From a personal and professional point of view, the idea/strategy was long overdue.
OPINION | URBAN PLANNING
By Amanda A. Ngabirano
I have no doubt that the physical planning fraternity in Uganda, and those who wish us well, rejoiced over the news that Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area was heading for better and modern comprehensive planning, usually referred to as sub-national/regional/provincial planning.
The arrangement, which, unfortunately, and only God knows why, is being referred to as an "extension" of Kampala, is meant to facilitate co-ordinated planning and development process for Kampala, Wakiso, Mukono and Mpigi.
Uganda's capital and its neighbouring entities are already extended into each other, having a well-balanced share of the undesired outcomes due to the trend referred to as sprawl, and making the region appear like one big disorganised "city" called "Kampala".
From a personal and professional point of view, the idea/strategy was long overdue and that partly explains why Mukono, Wakiso, Kampala and now Mpigi are entangled, and almost trapped in a web of spatial disgust and inefficiency - ranging from traffic and transportation, housing, green open spaces, sanitation and drainage issues.
Since physical planning, as a profession and approach to city, regional and national development, is still in its infancy stages in most developing countries, hence least appreciated in our day-to-day lives, it is understandable that such an advanced, smart and modern concept as sub-national/regional spatial planning will be rejected even before it is clearly understood.
Has it been clearly explained to all?
The territorial factor always raises fears, particularly, due to political and administrative interests, with little or no regard to the existing spatial challenges. It is, therefore, no wonder that this strategy is being referred to as an "extension" of Kampala.
What all ought to know is that spatial planning is never about individual entities, and therefore, authorities, in isolation.
It's about entities and their neighbouring regions. Regional planning, more often than not, requires effective administrative, financial and governance arrangements amongst the concerned entities.
The planning focus should ideally be more about regionally experienced challenges, as a result of an existing interaction - say, one providing housing and another providing employment. It is also attached to concerns about the future, for instance, demographic predictions and foreseen implications for the region as a whole.
There are obviously shared and complimentary functions amongst regions, which, automatically, demystify the existing geographical boundaries for purposes of integrated and more impactful planning and development.
This always calls for administrative and political unity of the entities, guided at the national level.
Generally, regional planning is best practised when there exists a regional planning body/agency, which, in Kampala's case, would be the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area Authority. This, according to the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Act, should be set up to guide the metropolitan area planning.
The now contentious GKMA strategy was, apparently, prepared in co-ordination and consultation of the concerned local governments and several other concerned government entities.
In the absence of the authority, it is commendable that the concerned stakeholders thought of a strategy, probably as an interim plan aimed at jointly facing and addressing the current regional and spatial challenges for efficiency and improved quality of life.
Such spatial themes as housing, employment and mobility are automatically brought together because of the aspect of daily commuting - with or without the 'consent' of the individual urban authorities - hence the need for combined efforts to direct regional plans and developments or address regional challenges.
Cities and towns can have local land use plans, territorially managed by them to function as desired, but under the regional vision and plans jointly co-ordinated and managed.
The concept of network cities and urban regions is known for not only stimulating growth, but also to facilitate an effective and efficient process of controlled and regulated development. Without this approach, cities/towns realise less than they expected from their individual plans, particularly those with a regional aspect, such as transportation infrastructure.
For Kampala's case, we have seen KCCA implement several infrastructural projects, which, after a short period of time, appear like they had no major impact. This has been mainly because of the piecemeal kind of planning, while ignoring some shared, yet important, spatial factors.
In relation to GKMA, all - including guests - can attest to the fact that the entities therein must jointly address spatial challenges we are faced with in the areas of traffic and transportation, sanitation and drainage, housing location, utility planning, business and environmental performance, among others.
But is there mutual trust for such co-operation?
Is there mutual desire to address such challenges as the quality of life continues to deteriorate due to inadequate and unco-ordinated spatial planning?
Is each entity satisfied with the impact of their isolated plans?
Small as it is, The Netherlands' spatial planning has evidently been made easier and more impactful through this approach of regional/provincial planning, guided at the national level. This has helped the country have co-ordinated and efficient planning and development.
If it's true that Greater Kampala contributes 30% of Uganda's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), then the need and urgency to improve the region's efficiency and performance should be a matter that concerns all key stakeholders, especially the leadership at the national, regional and local levels.
Definitely, an existing legal and administrative framework would have made it a lot easier, but even without it, entities can prepare and implement some of their plans in co-ordination with their neighbours' under an agreeable formal arrangement.
Despite the presidential stance on the formulation of new government agencies and authorities, GKMA is one case that our President ought to consider as special and direct that it's set up to address the spatial challenges the central region is faced with, which one would comfortably refer to as national shame, unfortunately, repeating itself over space, throughout the country.
This could as well be done for the other regions - Eastern, Northern, North Eastern, Mid-Eastern, Western, South Western and Mid-West - and if the concerned regional entities are smart enough, now is the time to unite and plan jointly.
They don't have to be agencies or authorities but regional establishments, mandated to operate and ensure co-ordinated regional development and growth.
It is no secret that countries that prioritise spatial and physical planning take clear spatial decisions, with clear spatial visions set, shared at regional levels and implemented locally.
Implementation is usually based on land use plans with a touch of the local context. And whereas politics is an important and influential element in societal wellbeing and economic development, it is dangerous to politicise every other programme, even when it should be purely technical and professional, unless it is politicised for, as opposed to against, the populace.
About the GKMA strategy, whereas it understandable that there can be territorial administrative and political fears, it is not understandable that this kind of planning strategy is blocked, at least not by the concerned leaders.
If there are any fears about which entity should spearhead the process, that is a different matter which, in my opinion, should be addressed easily. But one hopes that whoever is against the strategy per se, is purely ignorant about its benefits and deserves to be furnished with information.
Otherwise, regional leaders should be ambassadors of such programmes.
Whether against or for the GKMA planning strategy, let's please desist from referring to it as an extension of Kampala, because it isn't and shouldn't be. It is a people-friendly planning and smart approach.
Of course its success depends on mutual desire and need for co-ordinated planning, mutual trust and ability to meet the required inputs by the individual entities. If there are revenues accruing to such co-operation, they are fairly distributed amongst the authorities.
The same applies to expenditure. But bottomline, each entity's vision should be to improve the quality of life, efficiency, better business and environmental performance as a result of the synergy and co-ordination.
The writer is an urban & regional planning expert, and lecturer at Makerere University