Inner City Development in Ghana: Nature and Extent of City Expansion in Wa Municipality


The growth of cities in the Global South is probably one of the most distinctively modern facts of urbanization and a product of history of human mobility. In 2006, for the first time in human history, the majority of the world’s population lived in urban areas (UN-Habitat, 2006). Indeed, the world is increasingly becoming urbanized, and the rate at which city populations grow and countries urbanize shows the leap of social and economic change (Donk, 2006). Thus, urbanization is both a mirror and an instrument of broad socio-economic changes in society.

In Africa, projections indicate that by 2030 the continent’s population will exceed the combined population of Europe, North America, and South America (UN-Habitat, 2014). Related to general demographic transition in the continent, the growing population of African cities has been unprecedented. Much of the population growth is expected to take place in cities, as well as in new urban developments. In the last two decades, African cities have experienced a 3.5% growth rate per year and this is expected to increase until 2050 (Lall et al., 2017). Estimates show that densities in cities are expected to increase from 34 to 79 persons per square kilometer by 2050 (UN-Habitat, 2014). The confluence of high fertility rates and economic development are noted to be the key drivers of population growth in African cities for decades to come. The urban population of Africa is expected to increase from 400 million to 1.2 billion by 2050, with over 58% of the African population expected to be in urban areas (UN-Habitat, 2014).

Amidst all the difficulties of economic growth and development, housing supply and access to social services have not kept pace with rates of urbanization (UN-Habitat, 2014). As a result, different aspects of urbanization such as urban poverty, urban sprawl, and the emergence of slums are increasingly being discussed as major consequences of urbanization in Africa (Baker, 2008; Tacoli et al., 2015; UN-Habitat, 2016). However, consensus in urban history, especially from the West has increasingly favored urban renewal as a measure of addressing problems of both the inner city and the peripheries (Segrue, 2014). In the Global South, and particularly in China and Singapore, inner city redevelopment has been used in addressing issues of sprawl, gentrification, and the emergence of slums (Leaf, 1995; Zhang et al., 2014). However, there are limited perspectives regarding the dynamics of inner-city development, particularly in Africa where tenure arrangements can limit state access and control over land. There is less emphasis on over-concentration and excessive infilling within inner cities, even though new studies are showing that recent form of urbanization in Africa is characterized by redevelopment of land within the urban core rather than in the periphery (e.g. Linard et al., 2013).

In Ghana, the population tripled between 1960 and 2010, with over 51% of the people living in urban areas (Ghana Statistical Service, 2012). The urban population grew from 8.3 million in 2000 to 12.5 million in 2010, indicating a 4.2% annual growth rate (Ghana Statistical Service, 2012). Even though the actual growth rate of urban slum population has witnessed a decline since the 1990s, the proportion of urban slum population stood at 37.9% as of 2014 (see Figure 13.1 for further details of urban population size and growth pattern). What is more significant is that this figure remains high and these slum areas are very noticeable in the largest cities of Ghana such as Accra, Kumasi, and Sekondi-Takoradi, among others, with growing incidences in the secondary cities as well (Owusu and Afutu-Kotey, 2010).

Most secondary cities and many small towns in Ghana including Wa have a mixed character of both radial and sectorial developments. Hence, developments emerge out of autochthonous settlements in the inner cities, and over decades, over-concentration at the inner cities has been the trend. The implication of this is that buildings become compact and dense with limited access to basic amenities like adequate sanitation and water. Notwithstanding the important role that inner cities play in the characterization of the city, much of the literature on urban development has focused excessively on peri-urbanization (see Farvacque-Vitkovic et al., 2008; White et al., 2007; Cohen, 2005; Lerise et al., 2004; Fodor, 1999) to the neglect of the dynamics in the inner cities. This chapter therefore draws on the concept of spatial justice as an analytical lens to explore the nature and extent of inner-city developments in Ghana, with the Wa Municipality as a case study.

Urban slum population growth pattern in Ghana. (UN-Habitat, retrieved from the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals database. Data are available at

FIGURE 13.1 Urban slum population growth pattern in Ghana. (UN-Habitat, retrieved from the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals database. Data are available at:

Spatial Justice: Analytical Lens

Spatial processes of redeveloping urban areas arise out of the need to reorganize cities and areas that have not developed according to modern principles of spatial planning. Such processes sometimes include upgrading of slums, development of public amenities (Zheng et ah, 2016), development of new zoning rules, and the conversion of agricultural lands into other land use-types, like commercial and residential (Uwayezu and de Vries, 2018). These processes, when embarked on from political viewpoints with emphasis on economic growth, often result in social injustices (Uwayezu and de Vries, 2018).

Social justice is a concept that originates from the conceptualization of social justice into space. Social justice concerns itself with environmental and social discrimination while levitating political ecology from planning systems (Hafeznia and Hajat, 2016). While there is no universally agreed definition of spatial justice, authors such as Harvey (1998), Soja (2010), Fainstein (2010), and Levy (2012, 2013) have been debating the connections between spatial thoughts and theories of justice. Edward Soja, a key proponent of the concept, while leaving the definition of spatial justice open contends that, however, it might be defined, spatial justice “has a consequential geography, and a spatial expression that is more than just a background reflection or a set of physical attributes to be descriptively mapped” (Soja, 2010, p.l).

Spatial justice therefore refers to justice in the physical space. It is the combination of space, politics and social justice.

It is an application of spatial or geographical aspect of justice, fair and equitable distribution of resources and wealthy opportunities in the society which also can be considered as output or a process of geographical patterns or distribution which are fair or unfair or process which produce these outputs (Soja, 2008. p.4).

Social justice entails the recognition and respect of fundamental human rights for people in a geographic space and the allocation of resources through the principle of equity. It calls for inclusive spatial development in an attempt to reduce economic inequalities and social schisms caused by urban (rejdevelopment (Soja, 2009).

Spatial justice therefore becomes a useful analytical lens for understanding the dynamics of inner city (rejdevelopment, because it offers a platform for unpacking the underlying factors shaping access, control, and use of space within the inner city, as well as the socio-economic inequalities that come with it. Spatial justice as an analytical framework that argues the role of space (a set of material and ideological relations) is formed by social relations that can (rejproduce justice or injustice. As a normative concept, spatial justice is concerned with questions such as what kind of justice can be deployed in analyzing spatial arrangements, if spatial justice is about the distribution of social justice, and what spatial justice can do that environmental justice or social justice cannot (Williams, 2013; Connelly and Bradley, 2004). Although spatial justice literature contends that geographic space is an important component in producing justice relations, most ideal questions (as outlined above) are underdeveloped.

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