Not the quintessential rosy towns as my pervious blog posts with romanticised laneways, picturesque landscapes and stunning architecture, this one is about Addis Ababa, my first touch down into mysterious Africa. I was welcomed with the not so expected skyline only to uncover the squatter beneath it. Yet a squatter so nostalgic of home, of the organic settlements in mucky and muggy Calcutta and Mumbai, making me draw up similarities and contrasts between these places. An all time favourite activity of mine as an Urban Designer.
This time I was not traveling for pleasure, but for work as part of the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety and the Global Designing Cities Initiative. #globalstreets was my daily chant as I charted through winding urban villages only to land up in highly urban towering neighbourhoods. The place felt so real, so unassuming and not attracting the tourist, but inviting guidance and knowledge with open arms.
The north-south terrain with crumbling tin shacks were surviving along freshly minted tar roads being prepared for ‘the car driver’. These contexts always make me rethink my stand on cars but often leave me confused choosing sides between propagating for ‘alternative public transport’ and empathising with the developing world so blinded by the automobile as a mark of progress and a lack of funding for public works.
The life on the streets was absolutely vivacious with this public space being shared by honking buses, speeding cars, playing kids, vendors with their colourful goods and even our four legged friends, donkeys, cows and dogs. The streets as an extension of the built environment seemed so rooted to Addis with the exception of the new light rail corridor diving up sections of the city into inaccessible sides of the same streets. The chaos at Mezkel Square, the absence of traffic lights and the newly planted shrub along streets all seemed to reiterate the absence and the desire for change, both at the same time.
Making way through grime and puddles at Merkato (largest marketplace in Africa) with two large Ethiopian baskets on my shoulders, a backpack, multiple cameras around my neck and my IPhone, I felt uplifted and energetic inspite of the physical weight pulling me down. It made me realise the importance of the project I was working on, the need for it in Addis and similar contexts and it made me feel empowered to have honed the knowledge to help, share and hopefully contribute in my own little way to making these #streets into truly #globalstreets. Streets where the child can play safely along his mother selling fruits, while the father waits at the bus stop heading to work and the grandparents watch over from the coffee stall across the street.
Copyright Abhimanyu Prakash