The bigger the city of Addis Ababa becomes, the smaller green areas get. That is unfortunate
In many terms the growth of a city is defined by its infrastructure such as roads and buildings and the social and economic advancements these infrastructures bring in to the people living in the city. The current city council of Addis Ababa, a city that emerged out of decades of mismanagement by successive city councils, is pushing itself to its limits in an attempt to improve the city’s infrastructure including the messy transport system and housing shortages for thousands of its ill-sheltered and unsheltered inhabitants. Signs of promising road constructions and housing projects can be seen everywhere. Disturbingly though the city is denied of green areas both in the form of city parks, recreation areas and zoos.
Trees and shades are becoming rare and impossible to find; and almost none of the new high rising buildings crowding the city have any plans for green areas in and around them. Ironically though several of the city master plans developed and revised over the last few decades are not devoid of ideas for city parks, green roundabouts and even zoos.
On March 22 this year Dr Kumlachew Yeshitila, Head of Ecosystem Planning and Management at the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Buildings, Construction and City Development (EiABC) of the Addis Ababa University presented a research paper at the Ghion Hotel entitled ‘Green Areas and Parks in Addis Ababa’ at a public debate organized by Forum For Social Studies (FSS) in collaboration with the British Council. Globally the notion is that, and it is also maintained by Dr. Kumelachew, green areas benefit societies and the environment by providing clean air, maintaining biodiversity, helping cities build cheaper and long lasting drainage systems, and keeping down the heat during dry seasons. Unfortunately that is not true for Addis Ababa. “The per capita distribution of green areas and parks in Africa’s urban cities is 7 square meters, but Addis Ababa only has 0.3 square meter distribution of green areas and parks,” said Dr. Kumelachew.
To reach to the minimum requirement Addis Ababa city needs to develop 2,700 hectare additional green areas and parks accessible to its public. Urban agriculture, parks, plantations by banks of rivers, forests found in the premises of embassies and faith organizations and street plantations are defined as green areas for Addis Ababa, according to Dr. Kumelachew. But many of them are not accessible to the general public.
Currently the city has 15 parks administered both by the city council through the Addis Ababa City Beautification, Park and Cemetery Development Agency and private owners. The Agency administrates 10 of these parks that are located in a total area of 413,353 hcts of land. Most of these parks provide different recreational services for residents including hosting weddings and cafeteria services. But almost all are in bad shape and are widely used as a regular place for the city’s youth to chew khat, the mild narcotic leaf official in Ethiopia.
The city beautification agency claims it is working to set standards including a ban on the use of Khat inside the parks. It also says preparations are underway to build ten more parks within the city.
The number of various other forms of parks in the city has increased within the past seven years. But most are off limits from the general public as they are run by private businesses such as those within restaurants, hospitals and hotels, and are too expensive for ordinary citizens.
“Public parks need to be accessed by the public either for free or with the lowest price that is affordable by the public,” says Dr. Kumelachew. According to him the city master plan of 2002-2012 had plans to implement 13 green area and park development projects, but the only project that was successful in the last ten years was the Gulele Botanical Garden. Areas allocated for greenery developments including urban agriculture and parks by the Master Plan were taken over by recent condominium houses construction and other facilities including industrial areas. Lack of finance and synchronization efforts among different government institutions coupled with lack of public awareness on the use and importance of green areas and parks were some of the reasons Dr. Kumelachew blamed, rightly, for the failed projects.
None of the rivers crossing Addis Ababa have been a meaningful part of the lives of its people. Usually covered with houses or buildings, the few rivers that have survived the odds serve as nothing but waste disposing areas. And other than being a sight for sore eyes the few trees adorning some streets are placed in the middle of the roads without any meaningful use as parks that can host people seeking refuge from the scorching sun and even then many of them will soon be uprooted to give way for the construction of the light railway project throughout the city. Just the way a city hailed as “the diplomatic capital of Africa” should not look.
Photo – Phil Paoletta