The African Centre for Cities (ACC), at the University of Cape Town, identified the need to develop a platform for urban planning law reform in the region in 2009. The reason for this initiative was to focus on the practical question of how to achieve effective and appropriate urban legislation. With the support of the Rockefeller Foundation the ACC worked closely with the Association of African Planning Schools, to develop case materials on urban planning law reform as well as a model curriculum for teaching planning law in an African university. This was taken further, with the idea of Reforming Urban Laws in Africa: a practical guide (referred to from here as ‘the Guide’). The Guide was conceived as a means to provide practical advice to officials and consultants working on urban legal reform on how to manage that process in a way that can produce effective results. It draws on the co-authors’ practical experience and many years of insights into urban legal reform in the region. The Guide is university-driven research that was designed and supported to address a wicked problem facing African cities: the laws used to manage, plan and govern these cities are out of date and ineffective, yet very difficult to replace or improve. These laws are invariably inappropriate to the context of a rapidly urbanizing continent, where the patterns of urbanization are quite different from those experienced in other regions. Yet, these laws remain stubbornly in place. Efforts to improve them inevitably fail. Technical legal solutions to urban problems are pursued when there is very little understanding – among donors as much as government officials – of how to draft laws that can actually work in an African urban context. The Guide combines practical experience with academic research to address urban legal reform in Africa.

Stephen Berrisford
stephen@berrisford.co.za Cape Town