New report: Insights on ‘The Post-networked City’

A new report titled The Post-networked City: Reflecting on Heterogeneous Service Delivery in African Cities sheds light on the diverse pathways shaping urban infrastructure in places like Freetown and Kampala.

The report, authored by Liza Cirolia, Sam Williamson, and Charlotte Ray as part of the Beyond the Networked City (BNC) research project, aims to move beyond ‘critiques of the networked infrastructure ideal’, considering the diverse ways in which emergent technologies interface with legacy infrastructure systems. While considerable work in Africa has focussed on the ways in which informal and small-scale efforts have ‘filled the gap’ in fractured networks; this piece draws on a range of example of multi-scalar and multi-actor networks, across a diversity of infrastructure sectors. 

The report sets out a conceptual framework that reimagines concepts like “off-grid” and “decentralized.” It then delves into primary case studies, spotlighting the complexities of service delivery, with a focus on energy, in Freetown (one of the focus cities of the BNC). Through these lenses, the authors investigate a spectrum of infrastructural arrangements, from informal makeshift solutions to innovative energy pathways like “electrical hybridity.” Notably, the authors draw on cases from across Africa (and other related projects) to consider both the possibilities and related risks that must be contended with. 

Ultimately the authors encourage a nuanced understanding of off-grid technologies. Rather than viewing them as standalone solutions, the authors reveal their integration into broader networks, supplementing grid access and reshaping service delivery landscapes. This recognition of alternative networks underscores the need for a comprehensive approach, considering factors like access, affordability, and maintenance.