«3.1 An Introduction to Accra This chapter presents a description of Greater Accra in terms of its physical and human geographical environment. The ...»
The Physical and Human
Geographic Patterns of Accra
3.1 An Introduction to Accra
This chapter presents a description of Greater Accra in terms of its physical and human geographical
environment. The physical geography of Accra is described in terms of spatial land development, existing
infrastructure, and the existing land use patterns. This includes a discussion of the consequences of
urbanization, an assessment of transportation, water and sewer, and solid waste services, and an inventory of the existing industrial, institutional, commercial, and residential land uses. Likewise, Accra’s human geography is described in terms of its politics, economics, and demographics. A discussion of the different instruments for revenue generation including means of taxation is presented and followed by an inventory and assessment of the economic and microeconomic characteristics as well as profiles of demographics including households and their mobility. Electricity is given individual attention in the subsequent chapter.
3.1.1 A Brief History Most local experts equate the establishment of Accra with the development of a coastal fishing village in the late sixteenth century. The earliest known settlers on the stretch of coastline now named Accra were the Kpesi people. Ga-speaking migrants from the “Niger country” reached this area in the sixteenth century, made their homes among the Kpesi and absorbed them into their communities. This fishing village was east of Korle Lagoon, but eventually would expand to encompass the oldest adjoining parts of present-day Accra, in particular, Jamestown and Ussher Town. Archeaological evidence suggests that the village was spatially organized around the sheltered harbors with low-density shelters adjoining the coastline in an unplanned fashion. (Grant 2009) During the first part of the colonial period, the slave trade began to reinforce the development of coastal trade centers, where warehouses and permanent installations were needed. During this time a number of forts were built in what is known as present-day Accra (Fort Ussher by the Dutch in 1605, Christiansborg Castle by the Swedes in 1657, and Fort James by the British in 1673). These three forts, all Figure 3.1 Spatial Organization of Accra during the Colonial Period (Grant) within three miles, formed a nucleus for foreign commercial enterprise in the early colonial period. In proximity to these forts were walled Ga villages which were oriented towards trading with the European merchants. Scattered settlements connected by footpaths rather than an urban clustered center characterized the emerging organization of Accra. (Grant 2009) The second part of colonial development involved the British consolidation of power on the Gold Coast in 1874, when they defeated the Ashantis. The rise of Accra as an urban center dates to 1877, when the colonial headquarters were relocated there from Cape Coast. One reasons for the move related to the earthquake of 1862, which had severely destroyed large portions of Accra, and presented colonial rulers with an opportunity to plan, rebuild and reorganize the space. During the 19 th century the role of the forts changed to administration centers for officials, troops and later police. The British also attempted to improve sanitation and living conditions in the area as well as make spatial distinctions for foreign and domestic sectors. European commercial and residential areas were clearly distinguished from domestic commercial and residential areas. The Town and Country Planning Ordinance of 1945 was the basis for zoning and building codes which was strictly enforced in the European Central Business District. This act has remained in effect and is administered by the Town and Country Planning Department even though the ordinance was enacted prior to the foundation of Ghana as a Republic. (Grant 2009) During the 20th century and in particular from 1920 onwards, Accra continued to develop as a warehouse city rather than a factory city with commerce replacing government as the primary element in the urban based economy. A major reason for this was the cocoa boom of the 1920s that deepened the interdependence of Accra with the external economy. In 1957 the Republic of Ghana was founded and led by Kwame Nkrumah, a period which is characterized with focus on infrastructure investment and programs aimed towards promoting the economic development of industries. It also was a period that witnessed Ghanaian businesses monopolizing markets and many foreign industries pulling out of the country. Spatially, this period is characterized by a decline of foreign corporate and residential presence, the de-Europeanization of the central business district, and rapid population growth including the rise of national entrepreneurship and a significant expansion in the number and size of domestic businesses.
3.2 Greater Accra’s Physical Geographic Patterns Evidence suggests that eventhough the growth rate has been consistent nationally; the share of population growth is shifting considerably from rural to urban areas. Population trends indicate that by 2010, more than half of Ghana’s population will be living in urban areas, with urbanization expected to reach 65 percent by 2030. Greater Accra is the best example of this urbanization, with its sprawling urban expansion into the surrounding rural spaces. The annual growth rate of Accra is 4.4% with the city predominantly growing towards the west (including Awoshie, Kwashieman, LaPaz, Abeka, North Odokor and the far eastern suburbs (Nungua and Teshie). Areas like Burma Camp, Osu and La have also shown increases in population, while localities adjoining Accra such as Dome, Taifa, Gbawe, New Achimota, Anyaa, Santa Maria, Amanfrom, Nii Boye Town, Mallam, Kissieman, Agboba, which were classified as rural in the 1984 census, have attained urban status in the 2000 census. (The World Bank, 2008) A large conurbation has also been created with Tema, which has taken in La, Teshie and Nungua. Areas like Madina, Adenta, Taifa, Ofankor and Pokase which only a few years ago were classified as Ga Rural District have now firmly become part of the Accra – Tema conurbation. Tema has also expanded to include Ashaiman, a city of more than 100,000. (The World Bank 2008) A recent study (Angel et. Al 2005) reveals that the built up area in the Accra Metropolitan area increased from 133 square kilometers in 1985 to 344 square kilometers in 2000. The existing urbanization pattern Figure 3.2 Greater Accra Metropolitan Area with Some of Its Neighborhoods and Land Uses (Columbia Accra Studio 2003) reveals a historically rooted central urban core, which has retained some vestiges of its British Town Planning design, while clearly expressing a synthesis from the imprint of a more recent Ghanaian influence. The inner core of the city is relatively dense, with the replacement of residential by commercial users in some places. The more recent growth of Accra is typified by an organic, uncontrolled, low density peripheral expansion with a rate of growth which is occurring at a much more rapid pace than the central urban population growth. This type of expansion is illustrated by the an ad hoc transformation of Ga District by local tribal rulers (the Nana), from agricultural and forest lands to low density single family housing, and a variety of local commercial uses. (The World Bank, 2008) Planning in Greater Accra can be described as sporadic and non-compliant at best. Within the context of decentralization, the District and Metropolitan Assemblies (DAs and MAs) have been entrusted with Figure 3.3 Urbanization of Accra from 1985 to 2002 (Yankson) significant responsibilities related to planning and enforcing the physical development within their administrative boundaries. However it is evident that links between the national planning system and the local authorities are extremely weak. The Greater Accra Metropolitan Structure Plan was developed in 1991 to plan for future growth, but enforcement remains a challenge as there is very limited coordination between the Central Government agencies and metropolitan assemblies. This has resulted in a lack of planning that has benefited the private sector. Without any active enforcement of planning standards, any individual can hire a surveyor (who may or may not be certified by the District Assembly) to develop a layout plan for a discrete development. These layout plans are developed randomly without any consideration for infrastructure, and unless the property requires a title, it normally will not pass though the District Assembly. There is no reliable process for review of permitted uses as part of building permitting, zoning is ineffective and review predominantly does not exist, consideration of impacts as well as the demand for infrastructures as part of a capital improvement plan and comprehensive planning process is non-existent. (The World Bank 2008) Due to hap hazard development in Greater Accra, a responsive disposition rather than a systematic proactive approach to planning that takes into account a multitude of stakeholders will be required. In Accra, new land owners are created quite frequently, but it is impossible for the land sector agencies to keep their records up-to-date. As land owners develop land in all sectors of the city’s periphery, often without the knowledge of the land sector agencies or the city authorities, the city’s boundaries expand as people build on such lands without either development or building permits. Planning authorities can hardly provide exact statistics about the city’s boundaries as illegal settlements continues to sprawl into Figure 3.4 Political Subdivisions of Accra (by Author) the suburbs. Additionally, as land owners develop, particularly in the urban periphery, utility providers can hardly keep pace in all parts of the city, nor should they. These types of development impacts have a significantly adverse effect on the implementation of development controls as well as infrastructure and institutional planning. It is likely at some point in the future, costly development impact fees will be needed to counteract years of unplanned and unregulated urban sprawl. Finally, the massive expansion of Accra in all directions indicates the presence of an active private sector involved in the land markets which benefits from this chaotic environment. This is particularly evident in the areas of Ga where titles for customary lands that have been traditionally used for rural and agricultural purposes are being subdivided and used for low density single family homes. (The World Bank 2008) Consequences of Urbanization The urbanization process as manifested in Ghana has resulted in increasing poverty in urban areas. It is estimated that 1.9 million people live below the poverty line in Ghanaian cities, many whom are admittedly uncounted or undercounted by the Statistical Service. While rural poverty is declining, urban poverty is increasing, and based on the increased migration from rural to urban areas it can be expected that worsening living conditions of the urban poor will continue. The 2005 GPRS also notes that households belonging to the self-employment category have a greater chance of falling into poverty in urban areas compared to rural areas. Additionally, urban poverty has worsened the conditions of women, especially female-headed households, who are statistically significant among the urban poor. (NDPC 2005) One of the most observed consequences of urbanization is the rapid proliferation of the housing stock.
Household formation and housing stock have increased sharply in Greater Accra over the past two Figure 3.5. Compound Houses in Nima (By Author) decades (1984 – 2000), largely because of a rapid and significant population shift. (Ghana Statistical Service 2003) A further examination of the housing patterns of the Greater Accra Metropolitan area reveals that close to 42 percent of the population lives in compounds followed by 18 percent in separate houses and 16 percent in semi-detached houses. Compound housing is typically characterized by a large number of households and groups of between 10 and 30 rooms with kitchen and toilet facilities arranged around an open court that is used as a common living space.
Additionally, a recent study by Columbia University illustrates that in 2001 more than half of the urban population in Ghana were living in slum settlements. Approximately 60% of the Greater Accra metropolitan area is comprised of low-income neighborhoods that are characterized by high density, poor infrastructure including low housing quality, existence of informal businesses, and irregular development without any planning or consideration for future expansion. A lack of provisions for affordable housing is also a significant consequence. For example an SSNIT unit in Tema is estimated at $20,000 to $25,000 USD, which is extremely high, compared to an average annual per capita income of $450 USD. (The World Bank 2008) Closer examination of the living conditions reveals that due to poor shelter options, people are forced to live in overcrowded tenements. Overcrowding of settlements poses a serious public health and safety issue, as well as reflecting the gap between the rich and the poor in terms of meeting shelter needs. Accra needs between 14,000 and 16,000 units per year to meet existing growth rates, not taking into account the more than 100,000 units needed to reduce existing congestion. (Columbia University 2003) 3.2.1 Infrastructure Transportation In spite of the growing economic importance of Accra, most parts of the city are not adequately served by good access roads. The urban transport environment in Accra is characterized by heavy congestion particularly during peak periods, low vehicle utilization rates, weak implementation of traffic management measures, and inadequate facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists, poor road safety arrangements and extremely high accidents rates. Almost 70 percent of person trips in Accra depend on some form of bus as the dominant mode, using less than 15% of the road space; in contrast, private cars and taxis move less than 30 percent of the person trips but occupy over 70 percent of the road space. The transport sector is a dominant source of local air pollution that is responsible for poor health and other negative impacts.