Originally posted on Cyclopology:

“…She was told never to touch a bicycle. Her parents feared she would lose her virginity.”

“To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and play. To women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world.”

Cycling around Dar es Salaam it doesn’t take long to notice a stark gender gap when it comes to who rides a bicycle. I’ve occasionally seen women sitting side-saddle on the back end of bikes pedaled by men, but so far very few ladies powering bikes themselves (an exception: disabled women cranking three-wheeled handcycles). Being an expatriate I’m an alien in Tanzania anyway, and while I’m no boor when it comes to cultural appropriateness while outside of my own country, I just can’t bend to gender norms that make it unacceptable…

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City Beautiful: Scenes from a Sunset Run on the Swahili Coast

Though I do technically run, I don’t consider myself a “runner.” I never really enjoyed it and my short, stumpy body isn’t remotely built for it either (anyone that reads my posts will be familiar with my love of the bicycle, however). Living in Dar es Salaam of all places is slowly changing that – even though there aren’t what you would call “sidewalks” or “parks” to really facilitate physical activity, my runs along the narrow and at times harrowing streets on the Indian Ocean have been at once hilarious, beautiful, uplifting and, dare I say, enjoyable.

Ocean Road near my office in the city center is virtually undeveloped, and a precious open space that is lively and active as the sun sets – teenage guys play soccer, partners do calisthenics and running drills in the sand, loners shadow box, people sit on the eroding sea wall and watch the waves, ladies and gentlemen sell coconuts and ice cream. It’s not just the beautiful scenery that makes running less painful – it’s the people too. The coconut vendors cheer me on with chats of “Mazoezi, sista!” (“Exercise, sister!”), “Yes! Yes!”, and “Safi sana!” (“Very fresh!”). Passers-by also dole out big smiles and thumb’s ups that are just bursting with encouragement – perhaps these little gestures are meant to keep a little runner going who looks positively bedraggled, beet red and broken down. But in the moment I will allow myself to feel like one of those tall, lithe, cheetah-people that run marathons in like five minutes, as I plod along the beach basking in its lovely friendliness.

Below are a few scenes snapped while pretending to check my running time on my phone. It’s high tide and the sun was setting. Enjoy.


Nightly football game:

Contemplation 1:

Kids playing in the waves and hamming it up:

Contemplation 2:

Tree, precariously close to eroding into the ocean but hanging in there:

All photos by author, and appear as they were taken. That is to say, un-Instagramed.

Dar es Salaam: Underwater and Underreported

If you’re reading this from outside of Tanzania, chances are you haven’t heard that large swaths of the 3-million plus city of Dar es Salaam have been underwater for several days. It’s a situation of superlatives: flash floods due to several month’s worth of rain in 72 hours, including the highest rainfall ever recorded in a single day, have caused the worst flooding the city has seen in 57 years. Thousands are homeless, much of the city has been paralyzed with damaged roads and power outages. The BBC published one article, and AccuWeather posted a video, but aside from that the disaster hasn’t registered much of a peep yet outside of the country.

If the flow of information outside of Tanzania has been a mere trickle, communication within the country has its own major blockages that are already fodder for a nasty blame game.  The government blames residents that have been warned not to construct homes in low-lying areas and “lazy engineers” that have been told time and again to fix roads and bridges. Residents and researchers have warned the government about blocked drainage systems and allowing big new developments on wetlands that don’t pay attention to flood risks (see Twitter posts below, for example). The Tanzanian Meteorological Society apparently issued warnings of high rains that were ignored by everyone.

The immediate institutional response to the floods hasn’t received rave reviews either, though rescue crews have been hard at work. Here’s a stark example from a conversation between the federal disaster management authorities and a local paper yesterday:

“The director of disaster management in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Joseph Shiyo, said he was on leave and directed this paper to contact Ms Nyachenge Nanai, who declined to comment. ‘I’m sorry…I think the procedure is known. I cannot comment on the matter, sorry,’ she said before hanging up.

Where information has been slow or lacking from the sources you’d most expect it from, Twitter seems to be filling a void – a search for #DarFloods yielded a community of people that are active with the latest relief effort (and also a lot of questions about what the heck is happening in the city). Here’s a sampling:

General Information (note the first tweet is from the President himself)
@jmkikwete: Share and raise awareness on the situation through #DarFloods and SMS. (+255 754 777 775)

@IamNchaKALIH: 23 DEAD, about 68 injured and 4000 dar residents displaced due to floods caused by heavy downpour, the heaviest since 1954 #darfloods

Relief effort
@GillsaInt: At Mchikichini relief centre. Lot of homeless people. At least they are having dinner n water #DarFloods

@Tanganyikan: Here @AmorMtage serving food to more than 600 victims #darfloods

The Blame Game
@AfricanGenesis: You cannot neglect backbone of eco development e.g. infrastructure and yet pursue huge goals! Look at our drainage today! #darfloods

@wilbrodslaa: #darfloods: Poor drainage system. While collecting billions in tax, the city is running on one of the oldest drainage systems in East Africa.

I’ll leave you with a few images pulled from Twitter,  blogs, and a bike ride I took this evening to get a sense of the damage. A lot of people have lost everything. Please think of them during the holiday season and after.


Tanzanian forces in a rescue boat | Photo: President Kikwete's Twitter feed

Damage to the Selander Bridge and burst water pipe, near the city center | Photo: by author

Flooded homes in Dar | Photo: Zainul Mzinge

Land Rover in a very large hole | Photo: @No1YouthChannel on Twitter

Messy traffic and stranded passengers | Photo: Zainul Mzinge


City Beautiful: The Birds of Capri Point

I knew three things about the Tanzanian city of Mwanza before coming here: one, that it’s the second-largest city in the country after Dar es Salaam. Two, it’s a major port on Lake Victoria. Three, it was the setting for the documentary Darwin’s Nightmare. Even if you haven’t seen the film, the name should tell you something – it put Mwanza on the map for the environmental destruction and social ills including arms trading, drugs and prostitution tied to exports of the infamous Nile perch. Nominated for an Oscar, it wasn’t so well-received in Tanzania (to put it lightly).

I won’t be here nearly long enough to poke around and confirm or refute any nightmarish consequences of the fish industry, but now that I’m sitting in Mwanza I can confirm three things: one, it is definitely on Lake Victoria, as I’m looking right at it. Two, fish is very important to people and the economy, first and foremost the revered tilapia. Three, the birding is incredible.


I first noticed this while a large brown eagle of some sort sternly inspected me having coffee on the hotel terrace this morning (right), as other birds swirled around making a quite a racket. Having a little free time after work today, I went for a long walk up a big hill around Capri Point on the outskirts of town, which, like much of Mwanza’s hilly terrain, is formed of big boulders that houses and shacks build around rather than blast away. It was late in the day, prime birding hour, and my walk felt more like a bird-watching geek-out in the bush rather than a walk in a port city with over a million inhabitants.

Because I happen to enjoy urban biodiversity and found an abundance of information about fish but very little celebrating Mwanza’s birdlife, below is my attempt to do so with a collection of photos from my sunset peri-urban bird safari (and a feeble stab at taxonomy).


Kingfishers. One is eating a tiny fish.

Could be another kingfisher but I think it's something else because it's missing that cute little crest on its head.

Like a crow, but fancier. And appeared to be controlling the flock of birds in the background with his/her mind.

These guys are tricky. I would say ibis based on the beak, yet they're so drab and their behavior was more what I'd expect of a dodo.

Yellow Bird.

Mostly cormorants. The way they fan their wings give them away. According to my mom, that unique posture has something to do with drying their wings after diving for fish because of issues with oil glands for waterproofing their wings (apologies to my mom if I got that wrong). Based on the amount of guano on those rocks I'm guessing this is the nightly routine.

Flock of Seagulls.

A type of egret. So elegant.

All photos by author.


A Sunday Drive in Zanzibar

After landing in Zanzibar for a brief work trip and confirming that it was indeed an actual place, the first thing I noticed was a refreshing lack of traffic compared to Dar es Salaam. The next thing I noticed was that the tree-lined streets are traveled by many more bikes and motorcycles than automobiles. Then, within five minutes of leaving the airport, we passed by the scene of a motorcycle accident.

Zanzibar’s population is growing at a worrisome pace – Stone Town, the main city, is a crumbly but beautiful remnant of Zanzibar’s Arabian nights history, but outside of the historic area you see the sprawling unplanned settlements common to expanding cities on the mainland. While the government is challenged to keep up basic services as the population grows, an effort to improve road conditions is apparent and most of the main ones are in pretty good shape. But the combination of population growth, more cars and smooth roads is leading to a tragic record on road safety even the President himself recently addressed.

Being a short visit to several villages around the northern part of the island, I didn’t have a chance to do any cycling myself but did spend some quality time from the back of our van watching and photographing the road late on a Sunday afternoon on our way back to Stone Town. As the sun started to set the roads were active but not so much with car traffic – most people were cyclists or walking. This particular road was in good shape and I was told had been recently tarmacked, but given the overwhelming majority using it for non-motorized transportation it surely didn’t seem that this was given much consideration in the design for its upgrading.

While overtaking a truck piled high with freshly-cut sugar cane, you get a peek that everyone up ahead is on foot or a bike, stretching across both lanes. There is a shoulder but it’s quite narrow considering the number of people using it.

Again, open road ahead, many people on the move but not too many with motors.

The next few photos are taken from my window as we zoomed past in the van. The pace of cycling is an easy one – mostly old Chinese steel-frame bikes, sturdy and good for hauling stuff, but not built for speed. People (mostly men) rode with bundles of firewood, veggies, and sacks of charcoal (and women) on the back. This contrasted with sparse but aggressive traffic, mostly trucks, daladalas, and boxy vans like ours. The images below look peaceful and pastoral, and the scene really was – but keep in mind I’m observing it from a vehicle going 50-60 mph.

I wasn’t able to find any decent data on how many people bike, walk and drive in Zanzibar, but it was clear that a lot of people bike, and they’re pedaling on smooth but aggressive roads. I also don’t know much yet on the details of the Decade of Action for Road Safety that kicked off this year (sponsored by the U.N. and WHO), but it’s timely and making a very needed connection between transportation and public health. I’m hoping that it includes not just traffic enforcement and awareness for drivers, but is also pushing for engineers and transport planners to taking a good look at who actually uses roads when investing to improve them – and that “improvement” means “safer” along with “faster”.


This is cross-posted from my new blog on cycling in Tanzania, Cyclopology. All photos by author.

Dar Dispatch

It has been a regrettably long time since contributing much to this blog, but at least it’s for a pretty good reason. After graduating in May and going through the all-consuming job search process, I ended up packing up my life in New York and moving to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to work as a consultant on climate change planning and other environmental issues. I’ve been here for a couple of weeks now, and aside from the usual challenges of moving to a new place (How do I get to work? Where’s the nearest bodega? You seriously mean I have to pay my rent with a giant pile of cash??), so far I’ve found Dar to be a beautiful, crumbling, cosmopolitan, exciting city. And it’s hot.

Applying a planner’s eye to Dar es Salaam, the “harbor or peace”, the fastest-growing city in East Africa, will be my main topic of conversation for the next couple of years. If you’re ever in the neighborhood or have any interesting news, please do drop me a line at amy.faust@gmail.com.


Photo credit: Flickr user caribbeanfreephoto

Urbanization News: July 29

Pop Up to Permanent: The Globe and Mail features cities in North America and Europe that have embraced the idea of pop-up projects as a planning tool to rethink public spaces. The image above is from Times Square in New York, a “pilot” project that closed one of the city’s most chaotic streets to car traffic, a change that’s feeling pretty permanent these days.

HSR Crash Update: The New York Times reported that Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao admitted last week’s high-speed rail crash that killed 39 people was the result of a serious design flaw – not only did a signaling device malfunction after a lightning strike, but inadequately-trained workers also failed to notice.

Extortion, Violence Cripple Bus System: In more unfortunate transit news, TheCityFix reports that thousands of residents in Medellin, Colombia are without bus service due a driver strike to protest inadequate protection from extortionist gangs. A longtime bus driver was recently murdered after refusing to pay an extortion fee, setting off the strikes.

Master Plan in Abu Dhabi: The National outlines a new master plan for two suburban communities in Abu Dhabi,  which would work to connect communities divided by a highway, promote walkability, and integrate them with the growing Abu Dhabi metro area. The revitalization would cover one of the oldest Emirati communities in the United Arab Emirates.

Green or Greenwashing?: The UK released a new national planning framework of its own that attempts to cut red tape, safeguard the environment, and prioritize sustainable development. Green groups, however, claim the lofty language obscures that the framework would actually jeopardize environmental protection and make carbon-intensive development projects easier.

Dealing With Density 1: Last week we featured a story about public housing in Hong Kong – this week the Wall Street Journal offers a personal view into the crisis of overcrowding, the trend of subdividing already small apartments, and the challenge of providing housing in the city of seven million.

Dealing With Density 2: While in Hong Kong more people are fitting into smaller spaces, the Guardian UK reports on Moscow’s controversial plan to double the city’s size to relieve crippling congestion – a plan that would destroy forests, summer homes, and relocate hundreds of thousands of rural residents. Moscow’s population has grown by 200,000 people per year since 2006.

Nixed Signals: The Times of India reports that Gandhinagar, the only city in the state of Gujarat that has no traffic lights or stop signs (but lots of roundabouts), is getting its first traffic booth as the number of cars on the road has grown unmanageable.

Urbanization News: July 24

“1 Million Dead in 30 Seconds”: That’s the appropriately jarring title of an article by Claire Berlinski in the Summer volume of City Journal, about the increasing risk of earthquakes for massive destruction as cities grow larger. It’s really an excellent piece that speaks to wealth, risk, and how this plays out in the human costs of a natural disaster: “Mother Nature doesn’t have it in for the poor. Rather, earthquakes come to our attention only when they are disasters, and they are disasters only when they strike dense urban areas full of badly made buildings.” The image above is an earthquake vulnerability map made by Benjamin D. Hennig at the University of Sheffield.

Flood Blame Game: Massive flooding in Lagos, Nigeria caused not only widespread damage but also accusations that President Goodluck Jonathan is insensitive to disaster victims for failing to visit the state after the destruction. The federal government shot back that the flood was the result of poor planning by a local government that allowed housing and road construction in drainage areas vulnerable to flooding. The housing problem that in part caused irresponsible building in the first place is now worsened by the loss of so many homes in the flood.

India in Numbers: The Wall Street Journal reported on India’s Census numbers, which revealed that the pace of urbanization is speeding up – the growth rate for urban areas over the last decade was about 32%, making the 12% rise in rural growth pale in comparison. Interestingly, the same WSJ India blog reported back in April about how the population in Central Delhi actually fell by 10% in the same time span – mostly due to massive slum clearance. Could that trend be reversed? Last week a panel of private sector, government and academic minds convened a panel in Mumbai moderated by Mint with a bold premise: “The country must stop looking at slums as a problem.” The post has an abbreviated transcript with some interesting thoughts about planning, urbanization, and the value of informal settlements in India.

This Week in Waste: With the heatwave it was unfortunate timing that a fire in a Manhattan wastewater treatment plant sent 200 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Hudson river last week – it not only smelled terrible but also brought to light an aging system that’s woefully under capacity especially as more people move to New York. On a brighter note, this NY Times post highlights how cities in the Western U.S. facing water shortfalls are finding opportunities in treated wastewater for irrigation instead of simply discharging it into waterways.

Sea Span: The longest sea bridge in the world opened last week in Qingdao, China. Over 26 miles (42 km) long, the Jiazhou Bay Bridge links more modern development on one side of the bay with the older government and banking center on the other side.

Public Housing in Hong Kong: Asia Sentinel report Alice Poon was interviewed by Shanghai’s Dong Fang Daily Shanghai Review of Books about her recent work, Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong. The interview offers interesting insights into the history of public housing and real estate development in Hong Kong, and cultural perceptions of property rights. The photos below are by photographer Michael Wolf – check out his project to photograph residents in Hong Kong’s oldest public housing estate here, where he photographed 100 rooms, each 100 square feet in size.

Armchair Engagement: Yuri Artibise’s Yurbanism blog highlighted a new tool that might just bring more people into the process of planning our cities without scheduling more public meetings. PlaceSpeak is being tested in Canada and would offer residents a way to voice their opinions about local issues using an online platform. Check it out and browse some issues in Vancouver, and what local residents have to say about them, here.

Want to take an urban land use class?: The World Bank Institute is offering a seven-week e-learning course called “Sustainable Urban Land Use Planning” starting on September 1st. The cost is $600 – registration is open until August 11.

Urbanization News: July 15

That snazzy promo video is for this week’s featured urban happening, “The Just City: A Ford Forum on Metropolitan Opportunity” held in New York yesterday. Sponsored by the Ford Foundation, it brought together “Civic leaders and policymakers, urban designers and entrepreneurs [to] explore how fairness, opportunity and equity can serve as the defining features of this new era of urbanization.” NYU-Wagner adjunct planning prof Solomon Greene, also a fellow at the Open Society Foundations, offers some remarks on Bruce Katz‘s talk in this video. The lineup was an impressive one of thinkers and practitioners doing visionary work in their metropolitan area.

And our picks of the week’s news on cities and urbanization:

This Week in Waste: A pair of articles discusses innovative strategies for what to do with waste as cities grow. This article from PRI features a hydroponic farm in a Chinese lake that gets fertilizer for its leafy greens from sewage dumped in the water from the city of Kunming (photo below, courtesy of PRI). This dispatch from India via Live Mint critiques Delhi’s privatization of waste hauling, especially where Pune offers an example of a rapidly urbanizing city implementing a zero-waste strategy that’s working both for people who sustain their livelihoods from the waste stream and for the environment too.

My city’s modal split is better than yours: The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy opened up nominations for the 2012 Sustainable Transport Award – hurry up and nominate the city where you love to commute! Right now you’re up against Seville, Minneapolis, Cape Town and a few others – Guangzhou won last year, so you won’t have to compete with their awesome BRT and bike share.

“They put a bullet through the train”: In last week’s news we reported that donors had pledged big bucks for inter-city transportation infrastructure in Brazil in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup. Long a transport investment darling of the donor community, Brazil might not be quite as sexy as previously thought – Reuters reports that an auction that opened up this week for bids to build a bullet train between Rio and Sao Paulo (this one a major project for the 2016 Olympics) failed to attract a single bid.

The “Forgotten Front”: This Big City reports on the desperate situation of water in Afghanistan – being in turmoil for decades, infrastructure and institutions needed for a reliable and safe water supply have suffered greatly. “Around 73 percent of the population relies on improvised and inadequate facilities to supply water, while water sources are becoming increasingly polluted and overexploited in places like Kabul.” Find out more in this report from the Centre for Policy and Human Development at Kabul University (photo of the Kabul River below courtesy of IRIN, see a slideshow here). And just in case you were scratching your head too, the U.S. alone has spent about $19 billion just in development aid in Afghanistan since the war effort started.

Everyone should count: Cities Alliance released a new report this week, “The Urbanisation of Displaced People.” It examines how conflicts and wars lead to a unique form of rapid urbanization as people flee their homes and seek refuge in cities – because many refugees and displaced people end up as permanent residents, the report makes a  case for planners and development practitioners to account for these populations in plans and programs.

A critique of Ed Glaeser?!?: James Howard Kunstler, in his witty weekly “KunstlerCast” podcast, critiques Ed Glaeser’s ideas on urbanism. He sees Glaeser’s vision  in his lauded book Triumph of the City as backward-looking and too sweet on skyscrapers.