Visitors to Dar es Salaam these days can hardly believe their eyes when they see the extent of the demolition now taking place in the commercial centre of Tanzania’s capital city. No one would claim that the city’s shopping streets were a beautiful sight. Most looked dilapidated and, according to the new Commissioners running the city, many were not fit for habitation and were condemned. But to decide to obliterate them completely seemed to many to be rather drastic treatment.
The demolition is the prelude to the launching of a Shs 90 billion ‘Dar es Salaam Modernisation Project’. The objective is claimed to be the creation of a healthier environment. No less than 176 plots including several on Samora Machel Avenue are being demolished and are to be replaced by 20 ‘ultramodern’ structures. The project is based on a city redevelopment plan approved by the Urban Planning Committee in 1982. This was followed by Government Notice Number 98 of July 1982 which recommended the demolition and redevelopment. All the cleared areas have been allocated to various developers for offices. Amongst these are the British High Commission, Swedish Embassy, the European Community, the ANC, the National Housing and Railways Corporations and TANESCO.
Needless to say, this sudden action caused considerable consternation, and several court actions were commenced by occupiers of the buildings. Cynthia Stacey writing in the ‘Family Mirror’ described it as ‘state-sanctioned vandalism’ and pointed out that in the last 14 years city planners around the world had reformulated urban planning policies to avoid cities comprising only multi-story office blocks and becoming dead and dangerous ghettos by night. ‘Trust Tanzania to get it so wrong’ she wrote.
‘Twenty-six storeys in a city prone to electricity cuts?’ trumpeted the Express in a front page headline. ‘This is a crazy idea’.
The Friends of the Museum of Tanzania convened a well supported seminar in early August. Architects, engineers, academics, health and environmental specialists and members of the public expressed alarm at the loss of the city’s architectural heritage and its unique character and its replacement by a concrete jungle. Criticism was directed at the lack of clear rules in the planning exercise, the environmental impact on people living in the city, probable traffic congestion, the lack of participation by the people in the planning process, particularly women (where were the day care centres, children’s playgrounds?), the effect on the tourist trade and so on. Why could not the example of Zanzibar’s Stonetown be followed where rehabilitation of old buildings had created a really nice place to live?
But it seems that the old Dar es Salaam is doomed. It will soon be rebuilt, like so many other cities, in the image of New York – DRB.