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The Beeker Method: Planning and Working on the Redevelopment of the African City. Retrospective Glan

For the past couple of months we have been working hard to meet the deadline of ‘The Beeker Method: Planning and Working on the Redevelopment of the African City’ seminar. Not an easy task as we wished to keep our arrangements secret from Coen Beeker, at the same time as we made him the key-note speaker of what he thought would be a small seminar for students from the African Studies Centre. Looking back on March 23rd I think we managed, the seminar together with the publication and the exhibition was just as much a surprise to Coen as the unexpected turnout at the seminar to us.

There is a large number of people from various institutions, backgrounds and countries that contributed to the success of this project making the event a perfectly balanced mix of friendly atmosphere and sound debate on matters related to urban planning in Africa.

The session opened with more historically-oriented presentations by Coen Beeker and his colleague from Burkina Faso, the former Director of the Direction Générale de l’Urbanisme et de la Topographie in Ouagadougou, Joseph Guiébo . Followed by presentations by Anteneh Tola, a Doctoral Candidate from TU Delft and Muhammad Juma, the Director of the Department of Urban and Rural Planning in Zanzibar, which provided some glances into current challenges of urban planning in Addis Ababa and Zanzibar Town.

Coen Beeker and the Beeker Method remained, as planned, the red-thread throughout the seminar, but it was first during the panel discussion that the panellists including Jan Fransen (IHS), Peter Pels (UvL), Yolande Lingané (DGUT*), Muhammad Juma and Anteneh Tola were asked to consider more substantially the relevance of Beeker’s approach for contemporary urban planning in Africa. Discussions considering such complex matters can go on forever without reaching a conclusion, which doesn’t make them any less valuable. In the end, conclusions and answers were not so much the goal of this debate, as the wish to generate the feeling that urban planning in Africa is an urgent matter that requires not only further debate, but more importantly, action.

The seminar was a truly international affair and it certainly ended in a manner befitting the importance of Coen Beeker, the unsung pioneer of bottom-up and participator urban planning in Africa. As a token of gratitude for the work Beeker did (and continues to do until this day) in Burkina Faso, country’s official delegation decided to decorate him in a rather unconventional manner. Since Beeker refused to be decorated with an official medal for his merits, he was instead awarded the ‘Étalon de Yennenga’ , the most prestigious award of the biannual Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) normally awarded to an African film that succeeds best in showing “the realities of Africa”. A well thought alternative which unleashed a festive mood among the audience continued afterwards with refreshments in the canteen.

The work of Coen Beeker, his people centred and pragmatic approach to urban planning has been an inspiration to many who have had the chance to work with him over the years. His considerate and step-by step planning has affected the life of countless numbers of inhabitants living in informal settlements in African cities. This project grew out of the desire to honour the work and person of Coen Beeker, and to put a spotlight on his achievements and approach so it can continue to inspire others the same way it did before. His method proved effective back in the days, the question we wanted to ask ourselves and others today is whether it is still applicable, and if yes, in which form?

For people who would like to get a copy of the book, it is currently on sale from ASC’s online bookshop. It can also be downloaded for free from the website in a digital format. For those who didn’t get the chance to join us during the seminar the publication is a good place to start familiarizing oneself with the work of Coen Beeker. It provides comprehensive study of Beeker’s work and thought and includes a number of chapters on contemporary urban planning in Africa, in which the writers consider the extent to which Beeker’s approach can still be useful today.

The digital version of the publication is available here.

The book can be purchased for € 15 here.

The exhibition presenting most important aspects of Beeker’s Method and his crown project in Ouagadougou will remain on display in the corridors of the University of Leiden (Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden. Room 1A20 - first floor) until the end of May. After that we will be moving the exhibition around the Netherlands for the next couple of months. More details will follow.

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