How They Do It in Ethiopia

Making Room for Urban Expansion

+ Patrick Lamson-Hall

The NYU Stern Urbanization Project and its successor, the Urban Expansion Program at the Marron Institute of Urban Management has, since 2013, been helping Ethiopian cities prepare for their inevitable urban expansion.

Figure 1: Informal houses being built on the urban fringe of Hawassa, Ethiopia.

This effort focused on empowering Ethiopian city leaders to take control of their urban peripheries, which were being overrun by informal development and slums (Figure 1). We worked directly with the Ministry of Urban Development and Construction and the regional urban bureaus, which give direct technical aid, to train an initial group of four cities and an additional group of 14 cities (Figure 2) in making simple plans to make room for urban expansion.

We provided these cities with tools to identify a generous area of expansion for the next 30 years of growth and helped them plan a 1 km grid of arterial roads and a hierarchy of public open spaces in this area. Our team advised them on how to secure the land for the arterial grid, which amounts to six percent of the total area of expansion. City urban expansion teams worked with landowners to protect the land from incursion—a key consideration in places that are rapidly growing and have rampant informal development.

Figure 2: Map of four Phase I cities (red triangles) and 14 Phase II cities (yellow dots) participating in the Ethiopia Urban Expansion Programme.
Figure 3: An arterial-grid phasing plan for Mekele, Ethiopia.

After seven years, three of the cities have built out large parts of their grid. The land that was opened by the grids is used for housing and industry, letting more and more Ethiopians take part in the urbanization project.

Figure 4: Filming in the expansion area of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.

Supporting the cities entailed many visits to the urban edge, and over the past seven years changes brought by the urban-expansion plans have become obvious on the ground and in satellite imagery. We were fortunate enough to be able to document some of these changes by traveling with a film crew around Ethiopia, first in 2014 and then again in 2015, 2017, and 2019. This footage has now been edited into a short documentary, How They Do It in Ethiopia: Making Room for Urban Expansion. The film highlights the work of the Urban Expansion Program and showcases the many benefits of our approach to building sustainable, inclusive, and productive cities.

View the Documentary

For additional information:

Ethiopia Urban Expansion Programme Concept Note

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