Message from Graham Young, new IFLA Africa President!
As many of you know, I was elected as President of IFLA Africa prior to the Regional Council meeting held in conjunction with our 7th IFLA Africa Symposium. I took office, along with the new ExCo, immediately after this successful event. The new executive has met for the first time. The discussion focused on getting to know each other better and what we hope to achieve over the next two years leading up to the 8th IFLA Africa Symposium that will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, jointly with Sweden, as part of the 59th IFLA World Congress 2023 Our colleagues in Kenya have already begun organizing the event, and we hope that we will be able to meet in person.
The 7th IFLA Africa Symposium on the 15 and 16 October 2021 was held online for the first time – a collaboration between IFLA Africa, ILASA and UDISA based on the theme: Health and Vitality. The conference content was excellent, with many fascinating and thought-provoking presentations.
A primary objective was to present, discuss and reach a consensus and declaration on how landscape architects, urban designers and other built environment professionals address the problems and solutions for co-creating places in cities, towns and rural areas in Africa. The presentations and dialogue focused on the improved health and vitality of these environments and their inhabitants. The symposium was structured around this objective, posing questions relating to the African context and understanding the urban issues associated with African cities.
Dr. Yu’s ‘sponge city’ concept is relevant to Africa as a vast developing region with massive development potential – a continent at a critical juncture in achieving sustainable development where the effects of global climate change are likely to worsen an already fragile environment.
In a situation where devastating floods, drought, and disease threaten people’s survival, conventional expensive and irreversible grey infrastructure from a previous colonial approach is unlikely to adapt to many African cities’ extreme climate.
A nature-based solution using vernacular wisdom evolved through time, integrated with modern technologies, was proposed to help African countries build more innovative and resilient cities.
The sponge city examples from China illuminate an approach using indigenous knowledge and natural systems. Dr Yu advocated three levels of action:
- Planning of Ecological Infrastructure across scales
- Design and engineering to create ecological infrastructure
- Campaignfor policy changes – change of values, policies, education and a whole
Other presenters suggested that colonialism had created dependencies in African cities and that slum urbanism is a reality and will be growing. COVID had accelerated the pressure to change to new green economies requiring a top-down, bottom-up, and sideways approach.
Several academics presented questions around how to teach and what to teach the planning and built environment design disciplines in a ‘post-colonial’ era. Perhaps we need to ‘unlearn’ certain things was a pertinent suggestion posed by one of the facilitators.
Professor Pang Wei stated that we should be teaching more about our surroundings and indigenous local knowledge systems to avoid a dull, boring and homogeneous world where we are killing precious landscapes in the name of landscaping. As landscape architects, we should be returning to the land to find our solutions and affirm the richness and “africanicity” of our local environments.
Several speakers explored the appropriate city model after colonialism, capitalism, and the COVID pandemic across issues such as formality versus informality in urban environments, food security, and climate change’s impact on coastal cities.
One of the speakers suggested that we are ‘prisoners of Modernism’, where city planning, based on an ideal city model, does not apply to the African context. Instead, the future may lie in the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030 Agenda, helping to make our cities better places. Perhaps the pandemic helped ‘humanise’ us and gave us time to rethink and repair our fragile planet.
COVID had caused people to move into the streets and parks to meet their physical and psychological needs. Therefore, it was imperative to nurture green spaces, where people have access to nature for physical and mental health.
Another presenter felt that food security is not about urban agriculture being the saviour per se, but rather about larger food systems, such as access to affordable food, because our urban systems determine what and how food is being consumed.
Postgraduate students’ case studies provided innovative ways of developing urban and rural space, giving life back to the earth through increased biodiversity, and nderstanding the needs of people and all forms of life. Student video competition entries presented practical and futuristic ideas for healthy cities.
Various firms presented their own innovative and futuristic projects using a combination of ecology, urban planning and participatory design to manage storm water and waste, achieve densification, improve biodiversity, enable mobility, and reshape the future form of communities. The importance of digital data, strategic thinking, and multi-disciplinary teams on complex urban projects were stressed.
Research projects by students from the South but studying in Belgium were anchored in the place, particularly the potential of the soil to determine various uses and guided by local knowledge, appropriate technology, eliminating potential damage, and smart (healing) solutions.
Two urban designers shared their vision for both built and unbuilt interventions in Mexico City and Cordoba, the latter using the concept of ‘acupuncture urbanism’. Others also made presentations on how consultants should get work to make a difference.
When approaching a new site, landscape architect James Corner’s question “what will design destroy here?” was mentioned.
The conference ended with a request to develop a ‘declaration’ that reflects the need for collaboration between the two professions.
We have seen and heard that cities are increasingly complex, multi-layered worlds that require a systems-based approach to understand inter-relationships. And we must not forget the poetics of the place, arrived at through the underlying ecology and human history of these places. As we advance, landscape architects, architects and urban designers must collaborate in the task of enabling healthy and vital human settlements; we need to change our attitudes, perhaps even unlearn some of the ways we have been taught. We need to stop, hesitate and listen so that we can advance nature-based solutions that respect the needs and aspirations of people.
As a collective of landscape architecture and urban design professionals uniquely qualified to plan and design health and vitality into our urban environments, we confirm our united efforts towards enhancing the capacity, resilience and liveability of our African cities and communities. We commit to collaborating with clients, suppliers, politicians, and allied professionals to champion new approaches and innovative ideas to create healthy and vital cities. We commit to implementing nature-based green infrastructure; technological innovation; amplifying biodiversity; advocating for social well being by increasing support for equity and justice, food security and the right
to quality open space and built urban environments; learning from indigenous knowledge systems through respecting cultural land management knowledge, and applying indigenous and cultural knowledge to the education of future landscape architecture and urban design professionals.
As a collective of environmental professionals, we need to be more vocal and create an urban debate that goes beyond the different profession’s briefs and addresses our cities’ social and environmental issues. Much work needs to be done and it is only possible if we all work together! We call on our peers and allied professionals to help strengthen our actions through interdisciplinary collaboration. (ILASA, UDISA and IFLA Africa)