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Coexisting tensions between the ‘traditionmodernity’ and the ‘sustainability- integration’ approaches to urban development policy and planning practices in Botswana

Tshenesani Nigel Tapela


The reality of traditional urban forms in African towns and cities sits uncomfortably with the desire to ‘modernize’ them, the latter often equated to (urban) development. Urban development in this sense relates more to the enhancement of physical aesthetics of urban-spaces than to the regenerative capacity of urban economies and improvement of livelihoods of urban citizens. The discourse on ‘tradition’ and the knee-jerk instrumental response of ‘modernization’ has thus tended to coexist with the newer ‘sustainability’ paradigm and its ‘integrative’ intentions in broader development thinking and action. This is quite evident in the urban development field where these paradigms and their underlying theoretical framing often contest in both policy terms and development practices. This tension exists at several levels and manifest in urban planning’s preoccupation with the physicality of spatial forms, often justified in the embracing of globalization.

Using existing development planning theory and policy literature, the article explores the tensions in development and planning practice that result from two contending views of what constitutes urban development. With the backdrop of Botswana’s settlement policy and praxis, the article explores how these tensions manifest in practices in responding to rapid urbanization. The article suggests that arguments for nucleation, containment and dispersal of settlements (Silitshena, 1983), which have dominated the academic explanations for settlement form and structure of Tswana agro-villes seem to be mirrored or reproduced in the discourses of ‘modernization’, ‘densification’ and ‘smart growth’ in current policy and praxis. Within the changing political economy and ecology of resource utilization, spatial patterns of investment and livelihood across the national space economy; the article explores the planning implications of, and responses to these coexisting paradigms and addressing the spatial forms in current practices.

Keywords: Tradition, modern(ization), integration, sustainability, urbanization, urban planning, development policy and praxis