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Funding for research on economic growth and street work in urban Africa

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The Swedish Research Council has granted SEK 4 million in research funding for a three-year project on economic growth and street work in urban Africa. The research team consists of researchers from the University of Gothenburg (GU) and Stockholm University (SU); Ilda Lindell (project manager), Associate Professor of Human Geography, SU, Andrew Byerley, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, School of Business, Economics and Law, GU and Onyanta Adama, researcher in Human Geography, SU.

The title of the project is “The demise of the informal city? Economic growth and street work in urban Africa”.

New winds of economic growth are blowing across Sub-Saharan Africa. This is creating new urban ambitions involving the reworking of African cities, their economies, politics and spaces. However, as urban informalization continues to expand in the face of ‘jobless growth’ there are signs of intensified tensions as rationalities and practices of survival collide with rationalities of growth. Urban planning and regulation of central city areas increasingly adopt discursive, juridical and material technologies of control that seemingly seek to sanitize central city spaces of informality. Some scholars posit this as evidence that ‘revanchist urbanism heads South’. However, little is known about how seemingly global forces articulate with the specific local contexts of African cities.

Drawing from theoretical insights from critical urban theory, the aim of this project is to shed light on the varied forces that are currently reworking central city areas in specific African cities and the strategies marginalised actors utilise to protect their claims to the street. Using qualitative ethnographic methods, the project focuses on contested urban spaces used by informal street vendors in Maputo (Mocambique), Kampala (Uganda) and Lagos (Nigeria) to investigate three central research questions. Firstly, what are the new constellations of actors and interests driving the contemporary transformation of central city areas in specific cities? Secondly, what disciplinary technologies are being deployed to control actors and activities perceived as ‘illegitimate’ in central city areas and what conflicts emerge? Thirdly, how do people depending on the street for survival experience and respond to the re-making of central city areas?

The project will significantly add to current understandings of the mechanisms that act on informal processes of urbanization and also contribute to a regenerated theoretical consideration of the search for the ‘Just City’ in the African context. The project will also increase planning and policy-relevant understanding of the mechanisms and processes acting in the urban planning / governance / informality / nexus.