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In libreria

Addis Ababa. At the Roots of a Disputed Flower. Urban Growth and Planning Policies in a Historical Perspective

by Corrado Diamantini, Domenico Patassini

2 febbraio 2024
Versione stampabile

This publication portrays one of Africa’s most important urbanized regions, which is today changing its role from the capital to a continental city. In an attempt to maintain its primary position, following a multi-ethnic state project, it is positioning itself as a political-cultural point of reference for a continent with growing economic and demographic performance. This change in role has led to a profound and rapid urban transformation. In just fifteen years, skyscrapers, shopping centers, and luxury residential complexes have replaced traditional buildings in key areas of the city center, while numerous residential complexes have radically redesigned the city’s suburbs. Opinions on this change differ between those who speak of an urban transformation unparalleled in Africa and those who argue that these are social experiments that negatively affect the poor. However, this comparison pays little attention to what Addis Ababa was in the past: a unique city in the African landscape in terms of its foundation, evolution, and politics. The text, after tracing a picture of the changes underway, analyzes these aspects with a meticulous historical review of the relationship between urban development and planning, focusing in particular on the 1980s, a turning point in the urban history of the city and the end of a long cycle of politics. The experience of the Addis Ababa Master Plan Project Office (AAMPPO, 1983-85), with its regional scope, represented the last attempt at integrated management of urban-rural relations in a world that still believed in the synergies between tradition and modernity. This publication has academic value and is especially of interest to researchers interested in exploring the contemporary history of Addis Ababa and those involved in urban planning and management in Africa.

Corrado Diamantini former professor at the Department of Civil, Environmental and Mechanical Engineering of the University of Trento, is member of the Unesco Chair in Engineering for Human and Sustainable Development.
Domenico Patassini is professor at the School of Doctorate Studies of the IUAV University of Venice.

From the Preface (by Blal Adem Esmail, Chiara Cortinovis, Linda Zardo, pagg. 6, 9)

Both authors have always enthusiastically shared their experience, especially with their students. So, it was over one of the endless coffees during which we exchanged ideas and viewpoints that we came across the original version of this book: “Addis Abeba. Villaggio e capitale di un continente”. Looking back now at what that book meant for us - students, researchers, and young professionals from diverse backgrounds – we see several reasons for broader interest. Besides being a valuable historical document, the book is a tool to understand the challenges that the city of Addis, like other African cities, is facing today. It is also an in-depth and at the same time practical reflection on the profession of the urban planner. We felt that this content, along with the fascinating narratives, could appeal to a wider international audience. Thus, the idea of translating the book into English was born. A challenge that the authors accepted while recognising that a substantial effort was needed to update the content to reflect the complex reality of today’s Addis. The new edition now includes a new comprehensive introduction, an iconography enriched with valuable archival material and photographic images as well as two testimonies from the then co-managers of the ‘Addis Ababa Master Plan Project Office’ (Aamppo).
 On the one hand, this kaleidoscope of ideas and experiences offers a unique perspective on the development of planning theories and approaches during the 20th century. On the other hand, it shows how these theoretical backgrounds blended and blurred when confronted with the reality of Addis, so different from the one that had produced them. But more than a simple historical account, the book is also a reflection on the relationships between planning, institutions, and power. According to the authors, planning is more than a mere technical endeavour, and the history of planning reflects changes in how political power has viewed itself. Therefore, the relationship between plans and urban development on the ground cannot be reduced to a problem of effectiveness of plan implementation. The in-depth historical analysis undertaken by the authors as a basis for informing the new planning process in the early 1980s considers the relationships between the actors involved, the progressive change in the institutional framework, and how the plans are situated in relation to the local economy and modes of production. The evolution of the planning history of the city is a way to capture how the interplay between aspirations and reality has shaped its unique development path, hence a necessary step to avoid global one-fits-all solutions and unlock the genuine potential of the local context.

From Chapter 1: Addis Ababa. The Gamble of an African City (pag. 17) 

Looking at the Addis Ababa of two decades ago, Samsoon Kassahun (2004) and Elias Yitbarek Alemayehu et al. (2018) rightly speak of a city which had grown as an indigenous city with wholly original features. This originality, it may be added, was also due to widespread poverty that created conditions for a common reproduction of traditional ways of life. Poverty significantly fed the demand for goods and services produced by traditional activities as opposed to those produced by modern ones, including housing. And this resulted the number of those who could afford different housing conditions and consumption patterns being made completely negligible.
Addis Ababa was, in other words, a city in which privilege was not clearly discernible except in specific places and cases. Beyond its morphology, which mixed different social classes in its neighbourhoods, streets and squared, poverty rested on subsistence mechanisms so ingrained that they could be equated with rights. These, in turn, attributed dignity to whoever held them. This perception, which was quite widespread among those who lived in the city in those years, was recently revived by Anna Getabeh who, in an interview, thus described a city that by now lived only in her memories: ‘Addis Ababa surrounded by beautiful mountains, is so unique in that it’s both old and new, ancient and modern, traditional and contemporary, all interwoven in harmony’.
Today, this reality has dissolved, leaving here and there few remnants. The urban landscape has been radically altered by ‘skyscrapers, shopping malls and luxury housing complexes.’ In neuralgic downtown areas, these new intruders have supplanted traditional housing. At the same time, new suburbs have been built with condominium projects, pandering to a widespread desire among decision-makers and power groups: that of Addis Ababa’s entry into the rank of world class cities. Opinions diverge on this radical change: there are those who consider it to be an exceptional urban transformation, unparalleled in Africa (partly because of the Ethiopian capital’s diplomatic status) and those, more modestly, who consider it to be a social experiment inspired by a trickle-down model. A model that is bound to reflect negatively on the poorest segments of the population, instead of benefitting them. 

Courtesy by ListLab