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HomeOpinionEthiopia : “This is What I want” (Kebour Ghenna)

Ethiopia : “This is What I want” (Kebour Ghenna)

Kebour _ Addis Ababa _ urban development project _ Ethiopia

By Kebour Ghenna

Today, I will be reflecting on the transformations of Paris in 1850 and Addis Ababa in 2024.

Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann was the Parisian who transformed his hometown, becoming one of history’s most famous and controversial urban planners. Even 130 + years after his death, Haussmann still sparks debate in France. Was he a visionary genius who made Paris the “City of Light,” or an overbearing imperialist?

Globally, Haussmann is praised for much of what makes Paris iconic today: grand, wide avenues lined with stately buildings adorned with intricate wrought iron balconies. But back home, many republicans see him differently. To them, Haussmann was a haughty autocrat who demolished Paris’s historic heart, carving his boulevards through the city’s slums to aid the French army in quelling uprisings.

In her article titled “Haussmann Rips Up Paris – and Divides France to This Day,” Kim Willsher writes:

“Haussmann got the job. A week after his appointment in the summer of 1853, he was summoned to the emperor’s official residence at the Palais des Tuileries, where Napoléon III produced his plan for Paris. It showed a map of the city with three straight, dark lines drawn over it: one running north-to-south and two east-to-west either side of the Seine, all cutting through some of the most densely populated but historic areas of central Paris. ‘This is what I want,’ Napoléon III told Haussmann. It was the start of the most expensive public work program ever voluntarily carried out in a European city, turning Paris into a vast building site for more than 17 years. Haussmann cut a swathe through the cramped and chaotic labyrinth of slum streets in the city centre, knocked down 12,000 buildings…”

His venture was ruthless for Paris’s residents. Razing and rebuilding the city in such a grandiose fashion displaced many people. The 2.5 billion franc bill for the work, around €75 billion today, added to the outrage. By 1869, criticism was so intense that Haussmann had to defend himself before MPs and city officials. To salvage his own popularity, Napoléon III asked Haussmann to resign. When he refused, the emperor dismissed him.

Willsher continues:

“… republican opponents criticized the brutality of the work. They saw his avenues as imperialist tools to neuter fermenting civil unrest in working-class areas, allowing troops to be rapidly deployed to quell revolt. Haussmann was also accused of social engineering by destroying the economically mixed areas where rich and poor rubbed shoulders, instead creating distinct wealthy and ‘popular’ arrondissements… Living in new Paris became expensive, so poorer classes moved out of the centre and wealthy residents, who were less likely to revolt, moved in. Critics also accused Haussmann of destroying the city’s medieval treasures, citing the enduring charm of the narrow winding streets of the Marais: the city’s oldest district and one which escaped Haussmann’s razing.”

In the end, Haussmann was never forgiven or recognized in his lifetime in France, and he still isn’t. However, as Willsher notes, what he did was phenomenal; he was the world’s first modern urban developer. Everyone who visited Paris for the universal exhibitions, including Queen Victoria, was astonished by the city’s transformation. In 1867, European architects hailed Haussmann as a pure genius, a brilliant modern urban developer. Yet, all that was said about him back home was that he was a crook.

Returning to Addis Ababa, one can observe striking similarities in how both cities are undergoing change. In Addis Ababa, the primary goal appears to be rejuvenation and enhancement rather than a complete transformation. Despite this, the city’s rapid, top-down transformation is undeniably impressive. New public parks, wider streets with broad pavements lined with trees, ‘jambo’ streetlights and buildings with sleek glass and grey facades paint a promising picture.

However, there’s a heart-wrenching side to this facelift: the city’s old fabric have been torn apart. Take Piaza, for instance—its local charm and traditions have been destroyed, displacing thousands of people, when in fact its narrow, dirty, and smelly alleys could have been paved, widened, cleaned, greened, and made safer, preserving the area’s unique character while improving living conditions.

This brings us to a perplexing question facing policymakers, leaders, and organizations: How can urban development be balanced with the well-being of average citizens? In our rapidly urbanizing cities, this question becomes even more crucial. Urban malaise reflects broader social, economic, and political issues in society, requiring solutions that address these underlying problems.

Ambitious civic projects and “Smart City” initiatives don’t always provide answers to the deep-rooted social issues plaguing major cities. Large-scale economic growth and development incentives may not resolve the glaring inequalities in urban areas.

Even renowned cities like Paris, with all its architectural and civic splendor, grapple with high rents, inequality, and socio-economic segregation. While radical and sweeping changes can be transformative, they risk becoming self-destructive if not paired with practices that foster sustainability, social cohesion, and public harmony. Any effort, at development and revitalization of urban areas, should consider the city as an Organism, with a Past, Present, and Future, reflective of the larger society it is embedded in.

To ensure sustainability, efforts must be contextually relevant and inclusive, engaging local communities so that progress does not come at the expense of the people it aims to benefit. In the case of Addis Ababa, the public remains largely in the dark about the cost of these extensive projects and who exactly is paying for them. The lack of transparency adds another layer of concern, as citizens are unable to fully understand the financial implications and long-term economic impact of the city’s transformation. Without this crucial information, it becomes difficult for the public to assess whether the benefits of these changes truly outweigh the costs, and who bears the financial burden.

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com


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2 COMMENTS

  1. እኒህ ሰው አብይ አህመድ ሽመልስና ከንቲባ ተብዮዋ እዲስ አበባ ውስጥ የሚያደርጉትን የዘር ማጥራት ዘመቻ በደንብ ያውቃሉ፡፡ ዳሩ ግን እኖር ማለትና አድርባይነት ህሊናቸውን ሸፍኗቸው ሌላ ስም ይሰጡታል፡፡ አንድ ቀን መሞት ላይቀር ይኸንን ያህል ፍርሃትና አድርባይነት! እግዚኦ!

  2. ክቡር ገና
    የኔ ቤት ቢፈርስ ብለፍ አስብ። አንተ በፈረሰው የሰዎች ቤት ዙሪያ ያለውን ዉበት መኪና እያደነክህ መደሰት ትፈልጋለህ። ይህ ትልቅ ነውር ነው። የፈረሰው በብዛት የአማራቤት ነው። አማራ ሆነህ አብይ ያፈረሰውን ድርጊት ማድነቅ ትንሽነት ነው። ድሮም አድርባይ ነበርክ። በመለስ ጊዜ የእንተር አፍሪካ ባለሟል አልነበርክ?

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