Perceptions of Space

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.

Her answer?

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?


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Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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5 Responses to Perceptions of Space

  1. Eric Brown says:

    Hey Tiffany – interesting post. It got me thinking about the planning of mixed-use developments in Vancouver and elsewhere – places where people live, work and play – oh, and of course shop! It seems we need to plan for the kind of development that naturally ocurs in Dar. Or, maybe we are in the process of de-compartmentalizing

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  3. Tiffany says:

    Hi Eric, thanks for your comment!
    The relatively recent push for mixed-use developments is very interesting, I think, when compared to what I see in Dar. It’s such a deliberate effort, so “planned,” in Vancouver, while here it just seems to spring up. People put chairs where they want to sit and socialize, not at a predetermined place. It was such a contrast the other day when I saw an open plaza with food court-like chairs and tables, which was completely empty. And then 20 metres away, many people sitting on the side of the road, chatting. That being said, planning would be nice sometimes though, especially when the cars are driving just a little bit too close for comfort.

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  5. gismendez says:

    Hi Tiffany!
    I like your post a lot. It remind me when I spend some time in Ethiopia. That experience changed my life, because if you are sensitive enough you learn that family, friendship, space, love, poverty, community, life it self as concepts have meanings completely different of what we have learn through our own life. And that is releasing, takes away from you a lot of weight.
    We have to plan the places we share, in that point of view, we need first to understand what do we share, how do we do it, and how do we express that in the urban form. You have to become part of the WE, in order to understand.
    Planners, we must be facilitators, observers, more apprentices than teachers, and never think that we own knowledge, that’s why planning fails.

    Good luck!! Have fun!!

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