FREETOWN, June 7, 2019 – Policy decisions made now will determine whether Sierra Leone’s sprawling capital city, Freetown, will drive the country’s future economic transformation or hamper it, according to a recent World Bank analysis.
The report, Freetown Urban Sector Review: Options for Growth and Resilience, highlights how the country has a rare opportunity to develop smart policies that can turn the city into a platform for resilient growth. It also notes that the window of opportunity for developing and implementing solutions is closing and the cost of inaction is high.
“Freetown is growing rapidly but is not delivering its full potential. Policy choices made in Freetown will determine whether the city becomes an engine or an obstacle for economic transformation for all of Sierra Leone. Purposeful and bold policy is needed from the incoming government.” said Mesky Brhane, Practice Manager for Urban Development and Disaster Risk Management, Social, Urban, Rural, and Resilience Global Practice, the World Bank.
The report further identifies a series of development challenges facing Freetown, including its rapid but fragmented growth, that could be urgently addressed through coherent policy changes. Freetown is one of the most crowded cities in the world. Expansion is largely dominated by extension towards the center of the peninsula, but due to Freetown’s topography, this means 38% of the city’s expansion has taken place in either medium or high-risk areas, the report points out. With a lack of coherent urban planning and a scarcity of affordable housing, this precarious expansion has also resulted in the proliferation of slum housing in flood prone areas.
To address these challenges, the review makes three key recommendations:
- Reform the use of land and invest in infrastructure to reduce urban sprawl, make land available for housing and generate productive clusters of economic activity within the central business district.
- Strengthen local government finances and invest in city capability by leveraging their own financial scope through developing a clearer valuation database alongside the Ministry of Lands, investing in renewing the cadaster and improvement of the property taxation system.
- Clarify planning mandates and build resilience into the city’s urban strategy at both local and national levels to engage in the long-term planning for the city, its function and future urban expansion. Urban planning is a powerful force which is crucial for cities to reach their potential and mitigate environmental hazards.