I had to pick-up an item from an office somewhere off Bole road the other day. I followed the directions I was given and turned left and right a few times before I arrived at the place. As I got closer to my destination, it became increasingly difficult to steer my car through the roads as they became narrower at every turn. When I reached my destination and parked my car I paused for a while, considering how I would be able to return to the main Bole road again. The street was narrow, allowing no other cars to pass mine anymore and making it difficult to turn the car. Parking inside the compound of the office was also not possible as there wasn’t enough space left. After picking up my item I made my way back, driving in reversing for a while before the road widened sufficiently to turn the car. As I did so, I had a look at some of the new houses built in the area; mostly new. What they had in common was their seemingly modern design, size (big and mostly ground + 2) and occupying most of the space on the plot of land they were sitting on, leaving hardly any space between the walls and the fence. Fences are now frequently decorated with razor wire, indicating that there must be some measure of wealth behind the fence that requires protection. The prices of such houses are high, depending greatly on where they are located. This was Bole, which adds to their value. I was puzzled by two observations. In the first place the owners of these houses do not seem to care much about having space in their compound as the walls of their buildings are almost at arm’s length from the fence. The size of the house inside must therefore be more important to them. Believe it or not, I once entered a new house in the old airport area which had 18 rooms. What for, I don’t know. The second thing that puzzled me was the size and condition of the access roads. Narrow and unpaved. The same is true for the area where I reside. There are many new, some beautiful, houses with access roads that don’t match the investments; mud pools during the rainy season, and dusty thereafter. Think of some of the health hazards we discussed last week in this column. In some residential areas house owners join hands and upgrade their roads to asphalt, thereby immediately improving the image of the neighbourhood and the value of their houses, I will not go into the state of the roads in some industrial areas, which hardly become passable during the rains while heavy trucks worsen their condition by the day. Let us explore the fast developing new residential areas a bit further. The next thing that catches the eye is waste. All households produce waste but there is no waste collection system to speak off that matches the amounts that are dumped in the neighbourhood. This again causes major health hazards in residential areas, where children play, stray dogs multiply and waste is left to rot. Even if the waste is collected once a week, much is left behind as the containers cannot hold everything.
As I drive from my house into town, I pass another neighbourhood to be. Here condominiums are being constructed and I try to imagine what it will look like when completed. Thousands of people will reside in these apartment blocks, all producing waste, all needing water and sanitation. I find the prospect a bit worrying given the fact that the development of much of the required infrastructure seems to lag behind the mushrooming of the so called condos. An estimated 100,000 such apartments will be constructed in Addis Ababa. Allow for 5 persons per household and we arrive at half a million residents needing not only the comfort of their apartment but all the infrastructure that goes with it, which includes water, energy, sewage, solid waste management, roads, transportation, health services, green areas and playgrounds, all of which will undoubtedly have been included in the master plans of the city and regional towns. What concerns me is the actual planning that goes with it and the order in which works are carried out. When I look at the billboards along the construction sites of new residential areas, I see colourful and beautiful houses with spacious parking and a few happy residents walking along pavements, and generous green spaces in between. After the construction is completed, the houses are there alright, much less the infrastructure I was made believe to be developed.
The city faces serious challenges of growth and management. There are issues of potential overcrowding, congestion, insufficient infrastructure and inadequate provisions of services, which if not handled adequately, will negatively affect social-economic development. Urban planning is key; together with the capacity to organize the city and regional towns, manage their growth and make them more efficient and sustainable.
There are good developments in terms of providing housing for families of various income groups and in terms of widening major roads in the city. Effective and efficient infrastructure will make for better quality of life, and enhance social and economic development.