The Social, Spatial, and Economic Roots of Urban Inequality in Africa: Contextualizing Jane Jacobs and Henry George

Franklin Obeng-Odoom Franklin Obeng-Odoom

The Social, Spatial, and Economic Roots of Urban Inequality in Africa: Contextualizing Jane Jacobs and Henry George, 

Franklin Obeng-Odoom,
American Journal of Economics and Sociology
Volume 74, Issue 3, pages 550–586, May 2015

American Journal of Economics and Sociology Abstract

Unravelling the social and economic roots of urban inequality in Africa has remained a thorny issue in African political economy. Stripped to its bare essentials, the critical questions are who causes urban inequality, what causes it, and how it is caused? While all different, the questions are interrelated. Answering the “who causes inequality” question requires a related analysis of what and why, and that is connected to the how question. Indeed, the how question has two parts—how inequality is caused and how it can be addressed. Both are connected to the why question and to its resolution. Unfortunately, while studies about urban inequality abound, they tend to hive off one aspect or another of the tripartite questions on inequality and, even worse, they study the three questions separately. This article tries to overcome the existing atomistic and piecemeal approach to the study of urban inequality in Africa by contextualizing the work of Jane Jacobs and Henry George, who took a holistic view of urban inequality. It argues that Jacobsianism and Georgism have much to offer in terms of understanding urban inequality in Africa, but neither analysis goes far enough to be able to serve as a solid foundation for policy. Ultimately, it is in their approach to urban analysis—the emphasis on context, on actual urban problems, inductivism, and some of their mechanisms for change such as George’s land tax and cautious abstraction, in that order, along with their combined vision—which I call “diversity in equality”—that can add to the insights of postcolonialism in understanding and transforming urban inequality in Africa.

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