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Luanda aims to join the list of world’s major cities

Article - January 3, 2012
IPGUL – the Urban Planning and Management Institute of Luanda – is working to meet the present and future needs of the city’s population
Luanda, formerly known as Sao Paulo da Assunçao de Loanda and currently the world’s third most populous Portuguese speaking city, has seen great changes since the end of Angola’s civil conflict in 2002. The city has had an influx newcomers from the country’s rural towns and villages – people seeking a new and better way of life for themselves and their families.

As in many major cities in developing countries the increase in population has been rapid and dramatic. In 1974 the city had a population of 400,000 but today is home to almost six million inhabitants, stretching the capabilities and infrastructure of a city which was originally developed with a far smaller population in mind.

However, unlike many of its counterparts around the globe Luanda is a rapidly expanding city where the cost of day to day living is far from cheap. In July 2011, Mercer, the human resources and financial services consulting firm based in New York, named Luanda the most expensive city in the world for expatriates, ahead of Tokyo, Moscow, Geneva and Singapore. The survey compared the price of food, housing, transport and clothing in relation to the relevant countries economic climate and average wage in order to reach its verdict. One reason for the dramatic increase in the cost of living in Angola’s capital is the large number of multinational companies who have set up base there – usually large corporations working in the oil and diamond-mining sectors. These wealthy companies are willing to pay vast amounts for their employees to have the luxuries and conveniences they had in their home countries. A months rent for quality accommodation in one of the better neighbourhoods of Luanda can easily reach $10,000, and an annual gym membership can cost $2,500, putting the basics of modern Western living beyond the reach of the average worker. However, work in the up-and-coming sectors is lucrative, fuelled by the rapid growth of Angola’s economy, and expatriate workers can find the move worthwhile.

Nonetheless, of almost six million people currently living in Luanda, nearly two-thirds live below the poverty line. The city was first planned and developed for a population half that size, so the massive increase has caused city planners to employ drastic measures to counteract the strain on Luanda’s infrastructure and services. At present, a building boom is underway that will greatly increase the number of available homes and offices for both the wealthy and poor citizens of Luanda. This development is largely due to an initiative undertaken by the Angolan government back in late 2007 in the shape of an agency called the Urban Planning and Management Institute of Luanda, or IPGUL. Dr Helder Jose, a doctor of architecture, is the director general of the agency and a man who is has been an integral part of IPGUL since its inception when it was based on various other agencies dealing with sprawling cities. “The Institute was created in 2007 by decree of the Council of Ministers and the prospect of its creation was somewhat similar to that of similar bodies that deal with very large cities and very large levels of development in their perspective metropolitan area,” says Dr Jose, before going on to explain the aims and purpose of the agency. “IPGUL deals with the segment of the private sector that intends to invest in the area of territorial intervention, in other words with the licensing of private construction, it doesn’t deal directly with public works for infrastructure or with civil construction companies; what we do is provide companies with the necessary licenses and administrative instructions to carry out their real estate investments.”

“I think there’s still a long way to go. The lack of knowledge about Angola in the world is still very strong. There is still much to do.”

Dr Helder Jose, Director General of IPGUL

IPGUL was initially created in late 2007 under the initiative of President Eduardo Jose dos Santos in reaction to previous, unsuccessful city planning initiatives, as well as Luanda’s rapidly growing population.

Initial teething problems were rapidly overcome by IPGUL which quickly decided to use the resources at its disposal, firstly by purchasing much-needed technical equipment, training Angolan engineers and geographers to a high standard and then establishing a digital database mapping all the terrain of urban Luanda.

Dr Jose explains “After its creation, we still had a period of a somewhat troubled beginning due to our own uncertainties and difficulties inherent in the primary stages of such a project, until we finally found our path. Making use of information technology we began operating inside the computerisation of services; we are using geographic information systems that allows geo-referenced processing of land data. We began with an assessment approach to delineate a realistically possible mapping of all services that are available to the population either in the public domain or the private-informal sphere.”

This geographical mapping is set to give IPGUL all the information they need to realise their goal of making Luanda a world city. Their plan is to give the Angolan capital a modern urban infrastructure, and all the amenities and luxuries associated with major metropolitan areas, allowing Luanda to stand proud among the major cities of the world.

Outlined in the “Luanda – World City” project are various initiatives to develop a coordinated infrastructure for the city’s utilities such as gas, water and electricity as well as planned improvements to the city’s transportation and mobility systems.

The collection and processing of waste has been a major problem for the city’s growing population, and policies are now being put in place to address the issue, ensuring improved hygiene for the locals, while hopefully fostering new habits with regard to consumption, waste and civic responsibility.

IPGUL and the government are also implementing ambitious plans to invest in education, culture and leisure sectors within Luanda through an integrated strategy which will reach a balance between private and public investment while maintaining the integrity of important, functioning institutions within the city.

The city has seen drastic change in the past decade thanks in no small part to agencies like IPGUL, but Dr Jose is adamant that the government body still has more to do, and a vital role to play in the country’s continued economic growth : “I think there’s still plenty to go. The lack of physical knowledge about Angola in the world is still very strong. Our democracy has made efforts to demonstrate the more positive changes that have taken place in the country.”