Dar losing identity because of demolitions, says expert

A German architect living in Tanzania has expressed concern over the demolitions that have been going on in Dar es Salaam in the last 10 years, saying the city was very close to a point of no return because it will have rid itself of features and characters that gave it its identity.

“It isn’t surprising that civil discontent is growing,” Ms Annika Seifert, an architect, researcher and author said in an interview with The Citizen over the weekend.

She said from traditional Swahili houses and colonial buildings to the beautiful architecture of Uhindini and early post-independence structures, historical buildings in Dar es Salaam tell the remarkable story of a nation going from precolonial through colonial to post-independence times.

“Their historical significance is not only defined by their architectural beauty and cultural richness but equally by their history,” said Ms Seifert. She added that these buildings have great potential for the citizens’ identification with their city, for cultural tourism and, not least, for the real estate market.

“Prominent examples like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and many others have shown very successfully how to benefit from sustainable heritage management, on the long run,” said the architect.

Ms Seifert suggests that the obvious first step would be to move from the demolitions to preservation of the various historically significant buildings held in trust for the Tanzanian people by government authorities, the National Housing Corporation (NHC) and municipalities.

“Secondly, the legislation needs improvement; the existing list of protected buildings is incomplete and enforcement procedures are unclear,” she said.

Thirdly, Ms Seifert said, public authorities should establish incentives like compensations or tax reductions for private owners willing to preserve architectural heritage.

She said in a booming city like Dar es Salaam it would be too easy to blame individual property owners for selling their plots to often foreign investors who are willing and able to spend millions in real estate development.

However, unlike in most other cities, a majority of Dar es Salaam’s historical buildings is managed by public bodies like the government itself or the NHC.

The architect said where private owners might not be expected to put the general welfare over their individual profit, Tanzanian citizens should have the right to ask exactly that from their government and its institutions.

“What the city has witnessed over the past ten years resembles a sellout of the city’s historical assets for the sake of short-term profit while the public is left behind with an overstrained and semi-dysfunctional city centre comprised of high-rise buildings of often alarming poor quality,” she said.
Source: The Citizen, reported by Lucas Liganga, from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
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