November 28, 2019

Addis Abeba, a Battlefield of Times


A bystander’s look towards his favorite city

Avatar: Nahom Teklu
By Nahom Teklu

Nahom is an interdisciplinary architect & environmental practitioner who is designing for humanity through working on architecture, researching urbanization, exploring urbanism, and directing curation.

Addis Abeba, a Battlefield of Times

A bystander’s look towards his favorite city 

Apart from the philosophical dilemma and inconsistency we have for what time really is, we have a free and collective ownership of it. As a Spanish writer, philosopher and theoretician of conceptismo, Baltasar Gracian, once said, “Nothing really belongs to us but time, which even he has who has nothing else.” Unfortunately enough, it is true that we cannot pre-order the future, alter the past, or freeze the present. Time will keep moving, changing things around us regardless of how we want them to be, or what we desire and deserve as a community from a specific time and place - along with the geopolitical and socio economic factors. 

These impositions in the urban phenomenon surprisingly manifest in a rival manner in the environment we are living in, embalming the read and the quest of who we are and where we belong. The read is dominance; the quest is succession, which one can easily notice through experiencing different parts of the urban realm of our city. 

Welcome to Addis Abeba, a hundred and thirty-three year old city endured to claim and reclaim to be true to her name, a rapidly ‘urbanizing’ capital in the horn, and a jubilant African hub.

©UrbanAge, 2018, newsletter

As a city which has undergone enormous amount of impositions from urbanization in different times, Addis Abeba looks ultimately tolerant and steady, but at a great cost: through the compromise of the places we, the urbanites, used to affiliate our lives in, and our fading memories of our day-to-day city hustle-bustle and urban routine. As Baltasar said, yes, time belongs to us but sometimes not really; it feels like the place that time uses to exist, belongs to the fittest of us. Especially when times are in battle as they are in present day Addis, that battle field doesn’t truly belong to any of us, but only those who are able to endure.  

Though the city might seem charming or charismatic at first glance, Addis suffers the lack of entirety, coherence and harmonious urban fabric due to the trending immaterial battle. Dealing with time is dealing with an abstract manifestation in the environment we live in, where the present is partly engulfed by the future and the past is somehow uncompromisingly discarded by the present. Whether the actions here are conscious or unconscious, the setting of this chaotic phenomena seems to be a very dangerous disaster loop from which reconciliation driven urbanization is considered to be the untapped professional act and intervention towards accessing the way out. 

Even if Addis is considered young compared to other cities in Ethiopia and the world, the city remains to be a historic home for a rapidly increasing number of residents, a home for the African union headquarters, and the United nations economic commission for Africa, and the third city with the largest number of international organizations next to New York and Geneva. But, still as most cities in Africa, the Ethiopian Capital, Addis, faces the dual challenge of enhancing quality of life and economic viability having subscribed to the young sub-Saharan Africa where the world’s highest informal employment is found, another spectrum and trigger to the ongoing immaterial battle. 

The battle might not be surprising for some if we consider it as an output of swift urbanism perhaps due to the relatively short timed, demand driven act of urbanization alike from many European cities which urbanized over centuries mostly as of the historic industrial revolution and industrialization. The physical and nonphysical architectural and urban makeup of the city demand a specific and customized design treatment through  discourse and discussion with residents of the city, professionals and the government so as to amplify, advocate, and attain social justice and equity of representation of times worth of tranquility in memory, existence and hope in the built environment. 

It is correct that the parameters of time have equal or approximately equal moral and rational right to be freely and fairly represented in the built environment as we, humans are the omnipotent embodiment of our memories, experiences, the instant moments, and our hopes which are considered as the reasons for our existence. Even though the magnitude of the ongoing battle differs due to the intensiveness between times, it is believed that it has an infinite progress in a place with urbanization, especially in the cities of developing countries like Addis Abeba. 

As a city that has perpetuated its effort towards urbanism and maintaining quality of life, Addis bravely welcomed the rival of times for representation in the 3 built environment, the unlimited thirst of ‘urbanization’ specially from consecutive regimes’ operated and operating in the country, even if there is no professional clear cut about the concept, and the alarming national demand of citizens in housing, transportation, and entrepreneurship sectors. The robustness and the charming spatial satire the city maintains to showcase yet aligning with the Utopist and ‘tabula rasa’ or blank slate triggered interventions of Italians during the half decade occupation harmonized some of the urban interfaces and elements via rendering the mesmerizing look of both modernist urbanism and thoughts of postmodernism. 

The multilayered identity of the city as of the socio cultural mixity and geopolitical foundation laid a paved way for the reviving immaterial battle to catalyze, and surpass a chaotic, cosmetic, and still dramatic urban scene. The residents of the city are identified, at least in this context, as artists of life who stand as creative mimickers and adapters of the immaterial battle through collectively establishing a ‘resilient’ city trend, beautifying the urban living and the scenic city culture having a holistic entitlement known as Arada. Arada, an informal name for both the inner part of the urb and the citizens of the city with a continuous strive for fulfillment, compassion, humor and very human friendly sociological relation. 

Regardless of the ongoing immaterial battle in the city of Addis, it still remains to be a city of hope to many souls, a memory worth lived of generations, a pillar of Afro-futuristic Africa, and a center of the city centric administration of Ethiopia: a  country with notable history, legends and reputation.