Visions and narratives around “future cities”

(Note: This summary of readings was written in the second half of 2020 as part of a Mega development course)

Visions of “African urban dreams” are being promoted by those who plan to build them. These promoters are more interested in building cities and structures that are bigger and grander in comparison with other cities and not how these cities or structures will serve citizens. (Acuto, 2020) These structures are presented as smart and sustainable as a marketing strategy and justification and for their existence; a means to attract local and other investors. However, there are other hidden agendas that represent the real motivations for these grandiose structures and urban plans, such as the export of excess capacity in the international property development and finance sectors. (Acuto, 2020)

Watson is wary of these local and other investors because the promoters of these urban infrastructures, “urban entrepreneurs,” do not consider the longer term impact of these plans. Watson believes that these urban structures if and when built will pose “far more serious problems” to Africa; greater than the problems African countries and urban areas currently face. (Watson, 2014) Majority of Africans do not have the financial capabilities to “afford the luxury apartments portrayed in the fantasy plans.” These cities run the risk of becoming another ghost city such as those built by the Chinese in Luanda, Angola. Also, these cities and structures are being built without proper consultation with those who will be most impacted by them. In some cases land being used for agricultural purposes and peoples sources of livelihood are considered of lesser value and are hijacked for these projects.

Also, these negative impacts can be seen in the gulf region, as it builds massive, extravagant property and tourism projects one after the other. Ewers and Malecki propose some guidelines which include that these projects not located in areas where they can potentially crowd out existing production activities. Also, these projects should provide additive value to existing productive capacities and that there should be users willing to pay for these projects. (M. Ewers and E. Malecki, 2011)

In the gulf region, the emphasis on oil has been a source of limitation to diversification and the potential of these urban projects in Gulf states to provide localization and agglomeration benefits. These projects are not required to hire or train local Emirati labor. (M. Ewers and E. Malecki, 2011) This in itself may not be a challenge since many unemployed Emirati receive ample social support and the expatriates / owners of the project are invested in employing their own people and continuing the project. However, it leaves the continuity of the project vulnerable if investors and labor decided to leave. This is a possibility that Gulf states should plan and prepare for by using safeguards such as a requirement to hire and train local Emirati labor.

In the US, the Boston real estate industry is “building resilient properties for elites” and “displacing lower-income residents in the process,” and “at the same time advocating for the City of Boston to create new protection zones for future investments.” This is incongruent and also calls to question the “greenwashing” of the infrastructure on Boston’s shorelines as “green infrastructure.” Just like the massive urban structures built on sand filled areas of Lekki in Lagos, Nigeria, the “green resilient infrastructure projects and luxury resilient housing buildings on the East Boston waterfront are at greater risk of flooding.” The relocation of the capital of Indonesia to Borneo, despite plans not to cut any forests, would make the area unlivable for local communities that currently live there as land values appreciates and cost of living increases. Even if forests are not cut down, the disruptions from human activity and pollution will still result in the loss of some plant and animal species. Displacement, physical insecurity, and gentrification is inevitable.

In conclusion, on what basis are these projects described as green? Are they powered by solar or wind energy? If that is the case, is that enough? What else makes these projects to be categorized as green?


Acuto, M (2010), “High-rise Dubai urban entrepreneurialism and the technology of symbolic power”, Cities Vol 27, pages 272−284.

M. Ewers and E. Malecki (2011) “Megaproject: A 4-Decade Perspective of the Gulf Development Model” in S. Brunn (ed) Engineering the Earth: The Impacts of Megaengineering Projects. pp. 533–550.

V. Watson (2014) African urban fantasies: dreams or nightmares? Environment & Urbanization, IIED, 26:1 pp. 215–231.

Social Welfare Programs in the UAE

Residents cry for help as floods hit Lagos, Disrupts Businesses (June 19, 2020)

B. Gokkon (2019) Red flags as Indonesia eyes relocating its capital city to Borneo.



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