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Bridging a spatial and social divide through inclusive planning in Zanzibar Town (United Republic of Tanzania)

Since 2013, the Department of Rural and Urban Planning of Tanzania has been developing a multi-level development and heritage based spatial plan for Zanzibar Town, a metropolitan city which includes the World Heritage site of Stone Town of Zanzibar. The project aimed to create an integrated strategy that spatially linked the listed site and buffer zone with the wider city context by using town planning as a tool to bridge spatial and social divides.

The project included a community engagement plan, a new Local Area Plan, the creation of a Historic Urban Landscape Atlas and a new planning scheme promoting the use of green corridors as public space and connecting elements.

About Stone Town of Zanzibar

The Stone Town of Zanzibar was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2000 under criteria (ii), (iii) and (vi). It is a fine example of the Swahili coastal trading towns of East Africa. It retains its urban fabric and townscape virtually intact and contains many fine buildings that reflect its particular culture, which has brought together and homogenized disparate elements of the cultures of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe over more than a millennium.

The State of Conservation reports for the property submitted to the World Heritage Committee from 2007 to 2018 highlight challenges regarding heritage conservation, such as: lack of maintenance, non-functioning management system, lack of effective control of development proposals and complex stakeholder network given the large number of players involved in the management and conservation of the property.

Bridging a spatial and social divide through inclusive planning

Zanzibar Town is the capital of Zanzibar Islands, a historic international commercial port due to its strategic location between the Indian Ocean, the Arab region and the African continent. The historic centre of the capital includes two neighbourhoods called historic town (Stone Town) and the other side of the town (Ng’ambo), linked by a creek, which was filled at the beginning of 19th century. This reclaimed area was affected by many planning interventions and impositions. Some of these interventions introduced segregation proposals, especially during the early 20th century, when Stone Town was considered as a home to European and wealthy Indian, Arab and Swahili populations. In contrast, Ng’ambo was connoted as being an area of poor inhabitants, the majority of whom were descendent of slaves or African immigrants.

The Zanzibar Revolution of 1964 and its socialist ideology proposed a new planning philosophy which tried to remove the separation between Stone Town and Ng’ambo. The 1968 Master Plan by Hubert Scholz, a planner from East Germany, and the 1982 plan, by a Chinese planner, overlooked the creek area. With the degradation of the Stone Town in 1980s, new urban conservation and conservation efforts were introduced in the historic town, including the 1996 Conservation Master Plan. This plan re-established the original division between the Stone Town, with heavily regulated guidelines for the “conservation area”, and Ng’ambo. Ng’ambo was considered as an outside area and not part of conservation processes and became a secondary zone. The division was continued and endorsed with the inscription of the Stone Town of Zanzibar on the World Heritage List in 2000, when the Stone Town became the protected area and Ng’ambo the buffer zone. This binary understanding of the development of the historic centre of Zanzibar led to an unmanageable situation, especially regarding the key economic and logistic role of Stone Town, with only 20,000 inhabitants as per 2012 census, against the broader urban context of the Zanzibar Town, comprising 600,000 inhabitants. With time, the situation created a spatial and social divide between the two historic neighbourhoods of Zanzibar Town.  

The situation was addressed through a multi-level development and heritage base plan initiated by the Department of Rural and Urban Planning in 2013, with the collaboration of partners including NGO African Architecture matters and the City of Amsterdam. The plan follows the 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Landscape and conceives urban planning as a tool to create a balance between urban development and heritage conservation. The project included a large community-centred project called Ng’ambo Tuitakayo (“the Ng’ambo -buffer- we want”), which featured workshops, consultations and community events. In the consultation process, residents highlighted the need to protect and promote public and semi-public spaces like the traditional baraza in historic areas and, especially, new developments. At the same time, the project highlighted the residents’ negative perception of conservation as opposed to economic growth and spatial transformation in the buffer area, in the name of exclusive protection of the Stone Town.

The project has created a dialogue through community engagement, linking citizens’ concerns with the benefits of a culture-led strategy and contributed to shifting local attitudes towards conservation and cultural heritage. It provided three main outcomes:

  • The Zanzibar City Centre Local Area Plan, which promotes a people-centred public transport philosophy, by prioritising pedestrian streets and improving commercial and public areas.
  • The Historic Urban Landscape Atlas of Ng’ambo, a publication which compiles the rich history and heritage of the Ng’ambo area by promoting its image and enhancing its heritage values.
  • Michenzani Green Corridors project appraisal, an urban planning scheme that promotes the use of green corridors as public space and connecting elements to bridge the spatial and social divide.

Source: Dr Muhammad Juma, Chief of the Africa Unit at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre

Contribution towards the implementation of the 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape

The project is an integrated town planning strategy that aims to link the World Heritage site with the wider city context including modern areas, often perceived as opposed. The project aims to put culture and links with the historical centre at the core of a master plan that meets some of the points defended by the HUL approach. If fully implemented in accordance with the described methodology, the project could contribute to the implementation of the HUL (Historic Urban Landscape) approach in:

  • The project aims to engage communities through a community mapping project.
  • The public transport plan aims to put a focus on local communities and users in historic areas by prioritising pedestrian streets and the improvement of commercial and public areas.
  • The project aims to identify local heritage values.
  • The proposal aims to create green corridors that serve as public space bridging the spatial, and thus, the social divide.

Historic Urban Landscape Tools

Civic engagement tools Knowledge and Planning tools Regulatory systems

Contribution towards Sustainable Development

If fully implemented in accordance with the described plans, the initiative could contribute towards Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries.

  • Target 10.2: The community-centred project “Ng’ambo Tuitakayo” aims to empower and promote the social and political inclusion of all, through the incorporation of community participation in planning processes, workshops, consultations and community events.

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

  • Target 11.2: The Zanzibar City Centre Local Area Plan aims to increase access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, by promoting a people-centred public transport philosophy and prioritising pedestrian streets
  • Target 11.3: The overall project, from its community consultation phases to its design proposal, aims to enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management, by integrating urban development and conservation in a participatory project
  • Target 11.4: The initiative aims to contribute to the protection and safeguarding of the world’s cultural heritage, by shifting local attitudes towards conservation and cultural heritage, enhancing the integration of conservation and urban development plans and compiling the history and heritage of the Ng’ambo area, promoting its image and enhancing its heritage values.
  • Target 11.6: the initiative aims to reduce the adverse environmental impact of cities, by prioritising pedestrian movement and public transport, and increasing the number of green spaces in the city
  • Target 11.7: the initiative aims to improve access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, through the Michenzani Green Corridors project
  • Target 11.a: the initiative aims to create positive economic, social and environmental links between urban and peri-urban by taking into consideration the role of the city centre within the wider metropolis and the connection of the different areas

Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

  • Target 16.7: the project aims to contribute to responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at local level, by including a community engagement phase in the earlier stages of the planning process

Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

  • Target 17.9: the initiative is part of enhanced international support for the implementation of the sustainable development goals, through the ongoing collaboration between the Department of Rural and Urban Planning of Zanzibar, the City of Amsterdam and NGO African Architecture matters.

Contribution to the New Urban Agenda

At the same time, the initiative could be also in line with the principles and lines of actions set out in the New Urban Agenda, by aiming to:

  • Work towards improved access to quality services in areas such as mobility and transportation
  • Work towards the sustainable management of tourism
To learn more
  • Watch the presentation about this project by Muhammad Juma, Chief of the Africa Unit at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, during ICCROM’s webinar Towards Integrated Management of Historic Cities: Challenges and Opportunities in November 2020.
  • Read the 2019 essay Side effects: foreign oppression and otherness in Ng’ambo, Zanzibar Town by Iga Perzyna and Muhammad Juma.
  • Read the 2013 UNESCO Publication Swahili Historic Urban Landscapes. Report on the Historic Urban Landscape Workshops and Field Activities on the Swahili coast in East Africa 2011-2012

© UNESCO, 2021. Project team: Jyoti Hosagrahar, Alba Zamarbide, Carlota Marijuán Rodríguez, Muhammad Juma
Cover image © OUR PLACE The World Heritage
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