Jane Jacobs: How not to wreck cities

My favourite writer about cities, and a favourite of generations of my students, is Jane Jacobs, a sharp-tongued critic whose polemics were grounded in a strongly positive view of cities. She wrote her best-known book, The death and life of great American cities, when she was a New Yorker, but within a few years she had moved to Toronto, where she spent the rest of her life.

She loved cities and thought that the preservation of their livability and attractiveness was a key to the well-being of society as a whole. It’s central to Jacobs’s concept of cities that they are natural, that they grow organically out of the ways people choose to interact with each other.

As a result, in Death and life, she was scornful of the visions of planners and architects who wanted to create buildings, neighbourhoods, and parks in response to their ideas of what would look good — a philosophy we now know as modernism. (I’m not being entirely fair to modernism, but today’s topic is Jane Jacobs.) Continue reading

Europeans help themselves to Nandi and Kipsigis land

NandiWarriorsNandi warriors (date unknown)

The stiffest resistance to European encroachment on African land in Kenya came from the Nandi on the Mau plateau west of the Rift Valley. In the 1890s, and in the first part of the Twentieth Century, they harassed European caravans and railway workers, forcing some early settlers to retreat. The defeat of the Nandi, therefore, was regarded as a prerequisite for European settlement in the western highlands.

RiftValleyRift Valley, in orange, until 2013 a province of Kenya

RiftValley5
Farmland at Rift Valley’s edge (click on picture)
Source: Wallaroo Images

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Kenya Europeans go after Masai land

Kikuyus took the hardest beating when white Kenyans went after African land, but they were not the only victims of European land grabs. In my last post, and a previous one I showed how flagrant Kenya’s colonial regime was about stealing African land, and how it introduced the policies of interpenetration and “tribal” reserves, to regularize the process.

Like the Kikuyus, the Masai — nomadic, pastoral occupants of Kenya’s Rift Valley whom we first encountered here — suffered their most significant losses during the period of interpenetration. Among the early European settlers, those who were interested in farming headed first for the green highlands of central Kenya. Those who wanted to go into ranching were most attracted to the Rift Valley because the presence of Masai herds there made it clear that the land was suitable for ranching.
MasaiHerdersMasai herders (Click on picture)
Source: http://www.staceyirvin.com/
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Wakaichukua: An overview of European land seizures in Kenya’s Kikuyu country

In a previous post, I catalogued some of the lame excuses Europeans in Kenya offered for their seizures of African land. A Swahili saying offers a more realistic take on what happened: Wazungu walikuja, wakaona ardhi yenye mafuta, wakaichukua. (“Europeans came, saw fertile land, and helped themselves.”) Kikuyus, who, like European settlers, were generally capable farmers and often keen entrepreneurs, spent the period of colonial rule (from the late 19th Century until 1963) locked in an intense, sometimes violent and competitive relationship with Europeans.  Continue reading

I’ve added lots of material to my blog

Readers of my blog will know that its purpose is to make academic writing accessible to people who don’t have the time or inclination to wade through the necessary obscurities in academic writing that drive potential readers away in droves. You may not know that this project began in 2005, in the format pictured below, and already included scores of posts in a different format before I changed over the the WordPress format you’re looking at now.

MyOldBlog1

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Seeking socially acceptable descriptions for land theft in Kenya

As European settlement spread through Kenya’s highlands early in the 20th Century, considerable amounts of African land were included in what became known as the White Highlands. In later years, defenders found a variety of justifications for these alienations of land.

Some land, it was said, was unoccupied or so sparsely occupied as to be virtually unoccupied. Some was taken by right of conquest. Some areas, it was maintained, were buffer zones between hostile “tribes” and European settlement was merely a means of bringing peace to the land. In other cases, mistakes were allegedly made and later on some minimal compensation was offered.

I’ve never understood how the term “tribe” has survived into the 21st Century as a supposedly acceptable usage. Its meaning is indistinguishable from the meaning of the phrase “ethnic group” (or perhaps “small ethnic group”) except that it is never used to describe white people. In other words — with whatever apologies may be due to my colleagues who are anthropologists — it looks like a racist usage to me.

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What does Winnipeg need in a mayor? I

With the mayoral election approaching, (it’s Wednesday, October 22nd, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock) it’s time for an assessment. For a change, Winnipeggers are blessed. In past races it has not been unusual to have a choice between a mere two candidates who appear to be both serious about wanting the job and capable of handling it. This time, I count five such candidates among the seven who remain in the race. (Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you who they are.) Continue reading