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Opinions of Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Columnist: Prof. George W. K Intsiful

Different spaces for different activities

central business districts in sub-Saharan Africa have become places with worst noise pollution central business districts in sub-Saharan Africa have become places with worst noise pollution

Have you ever visited the campus of the University of Ghana, Legon, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, the University of Cape Coast (UCC) or the Ashesi University near Brekusu?

Have you noticed how these educational institutions have been carefully laid out or planned, with spaces between buildings, open spaces and clearly defined walkways, for example?

These campuses have been specifically designed to facilitate teaching, research and learning. As a result, the halls of residence are designed and built differently from the lecture halls, laboratories and workshops. All the various components of the university campus, however, work together to make the campus succeed.

The same can be said of all educational institutions which are developed for the specific purpose.

That could be a reason for using the same design for the Ghana Education Trust (GET) secondary schools littered around the country and constructed in the 1960s. Thus, arguably, educational institutions located in converted premises — such as buildings originally designed for residential purposes — may not allow the same ambience for teaching, research and learning.

Similarly, the central business district is more or less the literal centre of many urban centres and have many of the commercial, entertainment and administrative facilities. In sub-Saharan Africa, most of the markets are also found in these districts, as is the case of the Makola Market in Accra and the Kejetia Market in Kumasi.

Interestingly, central business districts in sub-Saharan Africa have also become places with the worst noise pollution. Vehicles fitted with loudspeakers and selling the "latest" musical releases from both gospel and worldly artistes advertise such music at decibels that can shatter ear drums.

In recent times, the growing number of kayayei carrying loads in wide trays in front of or behind the owners has also added to the confusion on the walkways.

In former times, cinema halls used to be popular places in the central business district. They were great points for social interaction. Many school children even absented themselves from classes to watch cinema shows in the afternoons.

This is not the case today. Many of these cinema houses have been converted into churches. These churches — most of which carry the charismatic label — generally carry the label "INTERNATIONAL" but are believed to be "owned" by individuals.

Some of these churches have live bands playing at full blast to sometimes very small congregations and add to the cacophony in the central business district. This development is an example of globalisation being practicalised, since this phenomenon of the conversion of cinema houses into churches started in the United States of America (USA) in the early 1980s.

In housing development in Ghana, virtually every settlement now has what is referred to as a "new site". They are supposed to be the more modern sections of the settlements with more recently developed buildings. Many of such new sites have been created by chiefs and surveyors who are only interested in demarcating plots of land to be sold.

In many instances, the demarcation is done without consideration for public open spaces. In many parts of Ghana, such new sites have become fenced plots of land with buildings. Neighbours may not know one another.

The planning authorities in many settlements, more often than not, may not be aware of the layout of the new sites. Road networks are hardly put in place and the huge penchant of Ghanaians to build their own houses in whatever form— mainly due to the absence of appropriate affordable rentable spaces — has meant that many of these new sites have grown into slums in no time.

Some years ago, I had visitors from the USA who had to deliver a parcel to somebody in one of the new sites in Kumasi and when we finally arrived at the house after a very bumpy ride, they asked whether construction of roads in newly developed settlements was ever considered by anybody.

Not surprisingly, the playing fields of primary schools have become the places for funeral celebrations in many such new sites.

District, municipal and metropolitan assemblies need to ensure that all new sites are properly planned by qualified personnel so that all the various spaces that can enhance life are provided. In this era of "unemployed graduates", is it not possible to ask professionals in the built environment to do more than one year national service to help the various assemblies plan our settlements properly?

Then there is the issue of home-based economic activities in virtually all the settlements across Ghana. Despite the zoning of various sections of settlements into residential, civic and cultural, commercial, industrial spaces, etc., most

Ghanaian women undertake some form of economic activity to supplement family incomes. Without such home-based economic activities, many Ghanaian families can hardly survive. Common among these activities are the preparation and sale of food, bakeries with mud ovens, frying of dough nut (bofrot), etc.

Some more ingenious women even add the sale of alcoholic beverages to attract a larger clientele.

It must be added that the ubiquitous wooden kiosk invariably made its appearance in some of these homes some decades ago and, lately, metal shipping containers have also arrived in front of many houses by the road side.

Periodically, the various district, municipal and metropolitan assemblies send workers out to write on kiosks and containers "REMOVE BY (DATE)". Interestingly, many of such premises operate several years after the inscriptions had been posted.

Settlements have a life of their own. They are influenced greatly by the culture of the society. No society is static and culture is also dynamic. For example, street vending appears to have become part and parcel of the Ghanaian streetscape after several futile attempts in the past to stop it.