After the failed response of the local government to the fire at Omdurman Market, it is time to think about an adequate urban regeneration plan that would boost local economic development in Omdurman City, says Khalafalla Omer.
A massive fire that broke out in Omdurman Market in December 2018 destroyed hundreds of retail stores and cash worth millions of dollars. The fire was caused by an electric explosion and left many retail shop owners and vendors without any income. In spite of this, the local government’s compensation plan provided only insufficient financial support to the people affected, rather than boosting the local economic development through a sustainable urban regeneration plan.
Local government officials stated that the reason the fire was able to spread so quickly was the lack of an appropriate market “master plan”. The mayor of Omdurman City said that firefighting vehicles were unable to access the location of the incident due to the narrow roads, which in turn meant that firefighting was inefficient. However, he neglected the fact that the market lacks its own independent firefighting system, which would have prevented such a disaster.
Planning for Urban Regeneration
Omdurman Market is a vibrant place located at the heart of Omdurman City, Sudan. Surrounded by residential neighbourhoods, colonial administrative buildings, religious sites, a university and a football stadium, it covers an area of about 150,000 m2. Thousands of small shops located on plots of land for commercial use provide city residents with all kinds of produce and goods.
But Omdurman Market is more than just a market – it is the heart of downtown Omdurman City. At this point, the government’s compensation plan is not considering the value of the available land resources within the market zone. By selling land, the government could fund a comprehensive reconstruction plan and offer additional emergency relief to the citizens. Thus, there is a need to think outside the box to come up with an urban regeneration plan that would serve the interests of retail owners, vendors, and city residents.
In the following, I am stating some recommendations to be discussed among city stakeholders:
1. Subdivide the existing commercial land into smaller plots that would fit more businesses to finance the reconstruction of the whole market, while creating opportunities for further commercial development at the same time.
As the city is growing and adding new residents to its population, there is an increasing demand for goods and products. Subdividing the existing commercial land would allow for new retail investments, while the revenue from selling the divided commercial land could be allocated to the refurbishment of the existing retail blocks, public space improvements, and the provision of an independent firefighting system for the entire market.
This way, it is possible to create a win-win situation for retail owners, the local government, and city residents. The municipality can generate financial resources for reconstruction work, the retail owners can reorganise their commercial activities in an improved workspace, and the city residents can enjoy the market’s revived public life.
2. Develop a specific Form-Based Code (FBC) for buildings and public space regulation to promote a vernacular architecture style for building features, signage layout, and street utilities.
Regulating the reconstruction process with a Form-Based Code that would emphasise the best utilisation of local material produced by the merchants of Omdurman market can foster economic development while promoting an iconic cultural site for local residents and tourists.
3. Establish an appropriate traffic management for the road that surrounds the market while transforming the inner market roads into pedestrian-friendly, walkable lanes.
At the moment, during rush hour it takes up to one hour to travel by car across the market area, whereas it takes a pedestrian only 15 minutes to do the same. However, it is still challenging for pedestrians to walk through the market due to the absence of walkable sidewalks. This problematic situation reduces social mobility and increases travel time, leading to a decrease in purchasing power, late arrival to retails, and a reduction in local economic productivity.
In contrast, transforming the road area usually taken up by cars into pedestrian-friendly walkable lanes, along with an introduction of appropriate traffic management for the surrounding road would reduce air pollution, increase economic productivity and stimulate more commercial activity between the city residents and retail owners.
4. Create liveable public space and support night-time economic activities
Omdurman Market consists of two main squares, Albosta Square and Alaskila Square, which are located on the edges of the market site. Both are wide enough to serve as gathering areas and can thus serve as spaces for vibrant public life. However, as of yet there is no official sustainable approach to support socio-economic activities on these squares. Such an approach would allocate spaces for live music cafés, restaurants with outdoor seating, handicraft bazars, and other entertainment activities integral to liveable public space.
5. Allocate a space for street vendor activities while regulating their working conditions
Estimations show that about 20 per cent of economic activities at Omdurman Market are the informal activities of poor tea sellers, booksellers, greengrocers, and peddlers. Street vendors are working in an informal manner because they tend to avoid paying rent and tax fees so as to secure enough income to cover their household living expenses.
These informal activities are a cornerstone of the cultural activities taking place in the city. But street vendors are vulnerable to forced eviction and air pollution due to the absence of work entitlement. Local government should consider subsidising street vendors with appropriate working space. This would be an effective instrument to reduce poverty and simultaneously boost local economic development.
Public Consultation Should Be at the Heart of Urban Planning
At city level, there is a lack of public consultation processes for urban development projects. The mayor is nominated by the central government and not elected by the city’s residents. There is also an absence of devolution that would give local government access to generate more revenue and distribute wealth. New democratic laws are required that would ensure a sustainable outcome of the urban planning process.