African cities are starting to look eerily like Chinese ones

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African cities are starting to look eerily like Chinese ones
An aerial shot of Kilamba City, an urban district in Luanda, Angola financed and constructed by Chinese firms. // Michiel Hulshof and Daan Roggeveen
African cities are starting to look eerily like Chinese ones
An aerial shot of Kilamba City, an urban district in Luanda, Angola financed and constructed by Chinese firms. // Michiel Hulshof and Daan Roggeveen

It’s easy to see China’s footprint in Africa. On the outskirts of Nairobi, a new highway built by a Chinese firm is crowded with bumper-to-bumper traffic, many of the cars set on tires imported from China. The landscape is dotted with construction sites and, every so often, the logo of another Chinese construction firm. Across the continent, Chinese companies are building highways, railways, sports stadiums, mass housing complexes, and sometimes entire cities.

But China isn’t just providing the manpower to fuel quickly urbanizing African cities. It is exporting its own version of urbanization, creating cities and economic zones that look remarkably similar to Chinese ones. Journalist Michiel Hulsof, based in Amsterdam, and architect Daan Roggeven in Shanghai, began visiting the continent in 2013 to document and investigate whether China’s model of urbanism can work in Africa.

Their conclusion? Doubtful. “Simply put, political and economical realities in Africa and China differ too much for a straight forward ‘copy and paste’ approach,” they wrote in an essay about their project, Facing East: Chinese Urbanism in Africa. “All in all, there seems to be no one single answer to the question of the Chinese urban model ‘working’ in Africa. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it doesn’t yet.” []

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