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Author: Matteo Gianotti, PhD candidate in  Architecture, History and Design, Politecnico di Torino.

The process of urbanization is connected to the development of infrastructures. Historically cities were located along rivers, coastlines, on fertile plains or at the confluence of trade routes. Geographical location and accessibility played a central role for the success of cities as centres for the exchange and transport of goods. Later on, cities became themselves places of production, as well as political and religious nodes, attracting more people, institutions and economic activities driven by the advantages of agglomeration. This rudimentary circulation led to the development of the actual infrastructure networks made up of physical and intangible infrastructures (such as IT, radio signal networks and satellites) that surround us.

What has to be noted is the elusive and changing role of infrastructure within urbanization processes: from being an effect induced by the urbanization , infrastructures turned into a cause and accelerator of urbanity (Amin and Thrift, 2017).

Particularly relevant are the large investments in infrastructural systems destined to developing countries. They are intended as a driver to foster economic growth and modernization. Leading the way have been the so-called BRICS countries but other developing nations are involved, thanks in part to the support of international institutions and foreign governments. Among these, Ethiopia is one of the developing countries with the highest rate of urbanization accompanied by large investments in infrastructural projects. The share of population living in Ethiopian cities has increased from 7% in 1994 to 16% in 2008, and is expected to reach 60% by 2040 (UN-Habitat, 2015). This means that in the next thirty years Ethiopia will build its own cities and will have the chance to trace the path toward a “modern state”.

Within this background the research aims to investigate the spatial feature of the new settlements/cities that are growing along the recent Ethio-Djibouti railway.

What kind of spaces a transport infrastructure generates and which interactions are established between the existing and the new urban fabric? Can we define the new settlements as cities? Which idea is behind those spaces, in terms of housing, comfort, mobility?


Amin, A. and Thrift, N., 2017. Seeing like a city. Polity Press.
UN-Habitat, 2015. The state of African cities 2014: Re-imagining sustainable urban transitions. 
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