More than 50 people gathered last Friday the 9th of November to attend the NCID Workshop on Urban Issues in Developing Countries. The event had presentations of three experts on different fields of urbanism: technology and artificial intelligence, theoretical and construction approach and finally a cartography approach joined with community participation.
The first one up was Prof. Reinhard König, who teaches Computational Architecture at Bauhaus-University Weimar. His presentation focused on how to use artificial intelligence for urban planning in Africa. König spoke about the different programmes and tools and the importance of digital planning with a network analysis that helps decode spaces and create a toolbox for improvement.
Explaining his work, he said that the most important is to combine both human and artificial intelligence. “We try to connect the human intelligence and machines, which are good to solve problems that you can formulate, but not difficult in terms of intellectual capacity. The idea is to combine both”, König said. “We try to create urban master plans that can adapt to different changes in transport systems, models, etc. You have to be flexible.”
The German professor ended his presentation speaking about projects he had done in places such as Cape Town and Addis Ababa. In this last one, they worked in the project Urbanize Ethiopia with the Ethiopian government, as they sought support to convert small existing villages into small cities with the objective of taking pressure off the capital, as there was the prospect of creating 800 towns in 5 years.
Second up was Prof. Belén Gesto, director at the Instituto de Cooperación en Habitabilidad Básica (ICHaB). On her presentation, titled Urban Expansion, Challenges and Responses from the Basic Habitability Approach, she focused on handling data and explaining what basic habitability is. “More than 50% of the urban population in Sub-Saharan Africa live in slums,” highlighted Gesto. “Every year 70 million more people live in slums. It is an increasing phenomenon.” She explained that the overwhelming housing deficit and urban growth is a challenge that the construction sector must face.
Gesto explained that basic habitability is not only affording a roof, but it also includes the environment where you live in, with its infrastructures and public spaces. She said that there are four steps in the basic habitability process in 4 steps: site selection, land allotment, urbanization, and building process.
The last speaker was Primož Kovačič, Director at Spatial Collective. His company works together with local actors in Nairobi to map slums and create information in areas forgotten by the government. “I started looking deeper and back to Nairobi and you find old maps and lots of places missing. Kibera slum, Sub-Saharan’s largest slum (with approximately one million inhabitants), is missing.”
Following this, Kovačič explained they used the boom of ICTs to achieve community network mapping through free satellite imagery, mobile phones, open-sourced software, etc. His work includes young people from different communities to empower them and collaborate. In one project on waste management, they gathered different actors including government representatives and youth leaders and they ended up realizing what was needed was a truck with a regular schedule, which forced a sharing of information that didn’t happen before between groups.
“Development doesn’t have to be complicated, sometimes it is straightforward”, he said. His company has offices in all the slums that they work at and an open-door policy, where they welcome locals and teach them how to use tools such as basic GPS knowledge so that they are and can feel part of the change in their area. Kovačič finished saying that when they ask locals what makes their projects successful there is one thing they repeat. “We just want to be included”.