Week 3: African Urbanism: Oxford Street Accra and My Lack of Place

Naomi Pearson

I found this week’s readings very difficult having never been to Accra, and therefore could not situate myself in the ‘place’ in which the author was describing. In fact, having never visited the continent of Africa at all, there is no context of ‘African Urbanism’ which I have witnessed which I could bring to these readings. I think that this is an important point to remember when discussing these readings. Though I may have done readings on other areas of Africa, I have very little understanding of what it is actually like to be standing in Accra, in order to be able to say I can conceptualize such an important element as ‘place’. As I have absolutely no context of place in Accra, it is much harder for me to formulate an understanding of place, in a reading discussing the shifting nature of place.  That being said, I do recognize the transformative importance of modern urbanism upon society and the impacts it can make.

Also, I think it is important to note that when I discuss ‘place’, I am also meaning my ability to conceptualize myself standing in that spot. Thus, when I say I can not conceptualize any form of ‘place’ in Accra, I mean that I have no real life experience. I can not picture Oxford Street, and I only know what a Tro Tro is on paper. Up until last month I could not have told you what a plantain was for the life of me, let alone known they were sold on Oxford street, or known that the presence of their street vendors created an interesting element of urbanism. I can’t tell you what Oxford St. smells like – but I do know that these factors are key to being grounded and having a sense of place. Therefore, the reading is describing the changing nature of place and urbanism and how this is effecting Accra and Oxford Street, but as I can not put myself in a sense of ‘place’ to begin with, this is very hard to grasp.

Additionally, I found the readings difficult because ‘Oxford Street Accra’ was exceptionally dense in disseminating its information. I feel like Ato Quayson had many valuable points about the changing nature of Accra, but I simply missed many of his finer details. He spoke in great detail about some of the modern buildings, growing tourist economy, the tro tro business, and many nuances of modern language in the city, but I was never entirely sure if he was critiquing the changing nature and urbanization or simply stating facts.  This lack of a clear argument in the reading presented a large problem for me, and coupled with my lack of conceptual understanding of ‘place’ in Accra, left me feeling rather lost and confused.

1) How essential is it to be able to conceptualize yourself in a place to have a sense of ‘place’ within it? Do you see this as necessary?

2) Did you personally have difficulty with Oxford Street Accra because you had never been there as I did? If no, why not?


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