Tiffany Tong is working in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in Urban Agriculture.
“How do you think the perception of space here in Dar es Salaam differs from in North America?”
This question popped up during one of my attempts to understand my urban geographer roommate’s work. Leslie McLees’ PhD research focuses on investigating the meaning of space for the inhabitants of Dar es Salaam through urban agriculture activities.
While this is a hard question to answer, especially since we are only brief visitors of this city, it is an important one to ponder when considering urban planning. A city must be planned to suit the local needs and customs to function properly for those living within. Part of the problem is that a lot of the planning aesthetics, theories, and models are built on experiences of large “developed” cities such as London, New York, or Tokyo. Challenges arise when these values and principles are imported without adaption to local contexts.
In her view, perception of space in North America is very “zoned.” Every activity has a designated area and, on the flip side, excludes other activities within that place. Here is for residential housing, here for public space, here for commerce…and so on. Whether by cause or effect, our thinking is also often compartmentalized.
In Dar (or Bongo as the locals say), it seems, space is more fluid. Many different activities happen in the same area, at the same time, with no feeling of incompatibility. Urban farmers cultivate, vendors sell food and drinks, barbers cut hair, people socialize, children play, and all kinds of daily life just happen right there on the urban farms. Space seems to have many more layers of value because it is more compact.
My favourite example is seeing how road sides are also community spaces everywhere. You would never fail to see people sitting under the shade on any road, just socializing. Everyone is welcomed to join. Many times a day, when I’m walking slowly, I would hear “Mambo! Karibu! (Hi! Welcome!)”
I wonder how a truly Tanzanian city would look like?