades, several more towers followed, each outdoing the last in height and architectural magnificence. Nairobi today is a city of towers with several newer developments spilling out onto the previously pristine, wooded Upper Hill.

Lagos, Luanda, Dar es Salaam and Adijan have followed a similar pattern. But as the new concrete, steel and glass jungles, all with their attendant slums, have multiplied, so has the human and vehicle traffic leading to some of the most intractable traffic gridlocks anywhere on earth. Some developers have fled from the CBDs, creating their own new metropolises on the periphery of the city centre such as Westlands in Nairobi and Ikoyi in Lagos.

This rush to escape the astronomical estate prices and the hurly-burly of the heaving cities, has spawned a new phenomenon. Gated mini-cities – complete with their own gardens, public transport systems, water and energy supplies, sewage, schools, hospitals, sports fields and police force – are now in fashion.

The first two of these major projects, Tatu City in Nairobi and Eko Atlantic in Lagos, are in advanced stages of development. With a price tag of around $2bn, Tatu City will provide residential, leisure and business facilities for 62,000 people. Arnold Meyer, the driving force behind the scheme, says: “Tatu City will feature a first world support infrastructure with paved roads and walkways, water supply system, sanitation, solid waste disposal systems, independent electricity supply and impeccable security.”

Eko Atlantic is an even more ambitious project. It began as a barrier, ‘the Great Wall of Lagos’, to stop the sea eating away at edge of the city near Victoria island. Then the developers decided to reclaim the land between the wall and the island, creating a new greenfield in the heart of the crowded city.

Once the ground has been prepared, the CBD is expected to move in with a new stock exchange, bank headquarters, hotels, conference centres and shopping malls. Even in this greenfield site, the most economical direction of construction will be skywards. The same forces that created the New York skyline are at work in African cities. Expect several African ‘Manhattans’ in the near future.


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