Street-naming, house numbering underrated in urban management

Thursday October 28 2021
Street pic
By J.M. Lusugga Kironde

The Minister for Information, Communication and Information Technology, Dr Ashatu Kijaji, announced recently that about Sh45 billion was set aside for implementation of the residential addresses plan and postcode allocation in 194 councils across Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar. The initiative seeks to ensure that every street and house is named and inscribed with a recognised number. This would facilitate the government’s operations, towards a digital economy, and also simplify goods and services delivery.

This is a very welcome step. Projects have been taken in recent years to name streets and number houses but these have been ad hoc and limited in coverage. Our cities are characterised by anonymity, something we seem to enjoy.

Without a system of road and house identification, it becomes difficult for residents to find their way round the ever growing city. Makeshift solutions have been devised: “a huge coconut tree, a white-painted mosque, bar so-and-so, an open space, a primary school, and similar landmarks are used in describing the location of property.”

This can be quite mouthful and be costly. Directing a colleague to your house can involve several phone calls or physical interventions. Like: “Stay where you are, I will collect you from there”.

The situation is worse where ambulances, firemen or the police have to reach a location quickly. Mail or parcels becomes difficult to dispatch to private homes. Locating urban facilities and infrastructure becomes complicated. Breakdowns in water, electricity or telephone systems become difficult to pinpoint.

On-site collection of water, electricity or waste management bills can hardly be effected. Property tax systems cannot be administered efficiently. Citizen behaviour and identity within the city is affected by anonymity. Social services related to health and education cannot be effectively delivered especially where there is need for home delivery or monitoring. Disadvantages of lack of street-naming and house numbering are many.

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There have been projects to improve the information systems in cities of developing countries with little as many have been based on non-existent resources.

Yet, street-naming requires few resources and has a short implementation time-frame. This can provide municipal authorities with an efficient system of baseline information on the city, can be locally owned, and can allow municipal authorities to apply high-performance management tools.

Street addressing goes beyond management. Assigning individuals an identifiable location in the city provides both a physical and symbolic connection point for all residents within the community. Street addressing is thus an essential avenue of recognition for the civic rights of all.

It is legally, the duty of urban authorities to effect street naming and house numbering. Section 55(1)(j), of the Local Government (Urban Authorities) Act 1982, states as follows: “Subject to this Act, it SHALL be the duty of every urban authority within its area of jurisdiction to name or rename where necessary, all streets (such names to be affixed in conspicuous places therein) and to cause the buildings in such streets to be numbered.”

Sections 57 and 59 of the Local Government (Urban Authorities) (Development Control) Regulations, 2008 empower authorities to have house owners or occupiers label streets and number their houses at their own cost.

Despite these mandatory provisions, street naming and house numbering has not been given the seriousness that it deserves. In some cases, frustrated citizens have devised their own naming system, sometimes causing conflict within a community, like where a resident gives a whole street his or his home village’s name.

STreet pic2

A view of a satellite town in one of the country’s cities. PHOTO | FILE

To some extent, this is the result of construction that has been taking place in these cities, on areas that are unplanned. But even in planned areas, authorities have found it easy to acquire land, plan it, demarcate and allocate the plots, but with un-named streets and un-numbered houses.

The initiative launched by the Minister is at central government level operating in local government areas. It is hoped that local councils and citizens will be fully engaged in the design and implementation of the whole exercise. It should also be sustainable and flexible to take in new developments.

A useful resource is a book titled ‘Street Addressing and the Management of Cities,’ by Catherine Farvacque-Vitkovic, et al, published by the World Bank. It covers all that there is to designing and implementing an efficient street naming and house numbering system.

The day when it will be possible to walk around with an A-to-Z street map book of a city like Dar es Salaam many not be too far away.