Do we really have zoning laws in Ghana? If we do, do we really enforce them?
In a country where the police openly and wantonly demand bribes from the citizenry for even minor traffic violations, and the citizens are openly and wantonly eager to give them, you wonder if it is really possible to enforce those laws that will enable our cities also develop into the beautiful metropolises we all visit around the world and come back home to brag about.
I am going to limit this discussion to our capital city called Accra, just to make it simple enough for everyone to relate to. Folks, do we really want to develop our capital city, Accra, into a world-class destination we can all visit and brag about? Do we really? Or we are just content with the filth and total chaos currently engulfing the city we all call Accra? We Ghanaians take so much pride in visiting and bragging about world-class destinations like Paris, New York City, London, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Toronto, Beijing, or Rio de Janeiro. What we don't ever stop and ask ourselves is: How in the world did these cities develop into such world-class megalopolises they have become today that draw us to them like beehives? If we all stop for a moment and think about it seriously, we would turn our rage to our government and its officials who have run our cities over all these 53 years of our country's independence.
I am going to bet my one pesewa that any foreigner visiting our country for the very first time from any of the cities mentioned above is going to ask the nagging question: Do these people really have zoning regulations? Folks, the government officials running all the cities mentioned above are not doing anything extraordinary. They are simply enforcing their zoning regulations, period! Zoning is simply the mechanism by which local governments in developed countries enforce land-use planning. It is the practice of designating permitted uses of land based on mapped zones which separate one set of land uses from another in other to avoid total confusion and chaos in a city. Such urban planning methods have been used over the years in various countries to dictate the use of various parts of a city for particular purposes in order to maintain orderliness and organization around a city. The primary purpose of zoning is to segregate uses that are thought to be incompatible. For instance, zoning can be used to separate new developments from interfering with existing residential or commercial areas and to preserve the “character” of a community. And zoning may include regulation of the kinds of activities that may be acceptable in particular areas, e.g. residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural activities. Zoning is commonly controlled by local governments in various countries but the details of how individual planning systems incorporate zoning into their regulatory regimes vary from country to country, even though the intention is always similar. Orderliness is always the prime and primary objective! Most zoning systems have a procedure for granting variances (exceptions to the zoning rules), usually because of some perceived hardship caused by the particular nature of the property in question.
Basically, urban zones fall into one of five major categories: residential, mixed residential-commercial, commercial, industrial and special (e. g. power plants, sports complexes, airports, shopping malls etc.). Each category can have a number of sub-categories. In Germany for example, each category has a designated limit for noise levels. In the United States or Canada, for example, residential zones can have all kinds of sub-categories. It is under the police power rights of a country that local governments may exercise their power over private real property to enforce the special laws and regulations restricting the places where particular businesses should be carried on and where residential real estate could be built. This is the source of power for the enforcement of zoning regulations: police power!
If so, it brings me back to the question: Do we really have zoning regulations in Ghana? And if we do, do we really enforce them? Visit any residential neighborhood in Accra today and you would not believe we have zoning laws in our country. Why do we have petty little kiosks all over the place hawking all kinds of stuff in every nook and cranny of our city? Why in the world have we allowed all these telecommunications companies to sprinkle their umbrellas every 200 yards on every major street in Accra? Who says we can't buy our teleco units from a real store in an orderly fashion? Why do our city planners keep encouraging such chaos and disorderliness around our city? Why are we turning our capital city into a ghetto? Why?
Visit Accra Central, the area we could all have been bragging about today as a world-class Central Business District in Africa. It is complete chaos! A total mess and a disorganized bunch! Nothing much has changed. Mokola Market is still the same old dirty, filthy, chaotic area I knew way back in the 70s when I was a young student at Legon. This time, even a former head of State, who is so anxious to have his name seared into our consciousness, has built a park in his name right in the middle of the Central Business District of Accra, which has literally become a squatters' haven. What in the world is Rawlings Park doing on prime real estate in the Central Business District of Accra? With all due respect, Sir, why can't this park be moved to a quiet, serene and salubrious part of our capital city that Ghanaians could go to for picnics, barbecues and weekend relaxation, and also celebrate your June 4th all they want? Are we really proud of the chaos this park has created in the center of Accra today? Are we? Isn't this prime real estate for high-rise office buildings like those we find in New York City or Paris or London or Dubai that we all visit and brag about so much?
Who says all those metal gate “manufacturers” on every street in Accra cannot be housed in one area of Accra, just like Suame Magazine in Kumasi, as a show of our ability to zone our cities properly and enforce our zoning regulations accordingly? Why do we have all these big black “Polytank” water drums every one mile on every street in Accra? Who says we can't house them on one location? Who says we can't use our zoning laws to police all these retailers? It reminds me of how the former NPP regime could not move the street hawkers from the Central Business District of Accra for the fear that they could lose their votes during the last election. Absolutely ludicrous! Politicians will do anything for votes including sacrificing the zoning laws and beauty of a city!
You can't believe the chaotic development of real estate in the city of Accra today. Everybody builds whatever they want anywhere and anyhow they want it. I have never seen this many “Stop WorK, Produce Permit” signs in my life! The few times I have asked, people have laughed me off and told me in my face: “They are only looking for bribes. Give them a few Cedis and they will leave you alone.” So goes on the merry-go-round and the musical chairs. The city officials who are supposed to enforce our zoning regulations actually collect bribes from the citizens and leave them alone to do whatever they want anywhere and anyhow they want it. And the citizens also gleefully give up the bribes and get away with whatever, wherever and however they want it.
Folks, can we ever enforce our zoning regulations if we ever have them? Can we? Can Accra ever become a world-class destination like Paris, London, Beijing, Tokyo, Rio, Dubai or New York City?
Peter Atsu Tsikata
Real Estate Consultant
Millennium Properties Ghana Ltd
Email: [email protected]
Web site: www.millenniumtoday.com
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