Thinking global, acting local

Posted by Christine Liehr

By 2050, two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities with Asia and Africa showing the highest concentration of urban dwellings. 

One of the fastest growing cities in Africa is Addis Ababa. It is therefore not surprising that experts on urban development issues gathered for two days in Ethiopia’s capital to take part in the 2018 Urban Age Conferencejointly organised by the Alfred Herrhausen Society and LSE Cities.

What had started in 2005 as a niche gathering, is now considered the most authoritative interdisciplinary conference on global urbanism for urban experts, policymakers and practitioners from sub-Saharan Africa and other world cities.

The 17th edition of the conference raised questions about the economic foundations of urban change and investigated how current models of planning and governance succeed or fail to achieve greater integration between efficiency, accessibility and social justice. 

The main programme points on the agenda included topics such as mobility, housing and urban financing which also rank high on the agendas of mayors from major European cities, only with different time factors. Whereas London has an hourly population growth rate of eight between the years 2015-2030, Addis Ababa’s figure stands at 23. Today, the African continent counts 500 million urban dwellers which represent 40 per cent of the population and growing. 

Interplay of media and urbanisation

Thomson Media gGmbH, the German partner of the Thomson Foundation, brings innovative approaches to how media can help to tackle critical issues from regional security to migration and economic growth. Here, the interplay of media and urbanisation is of interest. Newsrooms have started to shift their attention to these pressing issues as more and more people will be affected by them. And as the themes of urbanisation are very complex and interwoven, it will be all the more important to detect, break down and communicate the complexities in a compelling and understandable way.

The Alfred Herrhausen Society, named after the German Chairman of Deutsche Bank, who was assassinated in 1989, promotes a free and open society upholding Herrhausen’s ideas and ideals. He advocated for an open information culture. In a speech held on 23th October 1989 at the 40th anniversary of the Economic Journalistic Association in Düsseldorf, he argued for a consistent dialogue between representatives from the media and the economy. Managing directors should regard journalists rather as partners than foes in achieving their objectives.

We need to work together – business and media – to regain a dialogue in order to move from fortune-telling to finding the truth."

Alfred Herrhausen

"Ich meine, dass wir gemeinsam – Wirtschaft und Medien – daran arbeiten müssen, den Dialog zurückzugewinnen, um vom Wahrsagen zum Die-Wahrheit-Finden als einem verpflichtenden beiderseitigen Erkenntnisinteresse zu gelangen."

These words have lost none of their topicality since then. More than that: they can be extended to the scientific and academic world. Talks with practitioners from various fields and backgrounds in Addis Ababa have made apparent that in line with Herrhausen’s remarks, urban experts often overlook media, especially local media, as a partner for dialogue. Elisabeth Mansfeld says in her activities as head of the cities programme for Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft, that dialogues are key to build trust and partnerships for better development.

The media as an independent, critical partner

Thomson Media believes that a regular dialogue would benefit both sides, lead to greater exposure, increase reach by using the media outlet’s established communication channels while informing citizens about the latest urban development issues and achievements. At best, media can act as an independent, critical partner whose reviews of results and outputs hold practitioners to account while at the same time pushing them to do better. 

In the case of taxes, it could lead to a greater voluntary compliance of taxpayers. On Friday, 30 November 2018, Nyah Zebong, project manager of the African Property Tax Initiative (APTI) at the International Centre for Tax and Development talked about improving local government revenues. He said that there is no link between revenues collected and expenditures, hence citizens do not know what the revenues are used for.

Thomson Media would encourage local media to play a role here by offering fellow citizens, as well as tax and finance experts, a stage to show how they benefitted from recently opened schools or playgrounds and the pros and cons of new tax reforms. 

To coincide with the conference, an Urban Age newspaper was published with new research and contributions from keynote speakers and international urban experts. Videos and audio outputs of the conference can be found here. 


Christine Liehr

Christine Liehr

Development Manager

As development manager, Christine Liehr sources and manages our media development projects. She has a specific focus on donor relations within Germany.

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