Accepted paper:

Historicizing Sustainability: The mixed legacy of "Urban Crisis"


Emily Brownell (Max Planck History of Science/ University of Northern Colorado)

Paper short abstract:

With focus on Dar es Salaam, TZ this paper examines how households and factories sought alternative modes of provisioning goods as urban infrastructures and supply chains failed in the 1970s. I will also discuss the legacy of Africa’s “woodfuel” crisis with regard to narratives of sustainability.

Paper long abstract:

By the late 1970s, many of Dar es Salaam's residents and factories were having to rethink how they would access the basic commodities necessary for their survival in the city. In some cases, factories began creative recycling programs and re-evaluated previously overlooked raw materials to help keep themselves online during tough times. Urbanites meanwhile vastly expanded urban agriculture to help meet their food needs. They also turned increasingly to alternative fuels like charcoal since other fuels remained unaffordable. Meanwhile, there was a growing international campaign to stop the use of fuel wood because of anxieties over deforestation and desertification. The city also became a much more polluted place during this period as space was contested for multiple uses. Along with these material shifts, state ideologies also began to reimagine what 'development' should look like, and what Tanzania's relationship should be to its own resources. This occurred as President Nyerere faced the spectre of IMF intervention and the opening of Tanzania's markets. My paper aims to discuss the complicated and mixed legacy of this period in terms of what soon became called "sustainable development". How does this serve as an example of citizen-led sustainability in the city? Without romanticizing economic crisis, what might be learned from this period and what changes when sustainability is implemented from the outside? How does this also help us better understand one African city's complex relationship with its own hinterland?

panel P200
Sustainable Cities in Africa: plans, dreams, and practices