January 30, 2012

Reconstruction in Mogadishu Somalia: #urbanplanning, #mogadishu, #somalia, #design4dev

Urban Planning and Reconstruction in Mogadishu
For the last 7 years I have labored to understand as much as possible about the city of Mogadishu and to determine viable strategies for reconstruction when the opportunity is presented.  I now have the opportunity to implement these concepts and look forward to introducing simple, yet tangible solutions to many of the city's complex urban planning problems in cooperation with the city government.  Some of the solutions are dependent upon traditional planning and humanitarian initiatives such as concerns with historic preservation and sanitation.  Other concepts are far more innovative, relating to processes in data collection, crowd-sourcing, and GIS.  My business partners and I are presently developing a series of phased low-input, high-input initiatives for the city and will begin implementing these projects in the streets of Mogadishu this March.  I look forward to the project unraveling with some fantastic partners at every step and sharing our progress online.

Yet when I tell others about my work, they often ask, "why Urban Planning in Mogadishu, Somalia?"

The answer goes back a few years to 2004, when I spent 90 days hitch-hiking across Northern India, where I lost my money and acquired malaria in the swampy state of Bihar.    I chose to commit my life to reducing poverty, not with a vague belief that I can make the world better, but rather with the sense that I can make it less inequitable through precise, technical solutions.  It was from that experience I was determined to work in development and to build upon my initial training in art and design through the study of architecture.  After I began my studies, I met Aarati Kanekar, an architect who had worked in post-war reconstruction in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Upon meeting her, I expanded my studies to go beyond architecture, and to focus on urban planning.

In 2005, I completed my first year of graduate school in Urban Planning and Architecture, and was faced with the seemingly massive task of choosing a thesis topic.  Overwhelmed by the task, I thought hard about my essential priorities and determined that I should attempt to locate, define, and focus my lifework upon the world's most difficult problems, to work for the interest of the world's most marginalized and vulnerable populations as this is where the utmost improvement is needed.  Uncertain how to proceed, I turned to Google.  

Concise and innovative urban planning solutions
 are in clear demand in Mogadishu Somalia 
I more or less typed all of my priorities into Google in hope that it would reveal something new to me. Success.  It was from that simple search that I first learned of the Dadaab Refugee Camps.  Embarrassingly, at 23, I was quite ignorant to the problems in Somalia and knew next to nothing of the decades of violence, famine, poverty, and displacement.   As I began to invest more time into learning about the situation, I came to two conclusions. First,  I decided that I would find a way to go to Dadaab to research and work directly with the problems of refugee camp design and planning. Secondly, I also decided that eventually, one day for whatever reason, that circumstances in Somalia would change and the city of Mogadishu will need to rebuild.  

After decades of conflict, it is difficult to be entirely optimistic, but in many ways, the prediction from 6 years ago has begun to manifest.  After al-Shabaab withdrew from Mogadishu several months ago, they have had little success in a multi-front battle against AMISOM/TFG, Kenya, and drone attacks from the US.  Although other forces may have strategic limitations, the fact that Shabaab has continued to change their tactics is evidence of continuing instability on their end.  For the first time since its founding, the Transitional Federal Government has full control of the city of Mogadishu.  With al-Shabaab primarily limited to the Kismaay region, there is even an effort underway to begin relocating refugees from the Dadaab camps back to Somalia.

Mogadishu is an ancient city.  Since the 14th Century it has flourished from its strategic location, an epicenter for trade between the Gulf and the Swahili coast.  It is this strategic location that also facilitates regional piracy.  It also serves as an ideal conduit for the trade between internal production and export.  Although dominated by an array of colonial powers over time, from Oman to Italy, it nonetheless retains an internal, structural capacity to again become a major economic hub.  Its urban density, coastal location, european roadways, and interconnection with other cities such as Afgooye or Kismayo have contributed to an urban resilience of the city.  Perhaps one could conjecture that so much physical destruction has taken place in the city because the structural resilience made it too difficult for armed groups to conduct combat, and consequently only through degrading the city could military accomplishments take place.

Now that city is beginning to stabilize and the Somali people are beginning to return to Mogadishu.  With the massive influx of returnees, the city is faced with new tasks.  Jobs need to develop, roads need to be cleared and repaired, sanitation improved, access to water, and systems need to be developed to deal with property ownership and acquisition.  Without the funds to cover the costs, and with the lack of urban planning for a city in conflict, it will require creative and innovative efforts to stabilize and rebuild.  Of course there are greater regional challenges, as many are also returning to Mogadishu because they fear the dangers of living outside the city.   Obviously the key to the success of the city is connected to the stabilization of the region as well.  But for the first time in decades, there is a chance that something can change.  There is an opportunity.  

12 comments:

  1. Hi Mitchell. I found your website by searching for information about development plans in Mogadishu. I really like your spirit and optimism about my country of birth.

    I myself have high hopes of stabilization of Somalia soon. My interest lies in the rebuilding of Somalia and I'm particularly interested in rebuilding 'Old Mogadishu' and the centre. Especially the areas with historical buildings and heritage from the colonial period. Such as the Italian styled white buildings, clean neat streets, wide roads, the church and mosques. Even though there are barely any Christian Somalis, religious tolerance could be important for the rebuilding of the country. Also it used to be a major touristic attraction in the past.

    I'm just wondering if there is a chance to rebuild or renovate these structures and make Mogadishu a clean and white city again. Because I think many schetches of the architecture of the original building are lost.


    http://www.biyokulule.com/Mogadishu%201950s%28b%29.jpg

    http://mogadishuimages.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/scan10016.jpg

    http://mogadishuimages.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/scan10004cropped.jpg?w=1024

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    1. Hi Abdi,

      Glad you enjoy the blog. There are certainly opportunities for historic preservation within Mogadishu. I know for a fact this a great concern within the city administration. After we get some basic mapping and data collection accomplished, there will be ample opportunity to tackle this issue over the next year or so.

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  2. Of course there are other more urgent matters going on. But it's good news to hear that the city administration thinks highly of this.

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  3. Amazing how things work, I was searching for web-articles on urban development/planning in Somalia to brainstorm on my topic of research for grad school and I found your blog! I'm glad to have come across this blog, great articles!

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  4. Hi Hoda,

    Glad you like the blog. I actually started it because when I was a grad student, I could never find the information I wanted - so I just started putting it online myself. I will be in Mogadishu in April every few weeks after that. If you have any particular questions - or looking for type of information - just let me know. I've studied Mog from a planning perspective for many years now and I can't answer a question, I can probably suggest where to find it.

    Mitch

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  5. Thank you Mitch. It looks like everyone is Googling about developments for Somalia these days. I have long been a huge aficionado of all types of city architecture, there was once a calendar, I think of the year 1989 with a collage of pictures of Mogadishu on it and on the back of each month’s page there was this short commentary comparing Mogadishu to African cities like Lusaka, Dar Es Salaam and Kampala of course Nairobi was way ahead even then. I was 13 at the time and I would watch those pictures with a great fascination, I wished Mogadishu had seen better developments then it did then. They had pictures of the National Theater, the Central Bank, Jirde Husein tower, Savoy Center, Uruba and Jubba Hotels, the Stadium and many other famous landmarks of Mogadishu. My fascination with architecture of Mogadishu was so strong that members of my family used to joke about me. When things went to hell in hand basket for Mugadishu, I kept some of those pictures with me as memorabilia but I lost them all coming to Kenya as a refugee in 1992, so you can imagine how my feeling is about Mogadishu finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Not only Mogadishu, I would also like every city in Somalia from Bosaso to Galkayo, Hargeisa and Borama, to Kismayo and Baidoa and my favorite Marko Cadeey, Jowhar and beledweyn, all of them need at least a decent, nicely paved asphalt roads, trees, street lights and other aesthetics but a change in people’s livelihood and security is far more important at the moment, I think things are coming together for Somalia, all those years of bloodshed has whipped many Somalis to give peace every chance. The importance of urban planning is not clearer anywhere in Somalia then it is in the northern port city Bosaso in the Puntland region, that city has seen a lot of growth and expansion in the past 20 years with absolutely no planning. The town went from 50,000 residents to an estimated half a million population. It has only one tiny worn-out asphalt road, the rest looks like a shanty town even though some of it has seen a beautiful private contraction boom. It has narrow zigzagging pathways for streets, I don’t even think some of them can serve as one way streets but there are few main roads that could be shaped into decent avenues.
    The building at the top picture with the maroon stripes was is one of the most miraculous survivors of Mogadishu along with the arch near it, there used to be a cinema there called ecuatore (not sure about spelling) Again thanks for reading and thanks for sharing this article.
    BTW,if you survied all that trouble in India's Bihar, you should take a chance with a trip to Mogadishu.

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  6. Hi Artan,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I agree, Somalia contains a lot of fascinating architecture and that things are in some ways coming together for the Somali people. Have you been back there since you went to Kenya in 92? Where are you today?

    When I first started talking to the Banaadir council, they were first to say "how can we deal with issues of historic preservation in the city." Going beyond that, part of me has wondered what parts of the destruction should be preserved so that future generations can remember the terrible wars the country has endured and hopefully will work hard to avoid it again. Of course saying this may be premature, as the conflict isn't over, but thinking about these issues now will lay a better foundation for urban planning efforts now and in the future.

    I will soon post a lot of news and exciting projects about Mogadishu. In addition I will soon post ways that you can get involved in rebuilding the city - even from afar. Make sure to continue visiting the blog and share it with others who care about the future of Somalia and the rebuilding of Mogadishu, as there will only be an opportunity to succeed if we all work together.

    Mitch

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  7. Thanks Mitchell
    I currently live in Boston, USA. This year is the twentieth anniversary since I left Somalia and I have not returned since.

    I am really impressed how much you are involved in Somalia’s developmental projects and plans for rebuilding Mogadishu. Are you in East Africa? I totally agree with you about preserving some areas for memorial purposes or people will forget it easily. In the peace time there used to be a place called National Archives, where they kept a lot of materials for preservation.

    The past twenty years, whenever I saw what happened to Mogadishu, Aruba Hotel in particular as it symbolizes the severity of the damage, I would despair and become totally lost for words, often times Beirut would enter my mind and how it looked like in the seventies and how it transformed (thanks to the slain billionaire Rafiq Hariri) and that thought alone gave me a lot of hopes for Mogadishu’s return.

    So Mitchell you are doing exactly my dream job, being a part of Mogadishu’s reconstruction. I would very much love to contribute whatever little I can.

    Thanks again Mitchell for you for all the attention you bring to the places the world would rather forget.

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    1. Hi Artan

      Thanks for your sharing your experience. I also see the Aruba Hotel as a profound icon in Somalia's complex history. Rebuilding Mogadishu will be a challenge, and I am skeptical of many of the formulaic solutions applied to such environments within the aid industry and espoused in Washington. While I have lived in Nairobi off and on over the years (to answer your question) I actually live in Kabul these days and see first-hand the consequents of contemporary reconstruction thinking. Consequently it is my objective to implement a very new strategy toward Mogadishu, not reliant upon USAID packages or other global institutions. It is too early to discuss these matters as they require greater discussion with the city government, but if they have any imagination, I believe we can create a new model for development.

      This too is my dream job, but to be honest, it is also my honest ambition to become irrelevant to the process. After all, I'm not Somali, I'm just the guy that focuses on technical solutions, and therefore it is critical that my job stays focused on solving problems rather than creating new ones or creating a need to remain. I'm just an urban planner with a penchant for new ideas and I'd like it to stay that way.

      Although I'm not writing too much on my blog at the moment, make sure to stay current with future updates. You will see quite a bit happening in Mogadishu in the next year and a means to directly facilitate the reconstruction process.

      Best,

      Mitch

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  8. The above messege is from me, Artan, I must've forgot to incluse my name .

    thanks you

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  9. Hi Mitchell

    Thanks for the Blog. I came across this blog through Artan.
    I am delighted to see you interested in planning Mogadishu City. I left the country some 5 years ago and now I am back in the streets of Mogadishu feeling the reconstruction and sense of hope that people have right now. new constructions, new livelihood. and I guess this is the right time to plan for the city.

    I am also interested in land ownership and GIS. I did my masters degree in Geographic science and Earth observation. I currently lecture one of the universities in Mogadishu. And I am willing to be part of a team can be proud of preserving, mapping and reconstructing the city. I think we can cooperate in different ways.

    Abdishakur

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  10. Hello Mitchell, I found your website by accident last night, and Iam loving it mainly your blogs on Mogadishu. Please do post more pictures next time you go back to Somalia, Iam eager to see pictures of the constructions that is going on in the city.

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