African Cities

By Sinclair, Dean | The Geographical Review, April 2012 | Go to article overview

African Cities


Sinclair, Dean, The Geographical Review


AFRICAN CITIES: Alternative Visions of Urban Theory and Practice. By GARTH MYERS. xi and 242 pp.; maps, ills., bibliog., index. London: Zed Books, 2011. $116.95 (cloth), ISBN 9781848135086; $34.95 (paper), ISBN 9781848135093.

Garth Myers seeks to carve out a niche for African urban geography in this engaging book. The overarching theme is that African cities have largely been ignored in the urban literature, whether from a geographical, sociological, economic, or any other perspective. Myers wants to correct this lacuna, and more. To accomplish this, he taps into a vast literature on African cities. At the same time he wrestles with the notion that, although African urbanization has distinctive qualities, it is closely associated with the processes of urbanization that are occurring around the globe. Moreover, the author successfully challenges the prevalent notion that urbanization in Africa is an economically and socially destructive process, as often portrayed in the mainstream academic and general media.

Although Myers readily acknowledges that one cannot talk about "the African city" any more than one can discuss the Chinese or American city, given that all cities have unique distinguishing features even in the face of basic structural similarities, he wants the reader to be aware of the African city as an entity of positive as well as negative change on the continent. Although he titled his book African Cities, it is clear from the outset that his principal interest is in the cities of sub-Saharan Africa, for which he makes no apology, nor should he. Sub-Saharan urbanism is certainly fascinating enough, with its own complexities and trajectories.

Myers structures his discussion around five themes in African urbanism: postcolonialism, informality, governance, violence, and cosmopolitanism. These themes are derived largely from the writings of Edward Soja, in particular regarding the idea of the "postmetropolis." What Myers is attempting to do is bring African cities into this urban discourse, drawing on an expansive literature. Although the intellectual starting point may be Soja, the touchstone throughout the book, and in many ways the unifying theme that keeps the text focused, is Jan Pieterse's notion of a "relational city," one that might be defined as a broadly based and experienced city in which a multiplicity of voices can be heard. It is to this type of city that Myers returns in his effort to more fully explore the African urban experience. In many ways the bottom line of this exercise is to assure the reader that, although African cities have problems, as do all cities around the globe, they are not the "sick" cities so often portrayed in both popular and academic media. Myers wants the reader to understand that the urban scene in Africa is much more complicated than it is typically portrayed to be.

With the essential structure in hand, Myers embarks on a systematic exploration of his five themes of African urbanism, using his own experiences in Africa as well as a plethora of other sources. …

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