in: Urban Forum, first published 19.01.2022
The paper analyses the motivations of actors who reclaimed and appropriated the banks of the Ebrié Lagoon in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, which were in many cases marginal lands under public ownership. The analysis focuses on the evolution of two unplanned settlements, Soweto (from 1964) and Adjahui (from 2011). Practices of incremental place-making and residential stories connect these places, which are located opposite to one another at the Bay of Koumassi. The research questions are as follows: Why and by who were waterfronts reclaimed and appropriated? And how does reclamation entail social-economic inequalities and the loss of public and communal spaces? Conceptually, lagoonal waterfronts are approached as waterscapes, cultural landscapes with discursive representations. Their evolution is analysed by using the concepts of fixity and flows by Desfor and Laidley (2011). Findings show although tenure was highly insecure in the legal sense, use rights, house ownership and local power relations in Soweto were fixed for decades despite the fact that buildings, residents, local arrangements and the spatial form constantly changed. Though inhabitants increasingly entered the water space and the lagoon, the material condition of the settlement seemed stable because the process took place over many decades before urban renewal set dynamics in motion that speeded up the reclamation process and brought the waterscapes into flow.