Shuaib Lwasa: A Worldview of Urban Nature that includes “Runaway” Cities

Shuaib Lwasa is a Lecturer in the department of geography at Makerere University. He was the recipient of a 2011-12 Grant for Global Environmental Change Research in Africa (click here to read more about his project: The Role of Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture in Enhancing Food Security and Climate Change Resilience in East and West African Cities), and a recent participant at the Cities at Risk – Africa Workshop held in Durban in March, 2013. Shuaib has over 14 years of teaching and international research experience working on inter-disciplinary research. Recent works are in the fields of urban environmental management, spatial planning in with special interest in livelihood systems, vulnerability to global environmental change, disaster risk management and sustainable urban development. Recent publications topics include adaptation to climate change, land and property rights, land use and land cover change, vulnerability assessment, resource efficiency and spatial planning and sustainable urban development. Shuaib coordinates the Habitat Universities (H UNI) climate change and disaster risk management Hub. He has participated on international panels focused on urbanization and environmental change with a focus on Africa’s urbanization.

A Worldview of Urban Nature that includes “Runaway” Cities

This article presents an alternative perspective on urban nature that extends the debates on ecology in cities to ecology of cities. In Africa, and particularly Kampala, where we have undertaken research on various aspects of urban development, we are increasingly confronted by a realization that urban built up components are only conveniently “detached” from the urban nature on which these sit. In fact the combination of the built up and urban ecosystems is creating a unique urban form that is a fusion of interacting parts of the city as whole. Cities in other parts of the world that have benefited from long standing planning have the urban form which, to a degree, separates built up from nature areas as nature parks and recreation areas (Grimm et al. 2008). The design and planning has also reserved multi-purpose green parks, as seen in recent urban development, to respond to the environmental change challenges. In contrast, cities in Africa, as is the case of Kampala, can be described as ‘runaway’ cities by nature of the sprawl and fragmentation of natural ecosystem interwoven with built up land. This is a different worldview of urban nature with implications on how to maintain ecosystem functions.

In Kampala, there is evidence of continuous interactions and influences between built-environment and the natural components to form a unique urban fabric. This worldview helps us to understanding the urban system interactions at various scales. Our understanding of how the built environment components interact with nature on which it sits is key in addressing the challenges of urban management, and there is critical importance in sustaining some level of ecosystems functions of provisioning, regulating and supporting services (Shuaib Lwasa et al. 2009). The speed of urbanization in Africa is characterized by, among other things, the degradation and reduction in ecosystem services within urban areas. This dilemma is felt in Kampala where ecosystem services are dwindling due to land competitions for development.

The challenge is that the city is extending further into the rural hinterland… Click here to keep reading