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Monthly Archives: January 2008

Curitiba is a city in Southern Brazil with a population of close to two million people, a moderate climate and large areas prone to flooding. In the past, its fast population growth threatened to destroy its identity and the city faced the risk of a traffic collapse.

There is nothing else that Curitiba and Kampala have in common.

Today, Curitiba has a well-organised city administration, a highly efficient Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system and therefore very little traffic congestion, massive public parks and sound social policies. In a recently conducted poll, 99% of the city population said they were happy with their city and would not want to live anywhere else. It has been called ‘the most innovative city in the world’.

Photos of Curitiba

(Photos from curitiba-parana.net and wikimedia.org)

Jaime Lerner, Architect, Urban Designer and former Mayor of Curitiba/Brazil

Architect and Urban Designer Jaime Lerner is the author of this urban design fairytale. He designed the Curitiba Master Plan which was adopted in 1968. In 1971, he became Curitiba’s Mayor and failed to be voted out of office for the next 22 years. His simple message: People are more important than cars. In ‘City of Dreams‘, a documentary by Olivia Rousset, he says: ‘If you want to make life better for people, make the cities better‘.

According to Lerner, the secret behind his concept is its simplicity. ‘We didn’t have fear of simplicity, because a city is not so complex that the complexity sellers want us to understand.

Triple-articulated bus in Curitiba, Brazil

Traffic
The core of his plan was to pedestrianise a number of streets and squares and to create five major arteries in and out of the city centre in what is called a Trinary Road System: Two one-way streets moving in opposite directions surround a two-lane street exclusively used by express buses. During rush hour, a triple-articulated (!) bus arrives every 60 seconds in either direction. Wherever you are and wherever you go within the city, you pay one fixed fare. It is a ‘subway above ground’. Two million passengers, 85% of Curitibians use this so-called Rede Integrada de Transporte every single day, and Lerner claims it is ‘one of the few systems in the world which is not subsidised. It pays by itself‘. ‘We can transport in this simple system more passengers than in a subway. The cost – 100 times or 200 times less expensive than a subway. And we can do it, we can implement a system, in less than two years.

Parks
One of Curitiba’s problems were constant floodings of the lower areas, something the city shares with Kampala. But instead of building ugly Nakivubo Channels all over the place, the city turned all those areas into parks. In fact, the whole central city is now surrounded by an enormous system of interconnected parks (and no fencing to be seen anywhere around them!). When it came to maintaining all the parks, more specifically to the cutting of all the grass, Lerner came up with another simple solution: He introduced sheep!

Garbage Collection
And another striking idea: The city hands out basic commodities to the poor in return for collecting garbage and cleaning up the city. For every five kilos of rubbish they hand in, they are given one kilo of vegetables and fruits.

In Lerner’s words:

I think there’s a lot of cities – they have incredible potential. The people – they don’t trust it’s possible to do it. If they don’t have a generous view about their cities, they won’t have a generous view about people. So if you want to make life better for people, make the cities better for people.

He has retired as Mayor and is since travelling the world’s cities as a consultant. Maybe we should invite him.

In its latest issue, The Independent reports that ‘a municipal council in Eastern Uganda is considering levying a tax on owners of grass thatched houses in a bid to improve on the standard of living in the municipality. Mbale Municipal Council Town Clerk, Daniel Christopher Kawesi says this decision will expand the revenue base or compel owners to sell the plots to those who can afford to put up better structures’.

Thatched roofs of Mihingo Lodge (Lake Mburo NP) and Le Chateau Restaurant (Kampala)

Better structures? They don’t know what they are talking about. However, their view is shared by our friends from Kampala City Council. The latter, too, believe that grass thatched roofs are a thing of the past and a sign of underdevelopment and poverty. They don’t want to see them around town and special permissions need to be obtained (i.e. paid for).

The truth is, a high-quality grass thatched roof – built to the right angle and thickness and chemically treated to be non-flammable – is indeed a rather expensive affair. It is not at all a sign of poverty, but of entrepreneurial spirit: most foreigners love those roofs and prefer to wine and dine under one of them (while most Ugandans prefer to live under fake tiles). They are expensive – up to 90$ per square meter – and require regular maintenance but seem to pay off. Most upcountry lodges have them (e.g. Mihingo Lodge/Lake Mburo NP), and a few hotels and restaurants around town (e.g. Le Chateau Restaurant/Nsambya). I only have seen one private residence in Kampala – of course expat-owned.

To get back to Mbale, if I was the Municipal Council Town Clerk and thus in charge of a town that to the best of my knowledge hasn’t got a single decent hotel on offer: I’d pretty much suggest the opposite.

Kampala’s North is blessed with a system of three circular roads sparing motorists from ever passing through the city centre: Yusuf Lule Road, Lugogo Bypass/Kira Road and the new Northern Bypass.

No such luxury is provided to the South since those roads effectively form three semi-circles ending on the Bombo-Kampala-Jinja Road barrier.

So let’s accomplish them.

Circle 1 is simply (and, yes, expensively) completed by introducing Canal Street, a lid on top of Nakivubo Channel creating a dual carriageway between Clock Tower and Wandegeya.

Circle 2 takes us on a slightly longer journey:

Proposed Southern Ringroad, Kampala

It starts out at Kampala’s most lethal junction – outside Game, where Lugogo Bypass meets Jinja Road. On a new link to Bugolobi that cuts across the greenfield site between Umeme and the Rugby Club we reach Old Port Bell Road which we briefly join before turning right onto 5th Street. We stay on that road until we reach Maersk. 140m of a new road take us across the railway tracks.

We turn left onto Kisugu Road (the one passing International Hospital at the lower side). We more or less follow that road through the Namuwongo mess, all the way to Muyenga. Just before the road takes us around Monkey Hill to Bukasa, we turn right. We go straight up towards Tank Hill Road which we cross somewhere below Hotel International. At this point, a few metres of new road will be needed in order to join Kiwafu Road (Muyenga Bypass) – this is the road that passes Heritage School and ends in Kansanga.

We cross Gaba Road near Didi’s World and dip straight down into the Rainbow School swamp. Up the hill until we meet Buziga Road where we turn right. We follow this road all the way to Central Military Intelligence in Makindye where we turn right. At Makindye roundabout we continue straight, now on Masaka Road where we stay for a little more than a kilometre. A piece of a new road takes us across to Kabaka’s Lake. We join Nabunya Road which takes us up to Mengo. A little bit of readjusting (i.e. demolition) will enable us to reach Sentema Road which takes us down to one of Kampala’ most underrated streets: Mutesa I Road (starts off opposite Fufa House on Natete Road and is in a terrible condition). This road leads us straight to the end of our 17km trip around Kampala: Mutesa I Road turns into Makerere Hill Road and ends at Wandegeya junction.

95% of this suggested corridor uses existing roads but of course in large parts road reserves have been ignored and would need to be enforced. It’s Kampala’s Number One disease to disrespect public space by banging buildings and boundary walls into it. Only a very strong administration and a lot of political will (and compensation money) could move this city ahead.

Which is why this post is in the Dream On category.

According to the Monitor, Uganda’s ruling party is about to commence construction of new party headquarters, located either between Crested Towers and the Uganda Media Centre or opposite the Golf Course.

Construction of the 15-storey ruling National Resistance Movement party headquarters in Kampala begins in or before June and should be completed by 2010, the year in which major political parties will launch presidential campaigns.

The article also claims that ‘the NRM has already secured financing from the government of China for the whole project and has since contracted China Nanjing International to construct the party house’.

Proposed 15-storey NRM headquarters, Kampala

The article, however, fails to reveal how the proposed building will actually look like. Sensationally, kampala.ver managed to exclusively obtain one of the Architect‘s first revolutionary concept sketches which we hereby proudly present to the public.

Nissan Motorcare building, Kampala

Nissan Motorcare building, Kampala

BUILDING: Nissan Motorcare
LOCATION: Jinja Road, Kampala
ARCHITECT: FBW Architects & Engineers

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT IT: This carefully designed showroom building features a large timber/glass façade which slightly tilts against the visitor and a sloping floor – the whole building literally is a ramp. It does so not only for the sake of a nice architectural effect; it actually seems highly functional because it gives a pedestrian a sort of an ‘aerial view’ on the cars exhibited inside. Beautiful.

ANYTHING ELSE: One of Kampala’s early buildings to feature the Kabira Stone.

Hunt for fuel at Kampala’s petrol stations

Compared to Kenyans who are dying in their hundreds, the price Ugandans are paying for a rigged election in their neighbouring country is rather low: USh 8,000 for a litre of petrol.

Will check out tomorrow whether the prices of bicycles have also quadrupled. Need to get one.