African Infrastructure Futures Conference

The African Centre for Cities, along with its hosting partners, convene the African Infrastructure Futures Conference from 21-23 November 2022, in Cape Town, South Africa.

The African Infrastructure Futures Conference builds on the debates of REframe, and the Mainstreaming Sustainable Infrastructure Finance and Innovation in Africa paper series, to further refine, substantiate and mainstream sustainable urban infrastructure approaches in Africa. We recognise that doing this requires addressing the material, institutional and financial path dependencies which constrain what can be imagined, tested, and scaled. Bringing sustainable urban infrastructure into the mainstream demands engagements with public and private operators, especially decision-makers who structure various authorising environment for infrastructure investment.

There is insufficient engagement between academics, think tank researchers, infrastructure providers and those who commission and finance it. The conference will create a space to bridge these gaps, whilst seeking to surface a research agenda. The conference is curated as follows: Day 1 will adopt a more traditional academic conference format and Day 2 and 3 will focus on the substance of policy and practice debates.

ACADEMIC CONFERENCE | 21 November 2022

The one-day Academic Conference programme will kick-off with a keynote presentation by Prof Dilip M Menon, Centre for Indian Studies in Africa, Director, and Mellon Chair in Indian Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. The presentation is entitled Drowning cities: thinking urbanism in the age of global warming. 

Three parallel sessions are structured along four thematic tracks:

TRACK A – Design/Resilience

Session 1: Building infrastructural resilience in low-income neighbourhoods
Session 2: Resilience as a concept, infrastructural practice, and/or (re)imagination
Session 3: Redirecting urban trajectories through speculative design practices and dispositions

TRACK B – Power/Governance

Session 1: Power and politics from urban peripheries
Session 2: States and possibilities of urban infrastructure policymaking
Session 3: Plural governance regimes: urban politics beyond the state

TRACK C – Networks/Frontier

Session 1: Finance as & of infrastructure: reframing financial and fiscal frontiers
Session 2: Platformed cities and citizen
Session 3: Enduring and emerging spatial imaginaries: from SEZs to ring road

TRACK D – Everyday/Hybridity

Session 1: Infrastructure’s multiplicities-circulations, adaptations, and composites
Session 2: Everyday socio-infrastructural encounters in African cities
Session 3: Decaying, caring and repairing urban infrastructure

The day will conclude with a panel discussion entitled Propositions of the Present: Closing Reflections on the Potentials and Pathways for Urban Infrastructure Scholarship from Africa

POLICY CONFERENCE | 22-23 November 2022

The starting point of the two-day policy conference will be to establish a shared sense of urgency about the effects of dysfunctional urbanisation amidst an unfolding climate emergency that threatens to destroy infrastructure, livelihoods and inter-generational mobility. The voices of African climate activists will set the scene.

Next, we get concrete by defining in precise terms what the sustainable infrastructure opportunity is to forge a unique African pathway to address urbanisation and broader green growth imperatives.

Then, we locate the sustainable urban infrastructure imperative within the larger pan-African vision and programme for a common market and more diverse economies, but all aligned with commitments in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for carbon reduction and imperatives of green industrialisation as promoted by UNECA. This is to acknowledge that cities can’t make progress without national government buy-in and leadership.

On the back of definitional clarity and macro implications, the discussion will shift to questions of financing sustainable infrastructure and divesting from unsustainable technologies. There’s been a proliferation of discussions about the infrastructure gap. Instead of rehearsing those arguments, we focus on three examples of attempted innovation and ask DFIs what it will take to mainstream these initiatives across Africa.

However, it would be a grave error to suggest that mainstreaming sustainable infrastructure approaches is simply a matter of technical competence and political will. It demands mindset change within society and leaders because too many Africans remain enamoured by visions of future urbanity that are carbon copies of Dubai, Singapore and Shanghai. To insinuate this dimension into the conference we’ll share a TED-style talk by one of Africa’s leading architects, which will serve as a reminder that our challenge is not simply to provide infrastructure but to create cities filled with opportunity, beauty and cultural resonance. Cities are always civilisational projects.

Sound data is essential for evidence-based policy making and transparency fuels accountability and performance. The conference will explore the role of research, data, learning and intelligent feedback loops in forging partnerships to drive increased investment in sustainable infrastructure.

Lastly, given the unique conditions that confront African cities, it is essential that we invest in the creation of “city-level innovation ecosystems” to support the transition from unsustainable to sustainable infrastructure and urbanism.

IDEAS FESTIVAL | 21-23 November 2022

Exploring innovations in resilient, adaptive and place-based infrastructures 

A joint project undertaken by ACC and the Urban Futures Studio (Utrecht University), the Ideas Festival will be staged at the conference venue, featuring 10 – 12 panels showcasing inspiring infrastructure innovation projects from across the continent in the form of a lively exhibition. Over the course of three days, interactions with this display will dynamically connect conference attendees with innovative ideas, which will also be available online during and after the event for those wishing to find out more. 

The featured case-studies aggregate infrastructure innovations from across the continent, blending traditional and contemporary, old and new, established and incremental, low-tech and high-tech initiatives. The initiatives cross-cut the care and circular economies, placemaking, climate adaptation and ICT, offering invaluable insights into infrastructures related to alternative building, sanitation and water, energy, mobility, food security, green spaces, livelihoods, health and education. From the micro to the macro, the exhibition showcases divergent methods, processes and lessons from initiatives committed to complexity, with the aim of inspiring further scaling and implementation elsewhere. 

Attendees interested in attending both the Academic and the Policy Conference must register for each respectively.

The Academic Conference has reach capacity.

The conference takes place on the Upper Campus at the University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa. All plenary sessions, as well as the exhibition will be hosted in the New Lecture Theatre, while parallel sessions will take place in the nearby Leslie Social Sciences Building.

Sessions from the plenary will be live streamed on YouTube and don’t require registration. The academic parallel panels will be in person only.