Vernacular and (Post-)Colonial Planning Interactions

Group Members: Prof. Eric Ross and Dr. Liora Bigon

Vernacular and (Post-)Colonial Planning Interactions:
The Crisscross of Urban Traditions in Three Contemporary Senegalese Cities


In (Western) research traditions of urban history and planning, sub-Saharan Africa is generally denied of an urban past, and is deprived of an indigenous culture of urban design. In addition, the current literature on urban planning and management in sub-Saharan Africa tends to embrace a 'developmentalist' perspective, and is preoccupied with slums and squatter settlements, and mega-cities dysfunctionalism. It is against this state of research that the proposed study and its accompanied academic activities are conceptualized. The study seeks to trace and explore the continuous, almost stubborn, persistence of vernacular urban-planning cultures since pre-colonial times up to the present. This long-term formalistic correspondence essentially includes reciprocal interactions and influences between vernacular and exogamous cultures of urban planning during the colonial and the postcolonial periods. This formalistic correspondence also brings to the fore challenging questions as to 'whose heritage?', pointing on the simultaneous-cum-independent application of certain urban forms in the global North and South , and their encounters on the overseas terrain following the colonial situation. Focusing on the vast Islamic (mostly Sufi) area of Western Sudan, three important contemporary Senegalese cities will be examined: Dakar, Touba and Diourbel. The implications and theorization of this research would be therefore innovative with relation to the present state of research, Heritage Studies and Area Studies. Moreover, a contribution towards a better incorporation of the Western Sudan area in the building of a more inclusive and balanced global history of planning is also expected – a dynamic and cosmopolitan rather than dichotomist and essentialist with respect to the development of urban configurations.

The contextualization and visualization of the urban form and its entangled genealogies in the three selected cities (we aspire to examine several more important urban centers in Senegal such as Saint Louis and Tivaouane), will be made through an in-depth qualitative research. The latter research essentially involves the utilization of elaborated methodologies, including: a rich variety of secondary and primary sources such as archival material from multilateral channels, oral history, fieldwork and interviews in situ, cartographic analysis, satellite imagery, visual documentation and direct observation.