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Background Phenomena like rapid growth, unmanageable cities, an urban space in crisis, and the disproportionate expansion of capital cities have rendered instruments traditionally associated with planned urbanism ill-suited for city planning today. Traditional urban planning instruments, plans and top-down approaches are now generally pitched against participatory and bottom-up approaches. Today, the city is re-designed through its residents and its stakeholders. Without overlooking the role of participatory approaches in the creation of a city, we must first examine traditional instruments like plans and city models, the motivation behind them as well as the way in which they are constructed. In order to comprehend the urban dynamics at play and the stakes associated with the public space, the next step will be to conduct a comparative study between available planning knowledge and the public space. Research has already addressed this issue at two distinct levels: the city as a whole and the public space. A comparison of these two levels will enable us to identify the link between the shape a city takes as the result of plans or as a result of local practices. The role of the city as a restrictive or a constructive force will also be examined. This procedure will improve our understanding of how these levels interact. Starting at the micro level – the street, local practices and strategies of city stakeholders – we shall seek to return the general, to those elements which call into question the city in its entirety. The aim here is to deduce and propose innovative approaches to city planning. Our analysis of the city as a whole will look at its history, its spatial development as well as planning and design documentation. The aim here is to identify those major trends which emerge independently of the plans. Our analysis of the public space will look at the ground itself. In other words, we shall examine the street as the environment in which the stakes of the city take root. In African society, the public space questions the city in terms of its social, economic, cultural, political and spatial dimensions. In this era of globalisation, the public space has consolidated its position as a site of experimentation and of the collective construction of economic and social alternatives (WP2, 2005). As such, it has become a shield against the social annihilation of at-risk populations. In order to provide a thorough analysis of this issue, three African cities were selected which are interesting for three reasons. First, they are examples of a new city. Second, from the moment they were founded they had urbanism plans in place. Third and finally, they are heavily characterised by informal "urbanism". Case study Nouakchott, Mauritania. Dakar, Senegal. Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. General research objectives The general objective of the present research is to analyse how the urbanisation process, urban models, social practices, spatial changes (to the public space) as well as the management and planning approaches of cities in Western Africa are interlinked. Here the public space is analysed and understood in terms of not only its social, spatial and cultural dynamics, but also the dynamics that lead to the inclusion or exclusion of urban stakeholders. The aim of the research is to reach a critical understanding of traditional urban planning instruments and to propose pathways for the creation of innovative tools to render the city manageable and amenable to planning. Research questions Does the planning of the city and of the public space constitute complementary elements of the same reality? Or are they disconnected? A detailed analysis of public spaces and of urbanism plans for the city will provide answers to these questions. This, in turn, will generate a more advanced understanding of how both the city as a whole and the public space are perceived, managed and planned. The next question is to ascertain whether the three cities studied here are designed according to the same model, and if so, which one. An examination of the public space and the planning documentation of the three cities will allow us to identify their common features, and to conclude that not only are they similar, but they are also the product of a single unique ideology. The ideology which underpins the planning of these cities is an import, a sort of westernisation of the space. We shall thus focus on how African cities experience and live this phenomenon, as well as investigate its influence, if any, on spatial and social practices. A further question which will be addressed is whether the city is created despite of or thanks to planning efforts. Finally, depending on the answer to the preceding question, we shall endeavour to ascertain how the city can be planned today in Africa. What work must today's urban planners undertake in order to account for the urban reality, specifically the urban dynamics, stakeholder strategies, as well as the social practices of the hundreds of thousands of people who constitute the city? General hypotheses The main hypotheses are : 1 : The evolution of the African city, even during the years immediately after gaining independence from France, continues to follow the same rules that underpinned their founding. This is also true of the instruments at the disposal of the urban planner, which reflect a certain idea of a city and earlier urban planning practices, namely those adopted during the colonial era and originating in Europe ; 2 : The stakes of the public space are identical, as cities adopt the same approach to its management and planning; the effects are therefore also the same. 3 : The homogenisation of the urban space and city models leads to the standardisation of practices on the streets and of lifestyles that cease to be contingent on a given context or environment. The end effect is a disconnection of the city from its environment. Methodology The research is divided into three stages. The first deals with planning instruments and the trajectories followed by the cities, from spatial development to the analysis of the planning-related documentation. By means of a literature review, an archives' search as well as interviews with institutional stakeholders, we shall outline the various trajectories followed by each of the three cities, their composition, and their monographs, before comparing and contrasting all three. The second stage of the research involves a probing examination of the African public space in the three cities selected. We shall use the medium of photography to understand the city. Photographs will also serve as a point of reference during interviews with urban stakeholders. We shall also conduct a press review. The knowledge gained during the first two stages should allow us in the third stage to test hypotheses, to cross-check the findings so far with those arising from the city comparison. A critical interpretation of city management and planning tools as well as urban policies will be undertaken, based on the knowledge accumulated in the earlier stages of the research. The results should then inform proposals and recommendations for new "innovative" planning tools. Main results Below is a summary of the main research results : The African city is not a self-constructed and self-regulated entity, as is often claimed. It is subject to attempts to control the production of the urban space. Yet, for myriad reasons these controls fail, which generates the impression that the city is unplanned. The research also underlines the importance of context, whether it is geographical or climatic. The comparison of the three cities revealed the major influence of rains (overwintering period) on the day-to-day management of the city. The elite in each of the countries studied strive for modernity, yet this is far from the chief aspirations held by most city residents. Planning which was motivated by demographics and industry has failed. Indeed, the history of planning in each of our cities clearly shows us that the approaches taken to urban planning are the same, regardless of the year in which these plans were devised. The glaring mismatch between the two levels of intervention (planning and the public space) reflects the lack of consideration given to permeability between these levels. It also underlines the need for the city to be defined by the aspirations of its inhabitants and not by the imposition of a specific city model. Finally, the study shows the urgent need for city planning which centre on the individual and takes account of personal practices and strategies. In other words, city planning should be based on the urban dynamics of each individual. Main conclusions The design, planning and management of Western African cities remain unchanged since their founding. There has been no paradigm shift, neither at the time of independence, nor during the major urban crises of the 1980s. Despite the fact that each of three cities studied were produced in the same way, their public spaces differ radically depending on the prevailing climatic, environmental, cultural and social context. Temporalities change, the presence of men and women varies and the localisation strategies adopted by street-sellers in each of the cities differ. Far removed from the generally held image of the city as a global and de-territorialised entity, the city is in fact heavily reliant on its environment. Finally, to ensure the effectiveness of any planning activities, the city must be considered within its territorial context. Planning must also be based on the individuals that inhabit the city and their personal environment.