Top Down versus Bottom Up Development

Planned cities are typically touted with tons of hype and fanfare, but they are often far from where people actually want to live and there are all sorts of infrastructure and transportation problems.  A Daily Mail article on the subject noted that in China, “some estimates put the number of empty homes at as many as 64 million, with up to 20 new cities being built every year in the country’s vast swathes of free land.”  Here is a photo of one of these ghost towns:


Click here for many more amazing satellite photos.

Apparently China is not alone, as there are now several recent ghost cities that have been created in Sub-Saharan Africa. In a blog post entitled “Developers are failing new African cities,” Faustin Moukala writes:

“Let’s’s also look at Hawkwood properties, which, in 2009, promised to construct a world-class urban centre on 375 hectares of islands in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Proposed as the “future of Kinshasa,” La Cité du Fleuve was supposed to host luxury housing, schools, parks, a marina, hotels, and more. But four years have passed since the engines began to claim land from the Congo river, and the result today is very far from the tropical Manhattan shown in the company’s 3D architectural life footage: Only modest residential blocks are emerging along the single paved street.

or a case of the Nova Cidade de Kilamba in Angola.  Moukala notes that the city is “located 30km out of the capital…[and]…was designed to accommodate half a million people. But to date, nearly two years after its official completion, this ghost town is home to barely a tenth of that number. Too expensive and too far from Luanda, the project that failed to meet the needs of Angolans is today a mocked white elephant, a must-see for foreign journalists.”

It is unclear to me what the role of the government is in these examples, but it is does seem like whoever is involved needs to have a much better understanding of why top down development doesn’t work.  Personally, I’d recommend they read Bill Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good or anything by the excellent Ghanaian economist George Ayittey.

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