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Globalizing an African City: The Case of Mall Development in Accra, Ghana

  • Author(s): Hobden, Deborah
  • Advisor(s): Appelbaum, Richard
  • et al.
Abstract

This is a study of globalization in an African City. Beginning in the late 1980s, geographers, sociologists, and economists began to consider the connections between changes in the global economy and the structure of cities. However, scant attention has been paid to African cities in this literature, likely because many of the measures used to determine “global city” status have focused heavily on financial indicators, such as concentrations of financial services and headquarters of multinational corporations. Furthermore, the macro and structural approach taken by Global and World Cities research has not adequately examined how changes in the global economy are experienced in urban space.

This dissertation uses ethnographic observation, interviews, historical methods, and content analysis to examine Ghana’s first “world-class” shopping mall. This mall has been credited for jumpstarting a push to reinvent Accra, Ghana’s capital, as a regional business hub for West Africa, and for ushering in a new paradigm of development in urban Ghana focused primarily on the provision of high-end, consumption-oriented amenities. The project examines the perspectives of diverse stakeholders connected with the development of high-end real estate, especially retail, in Accra, including real estate developers, city officials, workers, business owners, and consumers, while also considering the evolution of urban development strategies in Accra since Ghana’s independence from Great Britain in 1957. By examining the social and spatial consequences of economic restructuring on Accra and its environs, I argue that the globalization of Accra, which began with the imposition of structural adjustment policies in 1983, has led to a pattern of de-facto private sector-led development in the city, supported both rhetorically and financially by the Ghanaian state. The result has been a massive growth in the provision of high-end, consumption-oriented amenities and the neglect of vast swathes of the city, creating a bifurcated urban form. By placing an African city at the center of my analysis, I attempt to challenge some of the key features of previous studies of urban redevelopment in Europe and North America, most notably the nostalgia for state-led development that underlies much of the critique of entrepreneurial, private sector-led strategies.

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