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Development and Planning in African Cities: Exploring theories, policies and practices from Sierra Leone

As African cities grow, learn how development and planning help urban actors to make cities just and sustainable for all.

6,387 enrolled on this course

Development and Planning in African Cities: Exploring theories, policies and practices from Sierra Leone
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

In the next 35 years, Africa will need to accommodate almost 900 million new urban dwellers. Hundreds of smaller cities are doubling in size every 20 years, half of Africa’s urban dwellers live in informal settlements in precarious conditions, and 75% of these are younger than 35.

Our course will explore African cities through the lenses of spatial justice and social diversity, challenging myths and assumptions about urban development and demonstrating how different processes interact and shape the development of a city.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 47 seconds Are you prepared to overcome these challenges and make the most of the opportunities of Africa’s growing cities?

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds This course will challenge existing myths and assumptions about open development and planning.

Skip to 1 minute and 8 seconds You will explore tensions between regional theories and the complexities of the city of Freetown. Through a mix of videos, readings, case studies, maps, and interaction with fellow participants and tutors, you will learn how cities are made and work. On this course, you will travel into the heart of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. You will learn from some of the world’s leading experts about how informality, governance, participatory planning, risk, and infrastructures shape the urban development of African cities.


  • Week 1

    Introduction to development and planning

    • Introduction

      Introduce yourself to facilitators and other course participants, learn what the course will include and how to make the most of what’s on offer, and start to gain an understanding of Freetown through our interactive map.

    • Development and planning

      Better understand how planning processes have evolved in Sierra Leone and Africa, and share what development and planning mean to you.

    • Spatial justice and diversity

      Explore the analytical lenses of spatial justice and social diversity, and see how they can be applied to Nairobi, Kenya, and Portee-Rokupa, a Freetown settlement.

  • Week 2

    Urban land and informalities

    • Introduction

      Familiarise yourself with what we will cover together in week 2

    • Urban land

      Learn about urban land in Africa and Freetown. Hear about the impact of tenure insecurity, how land is bought and sold in the city, and the process of producing land through reclamation from the sea, or ‘banking’.

    • Informalities

      Understand what is meant by ‘informal’ and learn how the formal and informal interact in Freetown through various examples from contributors, including residents and researchers.

  • Week 3

    Governance and participatory planning

    • Introduction

      Find out what topics we will cover together in Week 3.

    • Governance

      Learn about how governance works in Freetown – who are the actors, what are the barriers to development, and potential opportunities to improve these processes.

    • Participatory planning

      Discover the importance of participatory planning processes to Africa, and more specifically, to the residents of Freetown’s informal settlements.

  • Week 4

    Vulnerability and infrastructure

    • Introduction

      Have a closer look at the topics we will be covering in Week 4, the final week of the course.

    • Urban vulnerability

      Take a closer look at how various risks, from high impact, irregular events to those experienced every day, impact the lives of Freetown’s residents, and learn about the effects of labelling areas as ‘high risk’.

    • Infrastructure

      These activities will help you understand the impact on residents and the city of infrastructure across multiple sectors, including transport and waste management.

    • Peer assignment activity

      This is an opportunity for you to put into practice what we have covered together on this course. You will provide and receive feedback from fellow participants.

    • Taking learning further and next steps

      Find out more about how you can continue learning with the Bartlett Development Planning Unit at University College London and the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre at Njala university.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Understand how different processes interact and shape the urban development of a city
  • Demonstrate an understanding of some key development and planning issues in African cities through justice and spatial lenses
  • Reflect upon the tensions between wider urban theories and regional processes on one hand, and the specificity of urban contexts on the other
  • Explain the specific and different roles and challenges of each urban actor in urban planning and development processes
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the urban challenges faced by Freetown and their potential solutions

Who is the course for?

The course is open to people from any disciplinary background with a desire to learn about urban development and planning in African cities and potentially to those who would like to pursue a career in urban development or planning.

It is suitable for urban professionals who work or may in future want to work in Sub-Saharan Africa and would like to gain an understanding of how its cities are made and developed.

Who will you learn with?

working on inequalities, diversity and cities in global South. Based at Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London. Founder of Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre. T: @rigonandre

Joseph M Macarthy is an urban research expert and a well-established scholar in urban planning and management. He is the Executive director of SLURC and lectures at Njala University.

Who developed the course?

UCL (University College London)

UCL was founded in 1826. It was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, and the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it.

Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre

SLURC aims to build the capacity of urban stakeholders in Sierra Leone, making urban knowledge available and accessible to those who need it and delivering world leading research.

Njala University

Njala University is a rural comprehensive public research university in Sierra Leone. It is committed to providing the highest standards of excellence in higher education in Sierra Leone and beyond.

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  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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