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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Design of Public Spaces in Africa

The topic of formal urban spaces in Africa has always been a powerful discussion and this article takes a rather interesting point of view.

I'm not sure who in Ghana or Nigeria would say that Africans have no use for public spaces and that it is not in our culture. The very point that every space available is taken up by vendors and kiosks speaks to the fact that public spaces are very much in our culture, they just are not very well designed to enhance the urban fabric.

Growing up in Ghana, any empty building lot (where a person takes too long to erect a building) eventually gets taken over by the citizens. It starts with someone building a temporary wood and tin covered tent to sell some food. Very soon a few others join and it becomes an open air market in the middle of a residential neighborhood. It wasn't designed as such and the location is terrible, but together the vendors cut the grass and try to keep it clean and sustain a business (until of course the owner comes back to retain ownership and eventually build something.

The very few formal spaces we have in Ghana are out of the way and entirely too formal. Think of St. Peter's Square in Rome without the church. Essentially a formally paved area in the middle of nowhere for formal gatherings. Again this is not a good urban move when the space is not enhanced by being along the natural path of pedestrian movement. It becomes a dead space until a time when its use is needed.

I'm very much interested to find out how public spaces (designed or not designed) work in other African cities and if others feel as I do that public spaces are very much a part of African culture and how we can design better spaces to reflect this fact.

Accra Twin Towers - Repost

As we discuss architecture and urban design in Africa, we should also keep in mind that others are actually proposing and building in Africa. The question is whether some of these design and building ventures will enhance the urban infrastructure and architectural desirability of our unique cities.

Here is such a development that I find to be architecturally atrocious but as an urban design move worthy of taking note. This new development is proposed for the capital city of Accra in Ghana, West Africa. Click on the link and read the article from its original location.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

African Architecture and Urban Design: The New Frontier for the next Great Building Campaign

The question being posed is “Which African nation will step up in leading the charge of re-designing their urban infrastructure through a comprehensive building campaign that can effectively change the face of the African continent?”

I ask this question because the current state of most African cities can be described as crowded, chaotic, having a poor quality of life and a very poor urban infrastructure. There are those who may disagree with this description, but before you decide, take the time to look at typical images of African cities (or visit and look around) and decide for yourself if this is how humanity should be living in the 21st century.

All the great places we love to discuss as excellent precedent for good urbanism with a solid infrastructure were not always so. It took lots of like-minded people with the foresight and will to leave behind a building legacy that enhanced these particular places. Think of Rome, St. Petersburg, Washington DC, Chicago and Philadelphia. What all these cities have in common are people who assumed leadership roles in determining the design direction of the city, and over a very long period of time, design decisions were made in order for these cities to become some of the greatest places in the world to visit and more importantly, to live in.

So the question I pose to the leadership of African nations is, which one of you is willing to take on the task of leaving behind a building legacy worth mentioning in our history books? Perhaps a brief description of why some of these cities came to be may help drive my point home.

Edmund Bacon writes in the beginning of his book Design of Cities: “The building of cities is one of man’s greatest achievements. The form of the city always has been and always will be a pitiless indicator of the state of his civilization. The form is determined by the multiplicity of decisions made by the people who live in it. In certain circumstances these decisions have interacted to produce a force of such clarity and form that a noble city has been born. A deeper understanding of these interactions and decisions can give us insight to create noble cities in our own day.” The entire reason for Edmund Bacon to write this book was to dispel the notion that cities are some kind of “grand accident”, when in fact the current form of great cities came about due to the will of man.

With this concept in mind, I’d like to briefly discuss the city of Rome and its proud building history, and if there are any lessons to be learned in order to bring the great building philosophy and tradition to current practice.

Rome like every other medieval city was a series of inter-connected slums. All the great buildings of the time, mainly the churches and palaces of the early Middle Ages, existed as isolated complexes not connected to the urban fabric or built outside the city walls. Through a lot of political turmoil, it took the vision of one pope to design the basic foundation and design philosophy which essentially set the ball rolling to make Rome what it is today, Pope Paschal I (817 – 824). The papacy during this time was always being challenged (by the Lombards, Carolingians, Franks, etc. between the 1st – 6th centuries) and Rome was always under some form of attack and the general state of the city was constant chaos. Battles between the Franks, Lombards, and Romans (in or around 817 AD) for control over the Italian peninsula and control over Christendom was a large political motivator for Pope Paschal I in his decision to transform Rome into a city worthy of being the capital of the very young Christian religion (keeping in mind that the Battle of the Milvian Bridge happened in 312 AD, thus making Christianity a recognized religion in Rome under the emperor Constantine) and started a building campaign with the design philosophy meant to project the official Papal authority in the city of Rome.

Under the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, the new empire chose to recognize Christianity by building basilicas over important burial sites such as St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s basilicas, both outside the walls of the city. In order to bring importance to the city of Rome, Pope Paschal I begun searching for relics of important saints and having the remains brought inside the walls of the city and transforming medieval churches into pilgrimage sites, and building new churches for other saints. This massive building campaign was initiated to project the power and authority of the papacy within the city.

As Caroline Goodson talks about in her book The Rome of Pope Paschal I – Papal Power, Urban Renovation, Church Rebuilding and Relic Translation, 817 – 824, one very important side effect of the church building project was that as Christianity begun to take hold in Rome, the celebration of the saints and the churches where they rested gained momentum, and as the crowds got larger, the celebrations were taken to public outdoor spaces, which then evolved into processional routes, a topic discussed in-depth by David Mayernik, Timeless Cities: An Architects Reflections on Renaissance Italy. As processional routes became more defined (such as The Possesso – the procession route taken by a newly elected pope from St. Peter’s Basilica to St. John Lateran in Rome), buildings along these routes now had to be rehabilitated to enhance the experience of the procession, and that is how Rome started to re-design itself. Without really intending to turn the city into a series of events, Pope Paschal I had built Rome into a city that visitors could recognize and also see how the citizens cared for their city. Buildings were shaped to conform to the larger profile of public spaces, doors were moved to align with certain streets, fountains were placed in public spaces as urban markers while providing much needed water to citizens of Rome, and very slowly a very magnificent city begun to rise, one small building project after the other.

After the precedent set by Pope Paschal I numerous popes followed in his footsteps by putting massive efforts into building campaigns, all with the singular goal of making Rome the center of the world by projecting authority through its urban landscape. For a medieval city with a poor infrastructure, lack of a good sewer system and a lack of potable water for bathing and drinking, every pope took it upon themselves to provide the citizens with any amenity to not only enhance their quality of life, but to also generate love for the city. Grand bath houses and fountains emerged, the famous aqueducts were constructed, and tunnels were dug to install sewer systems. Anytime a building came crumbling down due to an earthquake, fire, or sometime just old age and poor construction, its remains were reused to build something new.

During his five year reign as pope, Sixtus V (1585 – 1590) made perhaps some of the greatest contributions to the city of Rome through a comprehensive urban planning campaign that brought clarity to the city’s layout. At his request, entire buildings and even some neighborhoods were demolished (all for the greater good of Rome) to create streets linking some of the most important religious sites in Rome. As the city had become a pilgrimage site, Sixtus V went through the effort of bringing clarity through the city, and his legacy can still be seen today in the form of the large obelisks that mark the pilgrimage sites in Rome and leads visitors through what used to be a maze. The famous trident (three streets leading from Piazza del Popolo) which brings visitors into the city can be clearly identified in the Nolli Plan as being of a different age from most of the medieval streets of Rome (straight streets vs. winding roads – renaissance planning vs. medieval planning, or lack of planning.)

I even dare say that to some extent, Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945) made some contributions to Rome in his attempt to improve the city’s status just as popes had before him. In his own fascist way, he also tore down buildings and neighborhoods creating wide avenues to visually connect specific places such as Castel Sant’angelo to St. Peter’s Cathedral and Piazza Veneto to the Coliseum (because apparently the view from his balcony to the famous landmark was being obstructed by an entire neighborhood of buildings), and along the way unearthing some of ancient Rome’s most priceless ruins which we see today.

Rome exists today as a series of conscious design decisions made by like-minded people in an effort to create a noble city, an eternal city, and its sentiment is perfectly summed up by GK Chesterton, “Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.” Essentially one does not take the time to enhance the appearance of a place if there was no affection for the place to begin with.

Having a design philosophy is paramount, be it the projection of papal authority or making a city the center of a specific religion. However not every city has popes nor wants to be the center of a specific religion. More likely the projection of civic authority tends to be the design philosophy with examples such as Paris, St. Petersburg and Washington DC and I’d like to discuss all three cities briefly.

The city of Paris developed very much like Rome with regard to a medieval city being transformed into a planned renaissance city with much of the credit going to Charles V and Charles VI in the middle to late 13th century. Paris developed much later than Rome and as Edmund Bacon points out, the superimposition of Italian ideas on the medieval city was quite apparent. The basic design philosophy was politically inspired structure and order to a medieval city through the re-structuring of streets, the creation of avenues and boulevards, and magnificent palaces as symbols of civic authority.

St. Petersburg on the other hand is one of the few great cities built in its entirety after Renaissance design ideas had reached their full maturity according to Edmund Bacon. Its planners had available to them the experience of a broad range of completed civic works. In 1712 Peter the Great essentially decided Russia needed a new capital city (since he was tired of Moscow) and decided it would be designed along the banks of the Neva River (possibly an attempt to equal Paris which had achieved a grand scale along its Seine River). Whether it was love of country or love of ones’ self, it can be argued that both reasons were necessary for Peter the Great to initiate a building campaign that would equal Paris and Rome.

Federal Dignity is the title of the chapter Edmund Bacon choses to describe Major Pierre L’Enfant’s original design for Washington DC. The meeting of the city and Potomac River was a focal design point placing it in common with other great cities such as Venice, Florence, Paris and St. Petersburg. To borrow a line from one of my favorite movies, The American President, “Washington DC is a city designed to intimidate foreign leaders,” and this sentiment is carried out through the dominating presence of the Capitol Building and its grand forecourt also known as the Washington Mall, the presence of the White House, also visible from the mall, and later additions of grand structures such as the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials all add to the grandeur of the city. The essence of Washington DC is a physical manifestation of the fundamental civic identity upon which the United States was founded, both in its urban design and architectural details.

So that brings us back to square one, do we love our countries in Africa enough to attempt enhancing her infrastructure and appearance? Which nation and leader will pave the way for the rest to follow? We need a blueprint of sorts, and studying the history of successful cities can be an excellent guide. If there’s one thing we have in Africa, its lots of history. Every country, city, town, village and neighborhood has a story to tell. How do we let our urbanism and architecture tell our story? Who will lead the next historic building campaign?

The answers to all these questions remain to be seen. I’m merely bringing these ideas to the forefront of discussions happening all around the globe on how to bring about positive change to African countries. What I have to offer is my love of Africa, my knowledge of history, experience in urban design and architecture and my appreciation for academic discussions translated into feasible projects. For anyone reading this message and ready to take on the challenge of bringing about positive change to any location in Africa, I hope my message has been helpful and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and discussing any positive ideas.

1. Bacon, Edmund N, Design of Cities (Penguin 1976) 13, 187 – 200, 221.
2. Goodson, Caroline J, The Rome of Pope Paschal I: Papal Power, Urban Renovation, Church Rebuilding and Relic Translation, 817-824, ed. Rosamond Mckitterick (Cambridge 2010).
3. Mayernik, David, Timeless Cities – An Architect’s Reflections on Renaissance Italy (Westview 2003) 66 – 83.

Nana Andoh is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture with a BARCH and a Master of Architectural Design and Urbanism (MADU) degrees. Nana is currently an Assistant Professor of Architecture at SUNY Delhi and is a constant contributor to this blog. Contact him at

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bill Gates: Africa Needs Aid, Not Flawed Theories

After reading Bill Gates’ Notes in response to science writer Matt Ridley’s ‘The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves’, I felt compelled to share my personal thoughts on the subject of giving aid to African countries.

Matt Ridley’s theory, if I can synthesize, is that we worry too much about the need to develop African countries (and Global Warming… but I’ll leave that discussion to the experts) and that if we leave things as is, it will eventually fix itself. As Bill Gates writes, Matt Ridley solution to the current development crises in Africa is “Don’t worry, be happy.” Matt Ridley’s conclusions are based on critics who claim that “Aid doesn’t work, hasn’t worked and won’t work.” I will let you read Bill Gates’ response to Matt Ridley’s commentary, but here are my thoughts on this issue.

I agree with Bill Gates that Africa does need aid, and a lot of good has come from the donations of like-minded people with the resources to help, such as Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Ben Affleck and Cindy McCain, and the list goes on. Some problems just don’t go away and turning a blind eye doesn’t make it cease to exist. Poverty in African countries is a big issue and the quality of life in most of these countries is deplorable. What I tend to find unfortunate is that Africans have to depend on the well-meaning efforts of people such as Bill Gates to bring in aid, ideas and innovation when most of these countries have people capable of at least attempting to address these issues in a more meaningful way.

The critics Matt Ridley cites also have a point to an extent. From an objective outside observer, the efforts of all these philanthropists seem like small pebbles in a large body of water with the ripples dying out before any effects are felt. If perception is reality, then African cities look like slums overrun with poverty and a very low quality of life. It would therefore seem to critics that money is being “thrown away” in an attempt to resolve what we deem to be problems in African countries. Also when looking at the vast disparity between the wealthy and poverty stricken citizens of these countries, one cannot help but wonder about the corruption that exists in most developing countries. It essentially becomes like everything else, a vicious cycle of endless giving by philanthropists without any real evidence of positive change.

As someone who was born and raised in an African country and currently living in the United States working in academia, I believe I bring another perspective to helping the perception of African countries. What most African countries need is political transparency and what philanthropists need to do is collaborate in their efforts and hold local governments accountable and require involvement from the citizens, thus creating a much larger splash with a wider ripple effect in the large African pool of development issues.

To conclude, I strongly disagree with Matt Ridley’s assertions that problems tend to take care of themselves including poverty and the low quality of life in African countries. In that case why pour money into cancer research? Smoke long enough and your body will learn to adjust to all the pollutants being inhaled… it just takes time. On the other hand, how many people have to die of cancer before the body learns to adjust? I guess according to Matt Ridley, if everyone suffering from cancer dies from cancer, then that inevitably solves the problem of cancer? Then what do we do about all the known causes of cancer? Do those disappear along with all the dead people? Probably not. Using my cancer analogy I'm quite sure Mr. Ridley will point to all the advantages that cancer research has made. To that point I would direct Mr. Riddley and his critics to all the positive data (provided by Gapminder) indicating that positive change has been happening in most African countries due in large part to aid. My point is, African countries are faced with complicated issues and we need serious people to solve them. Giving aid is a large part of that solution and the flawed theories that these problems will simply go away over time is a very dangerous thought pattern that needs to be stopped before it gains any real momentum.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Lesson from Pompeii

National Geographic (NAT GEO) network had a wonderful series of shows centered around the assumed notion of what would happen if all humans were to suddenly disappear from the earth (there’ve been other shows based on various notions such as “what would happen if we run out of oil”, etc… which is also a great watch). This particular episode about the disappearance of humans focused mostly on the repercussions of what we’ve done to the earth and how long it would take Mother Nature to repair herself.

During the show an interesting scenario was posed; “what if the world we humans leave behind is discovered later by another race, what would they learn about the human race based on what we left behind?”

This scenario seems farfetched until we take a look back at what happened in the city of Pompeii on August 24, 79AD, the day Mount Vesuvius ended the lives of thousands along the Bay of Naples. In this scenario humans did not simply disappear, they were consumed by poisonous volcanic fumes and buried under tons of toxic ash.

Accidentally discovered in 1599 during the process of digging a by-pass channel for the river Sarno and fully excavated beginning in 1748, one can argue that the city of Pompeii has been a revelation to a lost time and a sobering reminder of many things.

“Pompeii has proved to be a treasure trove to historians and archaeologists. The light it has shed on first-century life in the Roman world is profound. The amount of information it has provided to scholars of many fields is staggering.

Millions of visitors have come to walk its streets, to admire its delicate artwork and to peer into houses, stores and workshops still standing 2,000 years later and wonder what life was like back then.

One cannot go away from the place unmoved—at least I can't imagine anyone doing so. Pompeii is a sobering reminder of so many things—of the fragility and fleetingness of our existence, of how entire cities and civilizations can vanish, of how there, but for the grace of God, go all of us.

Perhaps most of all, it's a reminder of the folly of human beings in refusing to face up to unpleasant realities, of ignoring or misunderstanding the danger signs until it's too late.

Rich and poor, free citizen and slave, young and old—all met the same fate in Pompeii. The only ones who escaped were those who recognized the growing danger. For those who lingered too long, denying the seriousness of their plight or hoping that conditions would somehow change, the city became their tomb.”

Everything we know now about Pompeii and its residents was derived from the physical remains of its urban infrastructure, from the urban planning of the city to its variety of architectural hierarchy and choices in ornamentation and details all lead to academic conclusions about what the citizens of Pompeii valued and treasured, and essentially how they lived (“they way we build affects the way we live”).

And so I now pose this question, what will be said about us years from now based on how we’ve chosen to build our urban landscape and infrastructure? I merely bring up this point as we discuss ways of making a positive architectural and urbanism impact on the continent of Africa that we always need to keep in mind that places can tell stories long after we are all dead and gone. Africa is a place of immense history. Ours is a story that dates back, according to some historians, to the very beginning of time. It would be a shame to lose all our history by re-shaping our cities into images of other places. We really need to research our own histories, building traditions and urban cultures to see what we can learn and return to contemporary practice while building on our advanced technological knowledge. I’m not saying we need to re-design mud huts with thatched roofs and live in the past. What I am saying is there should be a way to honor our past while designing for a better future, and the way to do that is to research our past.

The greatest lesson we learn from Pompeii is that what we leave behind tells future generations what we valued the most and how we lived. Will our story be a love of automobiles over a sense of community? A love of material needs over the preservation of our environment? The value of the latest technological developments over time tested sustainable building methods? What will our story be? How is the way we’re currently building affecting the way we live? Some food for thought as we discuss how to make a positive impact on the Architecture and Urbanism on the continent of Africa.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

MDG 2015 – Areas that need to be addressed: Point #2

Point 2: Is the Millennium Project sustainable?
By this question I don’t sustainable as in the new catch phrase of the decade, but rather will the project be self-sustaining? Another way to phrase the question would be “are we giving the Millennium Villages fish, or are we teaching them how to fish?” If we’re giving them fish, then obviously it will not be self-sustaining, but if the Millennium Villages are being taught how to fish, then that would ensure a level of self-sustenance after the initial helping hand has been taken away.

The issue then becomes how can we determine if the Millennium Project is sustainable. Any real estate developer will tell you that in approaching a bank for funds to develop any project regardless of the size, one document that the bank looks for is a basic 5 – 10 year pro-forma which outlines all the various components of the project and how the funds will be used, and also define all the areas where the developer intends to make a profit in order to be able to repay the bank with interest.

The interesting thing to note is that it is very difficult to develop a pro-forma document of any kind without first having a master plan in place (read the previous post). The value of having a master plan when it comes to the pro-forma document is that the developer will have an idea of total square footage of the project, in addition to typical construction costs of such buildings. The master plan will outline how many buildings are needed and where these buildings are being constructed. All these factors will go into determining the hard costs of the project.

Next will be the occupants of the building. What are the buildings being proposed, who will occupy the buildings, and how will the occupants pay to use the building? For a project such as the Millennium Development Goals, most of these buildings may have to function as non-profit hospitals, schools, low-income housing, etc. So the question is how can the Millennium Villages afford to sustain the buildings in the long term? There needs to be a document that outlines all these self-sustaining issues, or at least be addressed. I don’t think any country should use donations from developed nations or the countries of the west as a long-term financial solution. That is in essence “giving them fish and NOT teaching them how to fish.”

If such a document exists and these issues have been addressed, it would be a great benefit to have access to such documents for any locations not among the Millennium Villages who may want to take the initiative of creating positive changes in the communities to get a head start with a solid foundation based on the Millennium Villages research.

I would strongly urge the members of the Millennium Project to consider the points I’ve made in these articles, and to also think about more transparency in the project if these issues have already been addressed and the Millennium Villages have corresponding master plans and documents that indicate the project will in-fact be self-sustaining once the United Nations team is out of the picture. I look forward to any future questions or comments from interested individuals with regard to any of the articles related to the Millennium Development Goals of 2015.

For more information on the Millennium Project, the Millennium Development Goals, or the Millennium Villages, please take a look at the Columbia Earth Institute’s website as they have been working tirelessly to assist and work with the United Nations in all initiatives to bring about positive change to developing nations.

Monday, January 24, 2011

MDG 2015 – Areas that need to be addressed: Point #1

After researching the efforts of the Millennium Development Goals outlined by the United Nations, I have outlined a brief history of the initiative and my reasons for why these efforts need the support of the like-minded professionals who may read this article. However, there are two related areas that I believe the Millennium Project could better address, and I would be remiss not to mention these areas and hopefully attract some attention and/or start a discussion to address these areas of need.

Point 1: Is there an actual Master Plan for the Millennium Villages?
I have often said that “the way we build affects the way we live” and nowhere is this more evident than in developing nations. The physical infrastructure is poor at best and building codes are practically non-existent. Buildings are constructed wherever there’s adequate space with little regard for location, access, or basic relationships to other structures.

Part of the Millennium Project process will involve the construction of various support structures including schools, hospitals, affordable housing types, etc. If these buildings are not properly sited, it will not matter how well designed they are because the urban infrastructure that develops around it will not be very effective and affect the lives of the citizens in a negative way. If the goal of the Millennium Project is to end up with sustainable places, time and effort needs to be invested in making sure that the master plan of these villages ensures a sustainable lifestyle.

Any master plan developed for the Millennium Villages needs to take a long-term approach in the 25 – 50 year range. The idea of the Millennium Project is to set a solid foundation for these villages upon which any further development and growth can be well managed, efficiently designed, and sustainably maintained while improving the quality of life.

The importance of having a master plan in place for all the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved cannot be emphasized enough. There needs to be a general idea of where everything is to be located within reason, and more likely a feasible phasing plan developed which will also act as a guide for the raising and allocating of funds. With an adopted master plan available the community will always have an official urban landscape guide of where every planned structure is to be located a year from now, 10 years, 25 years, etc. This leaves little room for error and enough flexibility to still be creative and dynamic while remaining sustainable.

The other important aspect of having a master plan in place is a notion that is rarely addressed and very difficult to comprehend by the developed western world, the issue of Land Ownership in most African countries. In most developed countries, you know the exact amount of property you own because you most likely have a deed that corresponds to a physical property line that has been surveyed, documented, and is legally binding. In most developing countries such documents do not exist. Most land is owned by the royalty and/or self appointed people of importance. Land is paid for and ownership transferred with a handshake. Now what happens when you’re ready to build and return to your bought and paid for property to find it already occupied by a structure not your own? What legal recourse do you have?

From personal experience in Ghana, people hire guards to watch over their virgin lands during the period between buying the land and finished construction. In some instances, you can be mid-way through construction and for one reason or the other, put construction on hold. With no guards around, other families come to live in your unfinished building. The official property owner has no legal recourse to evict these unwanted tenants and in most cases has to forcibly remove the unwanted tenants. Unfortunately people being killed over land disputes have become common place in most African cities.

Once we acknowledge the ambiguity that exists with regard to current land ownership in most developing countries, we have to accept the importance of a master plan for two reasons; 1. The master plan cannot be established without having accurate and accepted documentation to the rights of the properties in question. 2. The accepted master plan, a transparent document supported by the community will yield no surprises during implementation because the entire process from land survey, acquisition and development has been accurately documented and is now legally binding.

Current research is being done on issues of land ownership through actual surveying, documentation and planning by Professor Ahene at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania that the UN may want to pay attention to and perhaps incorporate into their Millennium Villages initiatives.
Through all my research I have yet to hear of any such plans being developed or required of the Millennium Villages and I believe this will lead to a very inefficient development process and most likely derail future efforts of the MDG. I would highly encourage UN officials to look at this issue and take appropriate measures to ensure the legacy of the Millennium Project stays true to its original intent.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MDG 2015 – A Significant Progress for Developing Countries

As outlined in the previous post, I have given a brief history of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals with the target date of 2015 toward achieving its initiatives and for those looking for a better reason to get involved, I would like to outline two very important areas of the MDG that in my opinion are worth noting.

Point 1: The Millennium Development Goals are feasible.
In our current political climate, we are all used to bold statements by our elected leaders without any substance. There rarely is an outlined process by which these statements can be realized, how to fund it, or how to sustain it. This is where the MDG separates itself from other bold initiatives.

The Millennium Development Goals are comprehensive without being unrealistic. After an exhaustive research process, the Millennium task force decided to focus their efforts in twelve (12) unique villages to use as the test cases for the MDG’s. These Millennium Villages were chosen due to their locations in relatively stable African countries in secure regions with a diversity of farming, water resources, diseases, and infrastructure problems that reflect challenges facing the continent and how a range of solutions can be tailored to resolve and overcome each issue.

The Millennium Villages approach provides the UN task forces with a well defined and reasonable land area within which the various research studies can be investigated and applied, making data collection quite feasible. It also makes an overwhelming issue such as the eradication of poverty feasible when taken into the context of 12 villages rather than an entire continent. Then if the strategies applied to these villages are successful, the practices can then be applied in other villages, towns and cities on the continent until a large percentage of Africa has been positively affected by the Millennium Project.

Point 2: Accountability.
Without being too harsh, corruption within most governments in African nations have been well documented (where in certain cases one needs a receipt for paying a bribe). Billions of aid dollars have been sent to African nations without any tangible results while many leaders are increasingly getting wealthier and opening Swiss bank accounts.

By deciding to focus on the 12 Millennium Villages, the UN task force had to create an environment of accountability, meaning that each location had to meet certain criteria to qualify as a Millennium Village including a commitment from the government through in-kind donations as well as local support from community groups and organizations. The Millennium Villages offer a scalable model for fighting the issues outlined by the MDG’s and require full accountability from local governments to achieve success.

In order to claim success, there needs to be an initial research done to set the baseline data upon which future research can be compared to. This research process requires a certain amount of transparency and accountability from the Millennium Villages and their governments. Once accurate data begins to be collected, its accuracy depends on the integrity of all the parties involved, and various organizations have been set in place to provide a level of transparency and accountability not seen before in developing nations.

Unfortunately corruption has become an accepted part of African culture and practically expected of our elected officials. As grand an idea as the MDG’s are, changing the culture of an entire continent is practically impossible. However, by focusing their efforts on these 12 Millennium Villages in 10 African countries, the issue of transparency and accountability becomes more feasible. It’s much easier to attempt to change the corrupt culture in a small village than it is to change the nature of an entire continent.

It is my assertion that the Millennium Project has chosen a prudent path to ensure its success and set a precedent for future developments of its kind to succeed, however the success of the MDG’s depends on a social and cultural change in African cities, and in particular within elected government officials. If they are successful in changing the culture of corruption by introducing accountability and transparency in the 12 Millennium Villages, then there should be great hope for the future of our continent, and a much improved quality of life.

Monday, January 10, 2011

UN Millennium Project: Millennium Development Goals 2015

The primary goal of initiating this on-line academic discussion was and still remains a forum to bring about positive change to the architectural and urban infrastructure of African cities, which in turn will improve the quality of life for the residents of these cities.

In a similar initiative, I highly encourage anyone who stumbles upon this article to review the United Nations Millennium Project website and look at the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). These goals are very specific and I believe an excellent start to getting developing cities on the right track, and if successful, these goals can set the precedent for how developing cities can chose to improve their current infrastructures.

I will attempt to give a brief history and outline of the UN Millennium Project and Goals, and to give you my professional opinion on these initiatives. I will also outline (in future posts) three areas that I believe have been neglected and/or have not been properly stressed and could use some improvement.

Brief History: The September 2000 gathering of world leaders at the UN in NYC was by far the largest such gathering in history. The gathering was for the Millennium Summit, and at this meeting the world leaders adopted the UN Millennium Declaration which was to commit their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting the target date of 2015 to achieve their target goals which have become known as the Millennium Development Goals.

In 2002 the Secretary General of the UN commissioned the Millennium Project to develop a concrete action plan to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals by identifying the areas of need and deciding their targets of success. In 2005, the Independent Advisory Board headed by Professor Jeffrey Sachs presented its final recommendation to the United Nations.

Millennium Development Goals: The advisory board identified eight (8) goals or the Millennium Development Goals as follows;
Goal 1 – Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
Goal 2 – Achieve Universal Primary Education
Goal 3 – Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
Goal 4 – Reduce Childhood Mortality
Goal 5 – Improve Maternal Health
Goal 6 – Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
Goal 7 – Ensure Environmental Stability
Goal 8 – Develop a Global Partnership for Development

*For the targets and indicators for each of these goals, please visit the UN Millennium Project’s official website or the Millennium Development Goals’ official website for accurate information and project updates.

I would highly encourage all like-minded professionals in all related fields to look at these goals and offer any insight, help, advice, and/or donations to this worthy cause. I truly see the MDG has a very significant step toward a positive future for developing countries not just in Africa but world-wide.