African countries have not created the climate crisis – however, they must respond to it. As many of the risks and hazards related to climate change impact on cities and urban infrastructure systems, city authorities are increasingly asked to confront this crisis.
The imperative to work at the urban infrastructure and climate nexus
Development partners are increasingly concerned with how African cities will face the climate crisis. A myriad of climate-informed interventions have been developed in and for African cities. But they are often informed by assumptions, ideas, and structures that originate in the global North, without a clear understanding of Africa’s material and institutional dynamics. The deficit in understanding of issues shores up in concrete ways. It takes up the time and energy of stretched officials who now must participate in cumbersome and ill-fitting processes. Interventional development agencies have a critical role to play in directing resources and using their convening power. However, the current models for climate intervention require revision.
The challenge for Africa’s cities
The status quo of infrastructure investment and local government capacity do not adequately address the climate risks facing African cities. Challenging this inertia requires contending with troubled and political realities. Africa’s infrastructure deficits and delivery models are embedded in entrenched systems. The continent has endured prolonged exploitation. Over the past 20 years, incredible efforts have been made to redress problematic legacies. However, structural challenges circumscribe transformation. Thinking holistically about infrastructure pathways in the context of various climate scenarios demands new sense-making and planning ideas and practices.
This paper provides a framework to support the development of ‘city-labs’ in African cities. The focus is specifically on labs that tackle the challenging intersection between urban infrastructure development, climate resilience, and local governance. We propose the city-lab as an inclusive approach that seeks to foster necessary capacities and capabilities and identify resources, addressing critical and vexing challenges in African cities.