The idea of sustainable cities should not be novel to us.  The term sustainable, has been paired with many other words, especially development, to encapsulate the concept of prudent use and management of resources which are evidently scarce to improve the living conditions of people in a society.

With regards to the topic of this statement, we cannot discount the component of sustainability that deals with forethought, because it constitutes the reason why a deficiency is noticed in the development of urban communities. Although development is ongoing, the lopsided nature of population growth to the availability of city resources emphasises the relevance of our focus on sustainable cities.

Applying the sustainable concept to the management of cities, accounts for idea the that, the ecology maintained in our cities is an important part of national development, supported by the fact that cities are arguably the heart of socio economic activity in a country. According to Dr Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat and, shares an opinion that Cities are, in fact, are “accelerators and catalyst of development”.

The difficulty in building sustainable cities is increasingly drawing global concerns; however, each continent has its peculiar challenges as far sustainable cities are concerned. In a classic case of Africa, where despite high urbanisation rates, the development agenda has been primarily rural with myopic focus on urban development. This has accounted for the inabilities in developing our cities. Accra (Ghana), Lagos (Nigeria) and Libreville (Gabon) among major cities in the Sub Saharan Africa are characterised by high rates of urbanisation which have led to upsurges of unplanned urban cities (Mclntyre et al., 2009). Extant literature agrees that there is a symbiotic relationship between urbanisation and environmental problems leading to the growing concern in the debate on climate change

Empirical studies conducted by Ayarkwa et al. (2017) found that , urbanisation and industrialisation are having a great impact on the Earth’s ecosystems as a result of environmental degradation, pollution, climate change and poverty globally inclusive of Ghana. Haruna et al. (2018) reported that Ghana is facing major climate change and environmental problems within cities with frequent and fatal events of floods as well as gross pollution and degradation of the natural environment including soil and water ways.

Specific to the Accra metropolis, where we as Members of Parliament happen to spend a significant amount of time, the glaring pointer to the challenges of sustainable cities is found in our transport, infrastructure, coupled with sanitation issues that reveal how far behind we are in reaching our goal. It is interesting to note that in studies conducted almost three decades ago by A. M. Abane (1993), traffic congestion was a highlight challenge. The study listed poor usage of land space and planning, rapid increases in the ownership of vehicles, uneducated use of roads by motorists and pedestrians alike as contributors to the deficiencies in the sustainable development of our cities. All of these relating to transport alone, the broader aspect however can be viewed in sanitation issues that develop as a result of rural-urban migration and habitation which is disproportionate to the available facilities in the nation’s capital all in reference to the habitable geographical area of the capital.

Empirical studies have indicated that Ghana’s urban population has grown from four million in 1984 to more than 14 million today and it is established 51% of Ghanaians now live in cities as at 2015 according to World Bank Report, 2015. While urbanisation rates vary across Africa, Ghana reflects an overall global trend towards a predominantly urban future.

A couple of international reports have commended Ghana as highly productive country in Africa as result of the numerous entrepreneurial businesses that is being embarked upon. World Bank report 2015 draws an explicit link between urbanisation, productivity, and poverty reduction. Over the same period of its urban growth annual GDP growth has averaged 5.7%. The number of industrial and service jobs has increased by 21% and the capital city, Accra, has registered a 20% reduction in poverty (World Bank Report, 2015).

The mass influx of rural folks flooding cities in Ghana is increasingly becoming evident of how opportunity and fortunes are scarce in the rural areas. Scholarly works have indicated that Ghana sustainable cities are confronted with three problems. These problems are as follows:

  • Scarcity in Affordable Houses
  • Ghana’s nature of Political will
  •  Unconcerned community participation of sustainable cities.

Scarcity in Affordable Houses

Mr. Speaker, scarcity of affording houses is one of the biggest challenges in Ghana noble quest of achieving the sustainable communities.

As Ghana’s cities grow, the obvious challenge will be to provide adequate services and equitable access to its opportunities. Currently, large gaps exist between needed and current services and infrastructure. One result of this gap is an affordable housing crisis. This produces slums, often near expensive gated communities and suburbs.

Transit services are overstretched and spaces that connect people to work and create a more socially inclusive civic culture need to be supported, fostered or created by Ghana architects, artists and planners with citizens and government.

Like many other countries in Africa, Ghana’s urban housing stock is growing. But, like many cities across the globe, much of this housing is for the middle and upper classes, and the housing is not growing fast enough. Ghana real estate business is hot and competitive where the scarcity of demand for housing unit has necessitated exorbitant rental charges, monopolisation house rents by landlords, and gross flouting of tenancy rules.the expensive nature of rents in urban cities has rendered many homeless and has increased street menance . Those who cannot afford these proper housing units from states and privates owners tend up putting dilapidating structures that are not good for habitation.  

This housing demand is an incredible investment and growth opportunity if managed effectively. Given current housing inequalities the question is: how will this sector develop in an “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” way?

With Chinese, European Union and African Development Bank involvement, investment is flowing into urban infrastructure, especially road building all over the continent. But are these investments helping to create access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all? Are they doing all of this taking into account the needs of the vulnerable as aspired to by the new sustainable development goal?

More often than not, Ghanaian cities are building high carbon, unsafe infrastructure for the minority with cars, not the majority who need or want excellent mass transit and healthy and affordable options like cycling and walking.

Politicisation and Politics of Urban Problem

Often the mantra about African cities is that poor planning is an obstacle to unlocking the promise of urbanization. Much of the problem dates back to the colonial period. Planning does need to be reinvented to address the specific needs of African citizens. More often than not these citizens were and are victims of planning instead of beneficiaries.

Ghana has had a series of plans for its cities since the colonial period. The 1958 Town Plan for Accra pointed to the small and insecure land market as a problem for the provision of housing, and formed state bodies to address the issue. The Strategic Plan of 1991 sought greater collaboration between agencies, as well as coordination with international funders – the perennial problem that is not entirely the fault of African cities. The World Bank report highlights some of the same problems, without outlining a political solution.

The central problem to unlocking equitable opportunities in African cities remains politics. In today’s competitive multi-party environment, leaders make political calculations that privilege short-term horizons to win votes over long-term solutions to urban problems. Most critical, many urban planning problems are the result of power struggles and, in particular, the capture of “public goods” such as land or transit routes for certain interests.

Unconcerned community participation of sustainable cities

Many politicians have an interest in maintaining insecure rights around these critical public goods needed for making a city function, because they are part of networks that benefit from the status quo. In Ghana, some traditional authorities benefit from selling land multiple times.

This contributes to numerous land disputes that get stuck in an underdeveloped legal system. Community leaders and their followers often internalize societal norms to win elections. For example, politicians strive to be parents, employers and friends to their constituents, often using state goods and resources as patronage for their political supporters.

This undermines the achievement of sustainable and inclusive cities. Of course, some neighbourhoods can and do sustain civic cultures and public service, and it is these communities that deserve more attention.

For projects and policies to have the desired results of improved urban space, better transit or more affordable housing, incentives need to be reshaped to make it beneficial to follow sound policy prescriptions and play by the official rules.

Registering land and businesses should be profitable and not invite predation. Relocation to and development of new neighbourhoods should consider local architectural, social, and economic preferences but also equity. And providing public goods and services to all citizens including newcomers should contribute to electoral advantages.

Anthropological studies have shown that politicians, the chieftaincy institutions and the citizenry have a significant role in ensuring that cities achieve sustainable goals to promote healthy environment for all.  For example studies have shown that the mayors from Johannesburg and Maputo came to New York to explicitly signal their support for the sustainable development goals, and especially Goal 11, which promotes inclusive, safe and sustainable cities and settlements and Mr Speaker similar fashion emulated.  Whether progress will be made on these laudable goals will depend on politicians working in collaboration with citizens.

As people continue to move to urban areas in Ghana in search of opportunity, let us hope that they can help fashion an urban politics that gives birth to the kinds of cities that are better for all.

Global Quest of Sustainable cities

A quick check on the global statistics of cities today will indicate that at least eighty percent (80%) of global GDP from economic activity is generated in cities. With over 4.2 billion of the world’s population living in cities, the United Nations SDGs recognise the importance of sustainable cities in Goal 11, ensuring that countries work towards improving the state of their existing cities and developing new ones that provide decent living conditions for inhabitants. This being in the creation of proper shelter, public utility and accommodation facilities, business opportunities, and an overall harmonised society.

According to Liaros (2019), eco-cities, eco-villages, green cities, liveable cities, biophilic cities, smart cities have been the talk of city development over the years and a major source of concern for academia and industry . Green cities are seen as pivotal to city development under the SDGs. The concept of“green city” or“green development” is not novel (Lewis, 2015). According to the UN (2018), the SDGs embrace the concept of making cities as an integral aspect of attaining eco-friendlier and more sustainable futures for this generation and posterity. A green city is a holistically planned new settlement which enhances the natural environment and offers high quality affordable housing and locally accessible work in beautiful, healthy and sociable communities (Simon, 2016). Various scholars  in current studies agree that green cities or infrastructure is a cogent strategy targeted at mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change (Onishi et al., 2010).

Ghana’s Quest in formulating a Policy for Sustainable Cities

Managing contemporary and future urbanisation to create sustainable outcomes is a globally acknowledged policy goal. However, despite the increasing uptake and implementation of National Urban Policies (NUPs), little research has explored how these policies incorporate and promote sustainability as a concept in the context of urbanisation (Anarfi, 2020).

In the less-developed regions of the world, especially Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with Ghana included, where poverty is pervasive, and institutions, as well as regulations guiding urban development are weak; the need for solutions to address the challenges of rapid urbanisation is inevitable. Facing the new reality of a more urban (51%) populace , Ghana took a big step forward. In 2012, the Ghanaian Government launched a NUP with a view to steering contemporary and future urbanisation into sustainable outcomes, as well as a supporting Action Plan that detailed the specific actions to be undertaken in order to fully implement the main objectives of the NUP. Importantly, while the extant empirical studies contribute significantly to our understanding of urbanisation in Ghana, there is little focus on urban policy.

A number of empirical studies have noticed Ghanaian Government’s commitment to the effective governance and planning of urbanisation by introducing cross-cutting legislative instruments and development guidelines. In particular, the development guidelines, which are expected to provide a framework for development planning from the national to the local levels, may address the widely-held view about the tendency for policies to fail due to the limited extent to which policy elements cut across different levels or departments

It equally important to note that, the agenda for sustainable cities had been is discussion by former Minister for Works and Housing, Samuel Atta Akyea. Who in his virtual address reiterated the need for the right legal backing to enforce a green society, which supports human life and the environment. Mr Speaker, government has an agenda of reviewing the Building regulation LI 1630 (1996) that would seek to reflect all aspects of the building Code. Former Minister for Works and Housing Hon. Atta Akyea hinted and i quote,

Significantly, the current Building Regulations is about 24 years old and long overdue for review. I am happy to announce that the Ministry has concluded the review of the document and has since submitted it to the Ministry of Justice and Attorney-General’s Department for consideration and drafting. The new Building Regulations when approved by parliament will have a whole Part dedicated to Green Building Requirements”

Mr. Speaker, i truly agree with noble intention of government and former minister, that, Ghana’s quest of achieving a green and sustainable cities could see day  of light, if parliament will  earnestly and willing approve the new building regulation which would be eco –friendly to the environment.

Lastly it is important to note that in 2020, Hon. Mohammed Adjei Sowah, former Mayor of Accra Metropolitan Assembly  provided a clear picture of the strategic thinking approach to making Accra a resilient city. In the  honourable’s submission, he stated that,  quote

“The Assembly has introduced an incentive package to incentivise developers to build green by offering rebates on property rates and building permits (30 -50% off)”    

Recommendations for Sustainable Cities

Mr. Speaker it important to note that, this statement is framed within the wider discussion on how policy can contribute to sustainable development. Therefore, to address the challenge of maximising the sustainability impact of policy in the context of rapid urbanisation, the following two steps are suggested.

Firstly, the absence of relevant benchmarks or emissions targets shows that there is an apparent lack of data on urban systems in Ghana (e.g., climate-related data) which can be used to inform policy. This makes it relevant for the authorities to conduct research that helps to develop Ghana-specific indicators and establish criteria, based on which progress to sustainability could be evaluated for policy-making purposes.

Secondly, the pervasiveness of poverty in urban Ghana and its importance for sustainability have been highlighted in this statement. Therefore, considering the explicit lack of poverty focus in urban policy documents identified, it is imperative for relevant authorities to restructure aspects of the policies and situate them within a coherent poverty reduction strategy.


Mr Speaker, I would like to conclude by stating that all of us have to critically look again into empowering the mandated institutions charged with the sustainability of cities to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals as urban cities are concerned. It is without a doubt that  urban cities play an integral role in our economy as it has always been the cradle for industrialisation and economic growth, nonetheless let me be quick to add a  quote from Dr Guy Mcpherson who says:

“If we think the economy is more important than the environment, let’s try holding our breath whilst we count our money “ 

Thank you Mr. Speaker, thank you fellow Members of the House.


Frank Annoh-Dompreh: Building sustainable cities in Africa: The case of Ghana

The writer is the Majority Chief Whip and the MP for Nsawam-Adoagyiri