Urban planners tipped on sustainable growth

Urban planners have been urged to stop trading blames for the current state of urban centres in the country and instead act fast before numerous informal settlements crop up. 
Amb. Gatete addresses the stakeholders at the symposium in Kigali yesterday. Timothy Kisambira.
Amb. Gatete addresses the stakeholders at the symposium in Kigali yesterday. Timothy Kisambira.

Urban planners have been urged to stop trading blames for the current state of urban centres in the country and instead act fast before numerous informal settlements crop up. 

The call was made by Sir Paul Collier, a professor of economics and public policy at Oxford University, UK, who was the key note speaker at the national forum on sustainable urbanisation that resonates with the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS2).  

Get down to planning

The ongoing two-day forum, sponsored by the World Bank, seeks to address the opportunities and solutions for sustainable urbanisation, infrastructure and housing development.

Overwhelming infrastructure and social amenities due to population growth has often been blamed on poor planning and circumstances in the past, but stakeholders said the time for blame game is over. 

“It is no good apportioning blame; the plan should be to stay ahead of the game. Once you have fallen behind and have a lot of informal settlements it is hard to recover. It is rather safe fighting the mistakes of the past to ensure that the city doesn’t lag behind,” Prof. Collier said.

He said the City of Kigali was still at a stage where intervention would be easy. 

“Kigali is at an ideal stage to intervene because it is still in the early stages of urbanisation. More than being saved, it holds a huge opportunity since it does not have an old city setting. A lot of European cities are locked into the 19th century and are trying to transit to modern cities, but Kigali can get straight to the 21st century.”

Collier said to ensure that people in urban settings have decent living conditions, government should plan development and implementation of infrastructure development projects well ahead of urban settlement.

Maximising devt 

Authorities should also facilitate and make household investment easy, with housing costs pitched around what ordinary people can afford, he added.

“As you get an efficient city, the value of land goes up and it is a vital matter to ensure that the appreciation is not accrued to a few rich people. You can do that by either having government own the land or taxing the appreciation value,” he siad.

“Now that the Rwandan government has built a successful process of land registration, it is an ideal platform on which they can run effective land taxation base.”

“Through this, government gets the revenue to finance the infrastructure necessary for urbanisation. A city is in a way a giant public good if it benefits the people who live there in terms of decent living conditions, sanitation, good employment opportunities, financing such a public good should come from revenues from taxation appreciation of land,” Collier said.

The urban planner said nightmare in most African countries is that the appreciation is captured by a few rich people who “smartly channel it for their own benefit,” adding that  coordination and cooperation between the private and public sectors is of essence to sustainable urban development.

Investment in urban planning

The Minister for Finance and Economic Planning, Amb. Claver Gatete, also noted the importance of cooperation between the private and public sectors and other stakeholders as sustainable urbanisation was not the responsibility of a single entity. 

The minister added that Rwanda had invested in urban planning as it was a roadmap to achieve sustainable urban development. 

“Rwanda’s size will not change but population will continue to increase. If we don’t plan now, it will be costly in the future to plan a city with a higher population and more informal settlements,” Gatete said.

“People will construct homes and buildings anywhere, if we don’t plan in an organised manner. By planning for affordable settlement in Kigali, it will make it much easier to expand to other cities across the country which will ensure that the people living in the rural areas are happy and won’t get reasons to migrate to urban areas.”

Leonard Rugwabiza, the director-general for national planning and research at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, said although urbanisation does not always translate into national income growth, it means less poverty as the urban areas tend to grow faster than rural ones, thus encouraging private sector activities. 

He said the current rate of urbanisation was, however, not sufficient to achieve EDPRS 2 goals and needed to be accelerated to reap maximum benefits. 

Rwanda Housing Authority director-general Esther Mutamba said the current urbanisation rate stands at 18 per cent, with a target of 35 per cent by 2020, meaning the country has to almost triple its efforts to achieve its target.

However, she said they were on track with detailed physical planning that they had spread out to the grassroots. 

Donna Rubinoff, a senior advisor on sustainable urbanism to the City of Kigali, said as the City’s master plan is implemented, the city is achieving the dream landscape. 

 

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