Re-inventing planning education without re-inventing the wheel
How networked learning supports the transformation of higher education programmes across African cities.
By Julia Wesely and Adriana Allen in collaboration with Andrea Klingel, Joseph Macarthy, Braima Koroma, Andrea Rigon, Alexandre Apsan Frediani
How can urban planning education become disruptive to address inequalities in education and practice across African cities? What are the contents and modes of the required disruption, and what roles do regional networks play in re-inventing, sustaining and expanding alternatives?
These questions provoked a rich discussion at the regional workshop titled “Transforming Planning Education in African Cities”, held in June 2020 and co-organised by the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC), the Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU) and the Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality programme (KNOW) with support from University College London’s Global Engagement Office. The workshop brought together 24 planning educators and researchers from 12 countries. It was the first in a series of events to support the development of SLURC’s & Njala University’s new MSc programme in “Development and Planning in African Cities” (DePAC).
In the following presentation, Joseph Macarthy shares the trajectory of SLURC’s educational activities and outlines the critical urban challenges that the new MSc aims to address.
A renewed call to disrupt colonial legacies
In June, the Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) published a report that highlights once again why the future of African cities requires urban practitioners with a complex set of capacities and capabilities to address intersecting challenges such as rapid urbanisation and extreme climate change. Currently, however, the number of built environment professionals working across Africa is low and unevenly distributed. This is evidenced, for example, in the case of Mozambique, where urban population will grow an estimated 313% (25,494,000 people) between 2020 and 2050, without any national architectural, planning or surveying institutions currently in place to accompany this process. ‘Deficits’ also show significant biases; in Nigeria, for instance, there are stark gender inequalities in the profession, as only 15% of registered Town Planners are female (Oborn & Walters 2020).
During the workshop, presentations by Nancy Odendaal (University of Cape Town), Wilbard Kombe (Ardhi University), Daniel Inkoom (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology), Gilbert Siame (University of Zambia), Moses Oketch (UCL Institute of Education) and Taibat Lawanson (University of Lagos) grounded this diagnosis in their experiences as planning educators across African cities. Speakers highlighted how intersecting distributional inequalities in planning education and practice are exacerbated by qualitative ones, such as the persistence of colonial legacies and their post-colonial manifestations, the tendency to plan by the book rather than by reality, and the mis-recognition of informality as the dominant mode of city-making across urban Africa.
Watch Professor Wilbard Kombe’s presentation about key challenges for planning in East African cities and their repercussions on higher education institutions.
Although the diagnosis of deeply ingrained and relational inequalities is not new, it is important to re-emphasise the call for a comprehensive and radical, de-colonising and emancipatory re-invention of planning education that disrupts, rather than merely adapts, to the status quo.
Watch Shuaib Lwasa arguing for the de-colonisation of knowledge in general, and African planning education in particular.
The call for ‘re-inventing planning education without re-inventing the wheel takes the ‘deficit narrative’ of planning education as only a partial account. Many valuable precedents to de-colonise and re-invent have developed over decades: Higher education institutions – such as KNOW City Partners Ardhi University (Tanzania) and Makerere University (Uganda) – have spearheaded regional planning education in the transition of many African countries to independence. Recent experimentation and interventions in planning programmes, such as the MSc in Spatial Planning at the University of Zambia and the MPhil in Southern Urbanism at the African Centre for Cities, did not happen in isolation, but galvanized through the work of the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS), which brings together 57 member schools across 18 countries. Moreover, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), jointly curated by SLURC and the DPU which currently runs in its third iteration, connects over 2,000 participants from across the world to learn together about development and planning in African cities. Hence, learning in various geographical, institutional and educational networks has been a mode for developing emancipatory circuits and setting precedents to re-invent planning education.
Networked and translocal learning about barriers and levers for change
What, then, are the entry points for planning educators to recognise and expand these emancipatory circuits?
Professor Nancy Odendaal presented a thought-provoking ‘map’ that shows the multiple ‘sites’ through which educators can engage in re-inventing planning education.
Building upon this map, Figure 1 (below), locates levers and barriers for re-inventing planning education and highlights potential entry points aligned with different spheres of influence.
Figure 1: Levers (green) and barriers (red) for re-inventing planning education located along the spectrum of influence of educators (Source: KNOW WP5 based on Odendaal, 2020).
In specific reference to valuable precedents of networked and translocal learning, participants emphasised two fundamental levers:
The purposeful nurturing of partnerships
Be it in bilateral or multilateral partnerships amongst planning schools, with the industry, organisations such as Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI), community-based organisations, research institutions as well as international actors: networks and alliances have proven fruitful in bringing education and practice closer, as well as in bundling scarce resources towards a common aim.
Watch Daniel Inkoom sharing five lessons learnt from the work of the AAPS network and Andrea Rigon examining the tactics of academics and research institutions for strengthening partnerships.
Expanding and strengthening transdisciplinary approaches
It is key for planning schools to include students and faculty from diverse disciplines and backgrounds to institutionalise interdisciplinary learning and mainstream multi-sectorial and multi-actor approaches to planning practice. Moreover, an emphasis on transdisciplinary learning requires learning environments in which the recognition and engagement with the differential political power, knowledges, experiences and entitlements of a multitude of city-makers is at the heart of planning and education processes.
Watch Taibat Lawanson illustrating how interdisciplinary programmes with opportunities for student mobility, placements and partnerships are fostering learner’s capacities to address urban challenges.
Strategies and tactics for re-inventing planning education in African cities
The workshop critically examined the potential of a range of entry points for disrupting planning education, thereby positioning regional and transdisciplinary networks as central actors for re-inventing and expanding alternatives. The persistence and severity of structural inequalities, however, as well as lessons from precedent efforts, made clear that leveraging these entry points to re-invent planning education requires strategies and tactics centred on a de-colonising and emancipating agenda, supported by sustained partnerships with equivalence. Strategies and tactics that recognise the diversity of city-makers, their values and knowledges as foundations of urban planning education.
Closing the workshop and looking forward to future engagements and collaboration, Alexandre Apsan Frediani argued for the importance of focusing our collective intention on:
recognising existing transgressive trajectories in planning education and practice;
disrupting knowledge hierarchies in envisioning and planning for the future; and
using methodologies with the potential to subvert outdated institutional practices.
Calls to re-invent planning education in African cities are not new. Precedent discussions and efforts have focused on the questions of why this re-invention is necessary, where and for whom. The crux lies in the ‘how’ and bears immense responsibilities for any attempt to learn from, adapt and expand de-colonising alternatives. Reinvigorating the commitment to activate networked learning across geographies, disciplines and institutions is one important step towards addressing inequalities in education and the planning practices emanating from it. However, the ability to re-invent planning education to meet the intersecting grand challenges of rapid urbanisation, climate change and colonial legacies, leaves pedagogues, networks and higher education institutions with the challenge of re-thinking their spheres of influence, and to carve transformative pathways while working with existing constraining conditions.
References and further resources:
International Science Council (ISC) (2020). Advancing the 2030 Agenda in African cities through knowledge co-production: Urban experiments led by early-career African scientists. International Science Council, Paris. Available online at:
Oborn, P. and Walters, J. (2020). Planning for Climate Change and Rapid Urbanisation. Survey o