4. From Sprawling Slums to Lifegiving Cities

The AU has put forward a vision of cities where humans thrive (Aspiration 1). Cities have the potential to be ecosystems of the services and support that enable human connectedness, dignified living and economic activity and innovation. But they are often divided, unequal and unsustainable. As our cities grow and new ones are built, we have an opportunity to develop an inclusive urbanisation agenda that brings life to communities and the environment.

African cities are the fastest growing in the world; their populations are expected to double by 2050.111 Children born in Kampala today will see their city double by their 13th birthdays. Most African cities have not yet been built. This is a huge opportunity to build inclusive, innovative, climate-smart cities with space for communities and all citizens to thrive. And in so shaping our cities, we can shape our nations.

But there are risks in Africa’s urbanisation agenda. African cities already have massive divides between the megarich and the destitute, who often live in slums. Cities are not developing infrastructure fast enough to support their current, let alone their future, residents. Young people are attracted to cities for education and opportunity – but many will arrive to no prospects of employment. As urban growth outstrips government capacity and budgets, most growth is, and will continue to be, in unregulated, unplanned slums. Cities therefore present both an opportunity and a major threat: runaway urbanisation can increase poverty and inequality.113 The financing gap in infrastructure in Africa is between $68 and $108 billion annually.114 This is the challenge: to create lifegiving cities for rapidly growing populations using limited financial resources, without incurring new debt or further jeopardising the environment.

The building of cities can be an important physical demonstration of shalom. In the Bible life begins in a garden, but it was always the plan that our experience of shalom will be in a city. After the restoration that comes through Christ, the Bible ends in a garden city built with elements that were present in the original garden.115 Another city in the Bible, Babel, was built for the glory of powerful men and led to division. By building cities collaboratively we can display the glory of God by including all his people, especially “the least of these”. The new Jerusalem described in Revelation 21 is the model of the city we want to build.

We need to rethink the way cities are designed and the purposes they serve, to envisage and implement cities of the future that create inclusion and which are sustainable at every level (in line with SDG 11 for sustainable cities and communities). An inclusive urbanisation agenda includes: dignified and affordable housing; access to clean energy and clear water; accessible public transportation solutions that reduce spatial gridlocks and carbon emissions; circular waste management systems; and the rethinking of public spaces to create freedom of movement, integrate lifegiving common natural spaces and draw communities together. Churches have organised communities and land in most city neighbourhoods – including slums. They can become the leadership and gathering space for community organising to happen.

Abundant ideas to create lifegiving cities

No city is the same; each requires a contextualised approach. We have therefore focused here on how transformation should happen, rather than the specifics of what those changes are, in calling on:

Churches, communities and governments to establish urban labs to co-create alternative visions of cities as inclusive spaces. These urban labs should be collaborations between local governments, churches, civil society, academia, artists, businesses and the informal sector to dream together, hear stories from communities, and learn from best practice in planning new cities and retrofitting existing ones. This will foster social capital in our cities through strengthening community networks and ownership. These labs are necessary in all urban centres, but should be prioritised in fast-growing cities like Lagos,
Kinshasa and Dar Es Salaam.

Churches, civil society and governments to support the development and scaling up of innovative construction technologies and inclusive construction processes. Lowincome families need affordable construction materials and non-specialist methods so they can build and improve their homes incrementally as the finances become available. Materials should be locally available and sustainable to prevent huge carbon emissions resulting from the construction of our new and fast-growing cities. Governments and banks should create legal and financing frameworks that enable and support wide-scale use of emerging sustainable construction materials and processes. Churches and civil society should help develop and support housing associations to scale construction at a local level.

Churches to support and legitimise emerging grassroots urban movements, which informally shape their urban spaces and are often the only champions of the rights of the urban poor. These movements usually operate outside of municipal planning rules and are often opposed by business, government and those in formal housing. This opposition ranges from exclusion from participation to threats to urban organisers’ lives. Churches should use their legitimacy to support and empower these movements and connect them with more formal institutions.

Church networks to ensure urban theological and practical training is expanded to theological institutions, Christian universities and lay training to equip the church to deal with the growth of cities theoretically and theologically, and give them tools to act.

Churches and civil society to facilitate fair partnerships to create sustainable waste and energy services. Where local government has failed, local communities should lead in the provision of services and creation of dignified jobs. These fair partnerships should include and clarify the roles of communities, informal workers, businesses, governments and civil society.

Governments to include communities living in slums in all decisions regarding their housing development. This extends to slum upgrading and housing decision-making processes, in line with the “right to the city” embedded in the UN’s Right to Housing, which promotes equal participation in decision-making processes and access to benefits for all people living in urban areas.