while most African construction projects focus on the provision of a single building or improvements to existing urban infrastructure, some governments are now encouraging the development of brand-new urban centres.
Such ventures bring with them all of the benefits and disadvantages of greenfield projects elsewhere in the world. Starting from scratch means not having to dispose of existing buildings, water pipelines, power cables or other debris generated by urban occupation. It also gives architects and city planners the ability to set new standards and expectations for an entire city or even country.
On a more negative note, such developments can become elitist enclaves that exist on the outskirts of major cities but have little interaction with them. Operating in a parallel economic and social universe, they can isolate business and political leaders from the lives of the majority, diverting resources from the main centres of population and sucking the best features out of an existing city.
In the style of Abuja or Brasilia, they can also locate residential and business premises far from centres of demand, creating a white elephant, in the short term at least.
Whether individual projects fall on one side or the other of this debate depends to a large extent on whether they attract new investment or divert existing funds. Africa's two most prominent greenfield developments are Tatu City, near Nairobi, and Eko Atlantic in Lagos. Similar ventures have been developed in South Africa, but these are the first two major urban developments of their kind in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
The developers of Tatu City describe it as "the future of modern Kenya" and "a trail-blazing enterprise the like of which has never been seen on the African continent".
It will provide residential accommodation, business space and leisure facilities for an estimated 62,000 people, making it virtually a self-contained unit for those wealthy enough to live there. It is also located close to the new Eastern Bypass, which will provide access to Jomo Kenyatta Airport, East Africa's main air hub.
The project's investors claim, with some justification, that development on the periphery avoids the disruption caused by rebuilding parts of the existing city centre and, indeed, such schemes received substantial support in the government's Nairobi Metro 2030 Plan. (See African Business, May issue.)
The price tag of $2.27bn that has been put on the...