Land professionals need new ideas to cope with hyper urban development

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's commercial  capital, has grown rapidly in the last three decades. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Tanzania has been training Town Planners since the early 1970s. This has been the case with other land professionals such as surveyors, land officers and valuers. The issue cannot therefore be that of lack of expertise or trained manpower

Recently, Town Planners in the country, held their annual general meeting, under the auspices of the Town Planners Registration Board.

The Town Planners (Registration) Act was enacted in 2007. The Act is aimed at making provisions for registering and disciplining professionals involved in land use planning. It created a government funded Town Planners Registration Board. Presenting this Bill for this Act, the then Minister for Lands Hon John Pombe Magufuli pointed out that it was only Town Planners (I prefer to call them Land Use Planners, since they deal with both urban and rural areas) among major professions in Tanzania who lacked a regulatory act. While lawyers, engineers, doctors, surveyors, accountants, teachers, and other professions had legislation regulating their behaviour, town planners had none. The Minister blamed chaotic urban development including the conversion of open spaces into private land, and the proliferation of unplanned settlements in urban areas, on lack of an enforceable legal framework regulating town planners. It was hoped then that since that the legislation was then (2007) in place, we would see improvements in the governance of land use planning. We would see a more orderly land development in our urban areas, large or small.

Yet, that is not the case. Planned land use areas remain small enclaves in a mosaic of informal, rapidly subdividing and developing neighbourhoods in almost all our urban areas. The large part of housing is to be found in unplanned, chaotically developed areas. Even the capital city of Dodoma is depicting areas that are growing at super speed, but that are unplanned. This could be clearly seen as you drive or fly in or out of the City.

The situation is possibly worse in rapidly growing trade centres dotting all the country, which are developing into unplanned slums of today and of the future, like there was no land use development control in this country.

So, what is not happening? Nationally, Tanzania has been training Town Planners since the early 1970s. This has been the case with other land professionals such as surveyors, land officers and valuers. The issue cannot therefore be that of lack of expertise or trained manpower. The registration of professional town planners has been in place for over a decade now, since 2007, a long enough period to show positive results. Historically too, a good number of city, municipal and town directors have been town planners. We should therefore see orderly urban areas growing.

It is argued that while the people are acting fast, at a speed of the digital era, the land use planning system is still stuck in 19th century practices which assume slow urban growth. A typical approach would be to declare an area considered ripe for development to be a planning area. The land would then be acquired, cleared and a land use plan prepared from a tabula rasa, a clear, clean, table. After the approval of the land use plan, the area would be surveyed, the survey approved, and land allocated subsequently.

That process is lengthy and is more often than not bogged down by lack of resources and different political opinions. In the meanwhile, an informal land subdivision system would be going on and people, building so that the official land use planning system finds itself trailing and having nothing to do except watching dejectedly, as our urban areas grow haywire.

Land use planning is crucial for orderly urban development. Other inputs of land administration, that is land surveying, land allocation and registration, depend on land use planning. Areas that grow unplanned depict the epitome of market failure. The market, on its own would find it difficult to grow an area into a planned one, except may be on a very small scale.

As part of their day to day activities, town planners within local authority government areas could collect all the necessary data, locally. Modern software such as Google Earth could be of immense help to show existing land uses.

To prevent the development of new informal areas, town planners may want to think of a different approach, which is based on maximum collaboration with existing land owners or users to work out land use plans with them, and without the idea of displacing them. Only land required for public uses would be acquired, the rest would be left in the hands of the owners, to keep or dispose, with conditions about its use.

As for the existing unplanned areas, there should be a programme of regularization, not just cosmetic, but aimed at producing planned neighbourhoods from these. Again, the approach would be that of collaboration with existing owners and local regularization committees working with experts to tweak and push these areas till a planned land use plan is agreed.

Given that the traditional approach cannot cope with the current hyper urban development, new approaches, based on community-public cooperation, and on local data collection and local land use planning could offer some hope.