Real World Planning

December 3, 2012 | Breanna, DVM, Canadian Urban Institute, Ethiopia

My final month in Ethiopia was a welcomed transition from the sprawling capital city of Addis to the calmer lakeside city of Bahir Dar. My focus shifted in Bahir Dar to more practical project development. I had focused more on policy and research in Addis, but due to the proximity to local actors in Bahir Dar (office is within the urban and regional planning office) and the size of the team (one project manager), I had the opportunity to more closely engage with issues on the ground. I was tasked to design some concept notes on possible demonstration projects that could be set-up to illustrate activities proposed in the Bahir Dar Waterfront Development Strategy and the Bahir Dar Downtown Revitalization Strategy that CUI had created in collaboration with community and local government actors.

After reading many reports on the area, discussions with local actors, and observing micro and small enterprise (MSE) activities around the City, I had some ideas to put forth. The balance CUI strives to achieve is initiatives that benefit the community, spur local economic development, and are environmentally sustainable. Ideally this approach would be taken by all developers since environmental sustainability is increasingly a necessary consideration given dwindling resources, growing populations, and climate change.

We visited an MSE involved in weaving of local products. They had a tiny room of maybe 9 feet by 5 feet where there sat two large traditional weaving machines with the two weavers with their backs against the wall. The weaving machines are simple, but ingeniously made wood contraptions with rows of thread. They had been weaving in this way for 20 years, making one product each a day with no means of increasing efficiency. There is strong local support for expanding their business through modern machines and further developing the weaving sector in the City. Because weaving is not directly related to the environment, I suggested creating a sustainable weaving center (powered by bio-gas with a composting toilet) that also included other weaving activities with sustainable materials. I had noticed many basket weavers in town making durable products out of recycled packaging material. My hope is that the two can come together in this center and demonstrate to local actors innovative ways of reusing materials for economic benefits.

It is unfortunate that I am not here to help carry this project further and extract lessons learned. But it is an excellent opportunity to be given such a responsibility to use my knowledge of development to create tangible activities. It is one thing to study the theories, but project design is completely unfamiliar territory. However, I have noticed that the more projects I observe around the world and the more reports I read on the best practices of these schemes, the more I get an intuitive sense of what might work. Though I am sure this is easier said than done! Only through these types of field experiences can one’s academic knowledge evolve into practical applications.

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