Celebrating the Success

of Urban Expansion Planning in Mekele, Ethiopia

+ Shlomo (Solly) Angel

Mekele was one of four regional capitals in Ethiopia whose officials were trained in urban-expansion planning in 2013 by Solly Angel and his NYU Urban Expansion Program team. The officials returned to Mekele and implemented what they’d been trained in.

In November 2023, Cities Alliance organized a high-level peer-learning event on urban-expansion planning, in Mekele .Participants included state ministers from Ethiopia and Uganda, regional-government representatives, mayors, and municipal officials from Ethiopia, Uganda, and Somaliland; and academics, including Tsigereda Tafesse from NYU.

Participants in the November 2023 peer-learning event visiting an arterial road on the periphery of Mekele.

Although Mekele has suffered significant human and infrastructure loss due to civil war in the Tigray region in the past three years, its success in preparing and implementing an urban-expansion plan is a showcase of the benefits of planning for expansion.

Macro blocks within newly opened sections of an arterial road grid on the southwest periphery of Mekele.

Site visits in Mekele showed participants the benefits of preparing lands on the urban periphery at scale to facilitate orderly growth; attract and guide investment; and make land accessible for housing, infrastructure, industry, and other services.

Making space available through urban-expansion planning benefited Mekele during the civil war, as well. More than one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) came to Mekele over the past three years, fleeing rural areas in Tigray;they are temporarily settled in macro blocks in expansion areas of the city that were originally designated for industrial development, and many are likely to stay in the city.

The Mayor of Mekele noteed, “As a mayor, urban-expansion planning makes a lot of sense. You need to plan beyond your boundaries, because cities should expand in a specific way. I am now planning beyond.”

Dr. Sanya Wilson, the mayor of Koboko, Uganda, observed, “In 2016, Koboko was 20 square kilometers.  When I came back from the Urban Expansion Planning workshop in Addis Ababa, I said ‘we are going to go the Ethiopian way, we are going to plan beyond, and I want to see Koboko Municipality area expanded by 80 percent.’ Now I have 108 square kilometers of Koboko that is planned, and we call it peri-urban planning. You will never stop urbanization. I am doing a favor to the leaders of Koboko who will come after me.”

At the end of the event, participants drafted and adopted the Mekele Declaration of Cities.

The declaration resolves, inter alia:

  • To adopt an urban-expansion-planning approach as a long-term planning framework to guide and secure room to accommodate future population growth.
  • To put in place or review relevant legal and regulatory frameworks to facilitate preparation and implementation of urban-expansion planning.
  • To mobilize the necessary financial resources at all levels for the preparation and implementation of urban expansion plans in cities.

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