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Architecture and Smart Cities

AW Session 47 with Yonas Assefa
Eco-Resilient Smart City Arba Minch Summary: Nahom Atakilt
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In this episode of Architects ወርሃዊ, we shift to a virtual session featuring Yonas Assefa, Vice Secretary and Chairperson of the Ethics Committee within the AEA, whose presentation focuses on the subject of Eco-Resilient Smart City Arbaminch (SAM 2064)E.C. This 50-year urban development program aims to establish Arbaminch as a prominent Eco-Resilient Smart city and a noteworthy tourism destination in Africa. The session is divided into two parts, starting with the presentation and followed by a Q&A session the following day.

The Smart Arbaminch (SAM-2064) is a 50-year urban development initiative led by volunteers. It aims to transform Arbaminch into a leading environmentally friendly smart city and a premier tourism destination in Ethiopia. The program includes redesigning the urban plan and implementing 16 innovative projects that will shape the future of the city. With a projected population of 5,000,000 by 2060, the program aims to create around 100,000 new job opportunities, making Arbaminch one of Ethiopia’s major cities. The estimated cost of the program is 353 million USD, with funding expected from various sources such as the local community, the private sector, international investors, the government, and international donors. The implementation of the program will be a collaborative effort involving the SAM-2025 program office, Arbaminch University, and the Arbaminch city administration.

Phase One (2014-2018): The first stage encompasses the development of the revised master plan, canal work, construction of the football stadium and academy, roads and bridges, the establishment of the forest belt, creation of the botanic garden, and formation of museum rings. The revised master plan introduces development along adjacent satellite cities as one entire urban system, while the canal work designates the location for the Central Business District (CBD) along with river-led development. The football stadium and academy are also designed to meet CAF and FIFA standards, aiming to enhance the overall football level of Ethiopia.

Phase Two (2015-2019): This phase focuses on the development of projects such as Wisdom Valley, food and fruit courts, government quarters, traditional shopping centers, and the business and financial district, as well as the gallery and art village. This phase also includes a Technological Valley. It aims to establish an advanced technology center that will serve as a hub for innovation and skill development, empowering the younger generation to thrive alongside technological advancements. It will play a crucial role in controlling the traffic system of the city and overseeing the operation of autonomous buildings, such as the airport within Arbaminch.

Phase Three (2016-2025): In the final phase of the program, various projects are implemented to advance the city’s development. These include the construction of low-cost and smart residential houses, the improvement of forest infrastructure and amenities, the creation of artificial lake beaches, the introduction of transportation installations on the lake, the establishment of sustainable industries like a paper and timber factory and a biofuel factory, as well as the development of government quarters. These initiatives aim to provide affordable housing options, enhance accessibility and quality of life, promote recreational opportunities, support environmental sustainability, and cater to the needs of government officials.

Following the comprehensive presentation, the stage was set for a question and answer (Q&A) session scheduled for the following day – June 1st, 2023. The presentation provided a thorough overview of the Smart Arbaminch (SAM-2064) program, highlighting the various projects and initiatives aimed at transforming the city into a sustainable and inclusive urban environment.

Question #1: Has there been a previous comprehensive study conducted on this scale? What was the extent of the existing master plan?

Yonas Assefa: The previous master plan only accounted for two sub-cities, and as the city expanded in an unstructured manner towards neighboring satellite cities, it became evident that a new master plan was needed. The purpose of the new master plan is to provide a clear framework for the city’s expansion and potential integration with the satellite cities. Additionally, it aims to leverage the abundant land resources available and enhance them with necessary amenities, ensuring a sustainable and well-developed urban environment.

Question #2: You mentioned that the city outskirts are now converging towards the city center due to the expansion. Did this occur organically or was it aligned with the research?
Yonas Assefa: The expansion occurred naturally and would have continued in an unplanned manner if left unchecked. Our research and plans aim to provide structure and form to this elastic growth, ensuring that it is guided by careful analysis and thoughtful considerations. By leveraging our research findings, we strive to shape the expansion in a way that optimizes the city’s development and promotes a sustainable urban environment.

Question #3: How many individuals participated in the research and development process?

Yonas Assefa: The research and development process involved the participation of approximately 25-30 professionals, primarily consisting of university lecturers. Additionally, we sought inputs from other fields such as environmental science and agriculture to ensure a holistic approach to the project.

Question #4: Was there public communication about the development plans? How was the feedback?

Yonas Assefa: Phase one of the project was shared with the public, and the feedback was highly positive. Public discussions on projects are rare in the city, making this a promising start.

Question #5: Besides the master plan, how much of the work has been completed or is currently in progress?

Yonas Assefa: The master plan has been finalized, marking a significant milestone in the project. In addition to that, detailed plans have been established, road projects have commenced, and certain projects have been allocated government budgets. These accomplishments demonstrate substantial progress in both the planning and implementation phases of the overall development.

Question #6: The term “SMART” is often associated with technologically advanced systems, but you mentioned its applicability in the design world. Could you explain what makes the development “SMART”?

Yonas Assefa: Indeed, Arbaminch is a city characterized by a diverse range of climatic zones and a rich biodiversity, encompassing a well-rounded ecosystem. Therefore, to create a “SMART” development, we had to consider and incorporate the existing elements of the city into the design, rather than imposing an alien development. By leveraging the natural assets and resources of Arbaminch, we aim to create a sustainable and ecologically conscious development that harmonizes with its surroundings. This approach ensures that the development is not only technologically advanced but also culturally and environmentally sensitive, making it truly “SMART” in the design context.

Question #7: Have you considered the potential impact of political and other external factors on the execution of the development? How do you plan to track the project amidst such changes?

Yonas Assefa: We are aware that there may be factors beyond our control that could influence the project’s execution. That is why we began by developing a comprehensive master plan, which serves as the foundation for the overall development and its projects. By designing the master plan with a clear focus on the 16 identified projects, we have established a roadmap that helps ensure their successful implementation.

Furthermore, these developments are not solely reliant on the government’s efforts. They also serve as a means to guide incoming investments in the city, promoting collective urban growth. As part of this endeavor, the construction of 100,000 affordable homes has progressed beyond the agreement stage. These homes will be built through a public-private partnership, providing immediate solutions to accommodate the growing population of Arbaminch. By embracing such partnerships, we can leverage external resources and expertise to address the housing needs of the city and foster sustainable and inclusive urban development.

Question #8: What channels do you intend to utilize to raise awareness about this eco-resilient city development?

Yonas Assefa: Given the extensive list of projects within the development, we plan to organize a three-day event that encompasses a design lab, a city tour, and visits to satellite cities. This event will bring together artists, architects, city administrators, and city residents, creating a platform for collaborative discussions and knowledge-sharing. By involving various stakeholders, we aim to gather diverse perspectives and inputs to contribute to a more humane design and further enrich the development plan.

Following the brief presentation and Q&A session the 47th Architects ወርሃዊ came to an end with closing remarks from the program host Semawit Ayele. This episode holds special significance as it sheds light on new developments beyond the capital city of Addis Ababa, focusing on rural areas that possess exceptional natural potential. The growth of these habitats and urban areas will contribute to a balanced and steady upward trajectory for the entire country. We extend our gratitude to all those who attended this session, and until we meet again, stay inspired!

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