Can the World Really Afford More Empty Cities?

Nova Cidade de Kilamba

Architecture that does not have a function, is not appreciated or that stands unused has no place in a world that consumes as many naturally resources as ours.

The global building industry caters to the needs of billions, but it also is the highest consumer of these resources, meaning that there must be a level of responsibility in play that restricts unnecessary works at all costs.

However, an increasing number of urban development projects are being undertaken that are unused and unnecessary. These ‘ghost towns’ stand as an outdated and regressive waste in the meantime, although they are often justified as a long-term development goal.

A development just outside of Angola’s capital city, named Nova Cidade de Kilamba is just such a development.

According to the BBC, this residential development has been constructed by the state-owned China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) and includes a massive swath of eight-storey apartment buildings – 750 in all – plus a dozen schoola and more than 100 retail units.

Built to accommodate a population of 500,000, the city is currently largely empty.

Nova Cidade de Kilamba

With the apartments selling from between $100,000 and $120,000 and the average daily wage in Angola at only $2, the disproportion between income and investment is far too extreme to expect the housing to be completely filled by Angolans any time soon.

However, Kilamba will stand as the completion of a governmental promise made by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in 2008, in which he vowed to building one million homes in under five years.

While some of the housing will be allocated as low income, according to Elias Isaac, the country director at the Angolan Office of the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA), more needs to be done in order to make this a viable and functional investment opportunity for the government and a housing opportunity for society members.

“The government needs to start giving priority to building low-cost housing because great majority of the population live in shacks with no water, electricity or sanitation,” says Isaac.

Much speculation has surrounded the development, with some suggesting that the city will be more easily filled once Angola’s oil mining potential has been met.

Nova Cidade de Kilamba aerial view

As it stands now, however, the gap is simply too great.

Realistically, it makes  no sense to continue making these kinds of resource investments that have such a small chance of paying off.

The development is a prime example of development that is not contextualised, therefore leading it to be environmentally, socially and economically unsustainable. Perhaps it will be successful in the long run but, as it stands, the risk is great given the potential for extreme waste.

By Tim Moore
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