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Plug-in urbanism: City building and the parodic guise of new infrastructure in Africa


Year published: 2023
Categories: Journal Article
URL Link: https://doi.org/10.1177/00420980231158013

Author / Authors:

  • Guma, P. K.
  • Akallah, J. A.
  • Odeo, J. O.


Urban Studies, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/00420980231158013


Across Africa, cities have become fodder for grand-scale foreign investments and redevelopment projects signifying a distinct phenomenon synonymous with a new kind of urbanism. This paper offers a critical commentary on the proliferation of new infrastructure plans tailored as policy, technological fixes and solutions to urbanisation challenges, both real and perceived. We stir a conversation around the notion of ‘plug-in urbanism’: first, as an entry point for the study of a model of city building that is exceedingly determined by reflex prioritisation of assumedly universal and transferable corporate-driven policy agendas; secondly, as a critique of unidirectional, homogenising and determinist technological ideas and infrastructures; and thirdly, as a recourse to inclusive and holistic planning. We present the case of the Nairobi Expressway, a recently launched two- to four-lane 27 km viaduct, and the largest in Africa, as an example of a ‘plug-in’ infrastructure project: i.e. pre-packaged state-of-the-art development installation that comes complete and tailored as a magic bullet and obvious solution to identified mobility and transport challenges in Nairobi city. We demonstrate how in its parodic guise, the expressway highlights a project that is designed and financed by foreign authorities and sustained in line with foreign standard ideologies of what a world-class city should look like, yet in reality only leads to piecemeal and incomplete growth and development. Drawing from a standpoint of multiple urbanisms, we argue for more inclusive urban futures and visions that are responsive to diverse, popular and heterogeneous articulations of cities.


  • Journal Article