Sustainable Urban Development in Sierra Leone

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Sustainable urban development is promoted as a desirable strategic objective and, in particular, urban authorities are encouraged to contribute to environmental impact mitigation through urban planning.

Many cities around the world have developed sustainable urban development plans for leading their urbanization process towards a desired status of urban sustainability. Thus, developing tools and indicators for measuring the progress towards sustainable or unsustainable urban development requires quanti?cation with the help of suitable sustainability indicators.

Indicator-based approaches contribute to the building of sustainable self-regulated frameworks that integrate development and environmental protection. Consequently, these provide a solid foundation for decision-making at all levels and are being increasingly used. Sustainability indicators can be seen as a measure that gives a summary of information about the subject of the problem.

The objective of this paper is to review the theoretical framework of sustainability indicators implemented in different practices and suggest recommendations for sustainable urban planning and development in Sierra Leone which could guarantee a healthy growth so that the possibility of future degradation is avoided.

Key words: sustainable urban development, sustainability indicators, urban planning


The majority of the world's population lives in urban areas and it is in these areas that the main economic, social and environmental processes that affect human societies take place. .Urbanization is defined as the movement of people from rural to urban areas (United Nations , 2004). Urbanization is presently normally viewed as a standout amongst the most vital social processes, likewise having a tremendous effect on the environment at local, regional and worldwide scales (Turner et al., 1990).

The implications of urban development, both regarding the worldwide utilization of resources and of human living conditions are numerous and complex. Cities are already by far the largest consumers of energy, and account for a greater percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Today, urbanization is one of the greatest environmental challenges that our planet is facing. Hence, the impact of urbanization does affect the environment, as well as influences it, ecologically through exploitation of natural resources to help urban economy, and the social perspectives by expanding urban poverty (Ichimura, 2003). Most of the growth in cities in developing countries is accompanied with life-threatening conditions and possibly with the greatest challenges related to achieving sustainable development. Therefore, if the current and future urban development processes continue with the same resource consumption practices without regarding the future needs, serious environmental, social and economic problems are expected (Daily, 1997; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2003).

 New and expanding cities present both challenges to and opportunities for sustainability (Weinstein, 2010). Urban areas worldwide are confronting numerous difficulties, including detonating population, inadequate or failing infrastructure, and also economic and environmental deterioration. Therefore, understanding urban sustainability and enhancing the capacity of policy-makers to achieve sustainable management are pressing needs of the 21st century (Birch & Wachter, 2008; Naess, 2001; Register,2006).

The concept of sustainability is the need of the current society to be satisfied without compromising the needs of future generations (Hernandez-Moreno & De Hoyos-Martines, 2010).

The developing needs to include the ideas of sustainability have been a noteworthy undertaking for most governments in both developed and developing nations for the past two decades. Thus, the practice of sustainable urbanization plays an important role in achieving global sustainability targets.

Urban planning is a key component for the development of sustainable cities by its impacts on the quality of life, production of quality urban spaces, support of environmental development, and promotion of participatory procedures to allow citizens empowerment.

The development of a framework of urban planning that forecasts the economic, environmental and social development, with the end goal to upgrade the objectives of urban poverty diminishing, environmental conditions improvement, and promotion of the economic productivity of cities, requires a wide range of urban planning instruments towards sustainability.

These instruments will result from an extensive procedure for generating, registering, analyzing, assessing, and communicating the required data at the different planning stages. In this sense, sustainability indicators are useful elements that shall be included, to guarantee urban sustainability in all its dimensions. The development of indicators has turned out to be one key undertaking of the local government's endeavours for urban sustainability, as indicators are viewed as fundamental in developing awareness of urban challenges (Stanners and Bourdeaux, 1995). The ongoing utilization of sustainability indicators has emerged in the past decades to measure and model sustainable development, and also, for the monitoring of programs and policies implemented by various governments. Besides, these indicators have become decision making elements, and have been extensively promoted by the spread of the sustainability paradigm ( Wong, 2006).

The present paper reviews the theoretical frameworks on the development of sustainability indicators implemented in different practices , urban planning and its challenges in Sierra Leone and suggest recommendations for sustainable urban planning and development in Sierra Leone, which could guarantee a healthy growth so that the possibility of future degradation is avoided.

Sustainable urban development

The concept of sustainable development has emerged over the past decades as a new requirement for urban and metropolitan level public action, which include conceptual principles and practices as applied to land-use and urban planning. (Arndt, 1981., Bartelmus, 1986)

The classic definition of sustainability comes from the Brundtland report of 1987: 'Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' Sustainable development has been traditionally identi?ed with three major areas of environmental, economic and social dimensions along with institutional addendum. Sustainable development must be equitable, liveable and viable (Tanguay et al., 2010). When nations focus on economic development as the main aspect of sustainable development it inevitably drains the earth’s regenerative and carrying capacity. Sustainable development means achieving enduring development addressing human needs and improvement of the quality of life. At the same time, natural resources should be utilized at a frequency and degree that can be sustained by the regenerative capacity of the ecosystem. (Allen 1980)

According to the UN Habitat 2004, Sustainable urbanization is a dynamic process that combines the environmental, social, economic and political-institutional sustainability. It brings together urban and rural areas, encompassing the full range of human settlements from village to town to city to metropolis, with links at the national and global levels.

Sustainable urbanization refers to the well-balanced relationship between the social, economic and environmental agents in society, so as to achieve sustainable urban development (Drakakis-Smith, 2000).

The concept of sustainable urban development has been thus ever-changing and evolving. It is often de?ned in terms of the economic sustainability of a city,that is, its potential“to reach a qualitatively new level of socio-economic, demographic and technological output, which in the long run strengthen the foundations of the urban system” ( Ewers and Nijkamp 1990). Sustainable urban development conveys diverse implications to different people, subject to their position in societies (Robert et al, 2005., Robinson 2004). Thus, there has been no consensus on how such development should be de?ned or attained. Others may put more emphasis on the social sustainability and base the concept on a broad range of social standards of futurity,equity, and participation, especially the involvement of public citizens in the land development process( Friends of the Earth 1994). In view of the environmental concerns, the concept also embodies environmental sustainability, meaning the pursuit of urban form that combines land development and nature preservation and places the protection of natural systems in a state of vital balance (Lyle 1994). Hence, countries around the world are encouraged to minimize environmental impact and to improve the social conditions of individuals and their communities (United Nations 1992). Therefore, the principles of achieving sustainable urban development are generally based on environmental, economic, and social considerations (Haughton and Hunter 2003). It is critical that human health, wellbeing, safety, security and opportunity will be in?uenced by the way urban settlements are planned, designed, developed and managed (McMichael, 2000). It should also be noted that social development and economic productivity depend on citizens whose mental and physical needs are satis?ed. Hence, City inhabitants’ comfort plays an important role in sustainable urban development. Sustainable urban development is indeed a multilayered concept. It includes land development and nature preservation, the capacity of nature to support its activities, the vitality of a city as a complex system, and the quality of life of its inhabitants. Sustainability had all the potential for a virtuous combination of all the factors that inspired the very essence of urban (and regional) planning: a healthy environment for all; a wise and intelligent use of space to promote wellbeing and local development; a harmonious integration between the natural and the built environment.

Sustainability indicators

In the past decades, sets of indicators,frameworks and evaluation tools, have been developed with the aim of understanding of the state of, or changes to, urban areas in relation to better urban sustainability performance ((Briassoulis, 2001; Davison, 1996). “Sustainability indicators reflect key trends in the environment, social systems, economy, human wellbeing, and quality of life.Therefore, they measure what counts to people” (Josza and Brown, 2005)

Urban sustainability indicators thus appear to be a means increasingly used by public administrations to underpin their sustainable development strategies, notably by allowing tangible assessment and monitoring systems. Thus, urban sustainability indicators are critical for helping in target setting, performance reviews and facilitating communication among the policy makers, experts and public (Verbruggen & Kuik, 1991)

Despite their popularity, the use of urban SI remains problematic in that the absence of a less general and more universal definition of sustainable development has given rise to multiple interpretations and in particular has triggered an explosion of indicators, hence an extensive variety of urban sustainability indicators is therefore in use across the diversity of different cities and regions, which differ according to their particular needs and goals (Brandon & Lombardi, 2005; Verbruggen & Kuik, 1991).

As indicated by the United Nations Statistical Institute for Asia and Pacific (2007) an indicator must be SMART (i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable,Relevant, and Time-related)

Zhang, et al (2003) opined that urban sustainability indicators should provide at least the following: (i) informative tools to translate the concepts of sustainable development into practical terms; (ii) pilot tools to assist in making policy choices that promote sustainable development and (iii) performance assessment tools to decide how effective efforts have been.

In the past decades, local and national governments over the world have developed indicators to quantify the urban sustainability performance, according to their local or national priorities (Parris & Kates, 2003). While there are different list of urban sustainability indicators there is no single set of indicators that suits similarly to all cities or communities. It is therefore a prerequisite that the use of common indicators is fundamental for monitoring and comparing the process of sustainable urbanization in order that this does not remain as an abstract idea. Comparable indicators are vital because they allow cities to have a common grid to share and apply successful tools and measures (Ambiente Italia Research Institute, 2003).

Dizdaroglu (2015) propose that indicator-based sustainability evaluation contributes in the following four ways, ?rst, by indicating the state of local sustainability, second, quantifying sustainability, third, by providing feedback of policies during implementation, and fourth, by ?nding the best policy measures for sustainability.


Huang et al. (1998) in their work proposed a strategy and a conceptual framework of the indicator system for evaluating Taipei's urban sustainability. On the basis of natural processes and advancing urban development, the approach to Taipei's sustainable development is defined as fortifying Taipei's metropolitan life-support system through its economic vitality. The aim is to improve Taipei's urban efficiency and quality, and making Taipei a national capital with sustainable urban systems. In light of the conceptual framework of urban ecological economic system, 80 indicators were chosen through the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These have been utilized as policymaking indicators for assessing Taipei's urban sustainability.The policymaking indicators are further aggregated into 10 general public indicators and evaluated using signal lights (green, yellow and red). They conclude that measurable attributes of each of the 10 subsystems identified and synthesized could be adopted as possible sustainability indicators.

Lee and Huang (2007) in their work proposed a set of 51 indicators for Taipei sustainability after discussion with experts, scholars and government institutions and a thorough literature review to assess which public policies lead towards sustainable development. They evaluated composite indicator values for four themes of economic, social, environmental and institutional classes.

Rosales (2011) in her work expands on the foundation of the ongoing development towards the use of indicators by presenting a carefully chosen set for quantifying sustainability performance at the urban stage and into the planning process. By moving indicators from the ex-post evaluation of cities' problems to an ex-ante stage in which they can be operationalized as planning tools, this piece of work provides a contribution to conventional urban planning instruments and propels a stage with respect to the development of sustainability indicators. In this framework indicators become key tools in urban analysis, the design of policies, strategies, actions and programs for sustainable urban development. This model then is tested and applied in a case study based on Mexico City's metabolism. At last, the study provides a series of reflections on how successful strategies to improve the long-term sustainability of cities can be developed by introducing sustainability indicators in the urban planning process.

Shen et al (2011) in their work critically assesses 9 different practices followed in some urban areas and propose an International Urban Sustainability Indicators List (IUSIL). Discussions on the comparative analysis are classified in four different categories: environmental, economic, social and governance. They concluded that sharing knowledge about di?erent practices prompts the selection of indicators of sustainable urbanization designs and enhance the successful correspondence of the status of practices.

Chrysoulakis et al. (2014) we propose a conceptual list of Earth Observation (EO) based indicators capable of supporting urban planning and management. Three cities with various typologies, namely Basel, Switzerland; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Tyumen, Russia were selected as case studies.

The EO-based indicators are defined to effectively record the physical properties of the urban environment in a diverse range of environmental sectors such as energy efficiency, air pollution and public health, water, transportation and vulnerability to hazards. They conclude that EO has the potential to support the development of a set of urban environmental indicators towards sustainable urban planning and management.

Michael et al. (2014) in their work examined and compared the processes,techniques and resulting sets of indicators for urban sustainability carried out in three of Asia's developing countries; Malaysia, Taiwan and China. The paper analytically discusses the challenges of developing urban sustainability indicators among the developing countries. The comparison reveals the urban indicators development's processes, contents and outcomes and whether the resulting set of urban indicators is operational and has changed the manner in which things were. They conclude that every country has made the effort of integrating all the sustainability dimensions (environmental, social and economic) into the development of their indicators, and thus, it is key for the information on these indicators to be made accessible to the public in order to raise awareness of the importance of sustainability. Therefore, the challenges faced by these countries should serve as a guide for them to keep progressing in terms of integrating policy into the urban indicators implementation in an effort to make these countries more sustainable

Panda et al. (2016) in their article propose composite Urban Social Sustainability Index (USSI) under four themes of sustainability viz. economic, social, environmental and institutional. They utilized standardization of data values, weighting through expert survey and con?rmation through factor examination, and maps the criteria at three levels, i.e. policy, theoretical, and practical levels, determining the directionality of the scores and linear aggregation of the thematic index. The dimensional index score and thematic index score obtained from the model aides in benchmarking India cities for national policy and planning.

Musa et al. (2018) in their study seeks expert consensus to determine indicators that could be used to assess subjective well-being for strategic urban planning in the context of sustainable development. For this reason, a Delphi survey, including a panel of 45 academic experts was carried out. The study consisted of two rounds. At each round, experts were asked to rate key elements by assessing indicator as very low importance, low importance, moderate importance, high importance and very high importance. A 75% agreement was used as the cutoff. The results of second round reveal that panellists agreed on 37 key indicators being essential to assess subjective well-being for sustainable urban development. They conclude that using these results as a framework to develop guidelines at local, state, and national levels would allow better assessing and comparing transition programs towards sustainability.

Urban Planning and its challenges in Freetown, Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone and in most of the African countries, urban planning is a neglected discipline: seldom it is included within the faculty of architecture or engineer and almost never it is an independent discipline.

As far as the urban development growth is concerned Sierra Leone follows the world trend. Half of the population is urban; one third is metropolitan (living in Freetown), and the urban population is expected to double in less than one generation(UNFPA), 2007].

According to the decentralization process promoted and officially started with the Local Government Act 2004, the Freetown City Council (FCC) should deal with urban development planning activities for Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Regardless of that, an Urban Planning Department up to now does not exist.

Planning can significantly influence the liveability of cities if its key dimensions (spatial, environmental, socio-cultural and economic) are fully explored. Thus, the scope of planning has entailed shifting focus from conventional planning concerns about land use, to concerns about the promotion of sustainable development for cities (Friedmann, 2005).

Freetown, similarly as with many cities in less developed countries, is highly urbanised with a significant proportion of its population residing in informal and physically-unstable locations.

However, as the population increases due to increase in growth rate and rural-urban migration, the cost of addressing basic needs has increased, so the environment could not cope with this situation. The population in the City has placed tremendous pressure on the capacity of the natural environment to support its inhabitants. Cohen (2006) attributes much of this growth to dramatic changes in the world’s economic, political and technological systems.

This has resulted in environmental poverty, the declining quality of life and the underutilized as well as the undiscovered wealth of human resources which has led to unemployment and underemployment. Housing and associated facilities (such as water, electricity, waste disposal) are horribly inadequate. Majority live in substandard environments called slums, with grossly inadequate social amenities, such as poor health facilities, inadequate schools and the destruction of habitat (Muana, and Gegbe, 2004).. Significant proportions of the houses in the capital have no access to pipe-borne water, electricity, or hygienic toilet facilities. Intra-city mobility is enormously hampered by poor planning and inefficient land use. Weak institutional capacities in the public sector and civil society coupled with a shortage of personnel, gaps in expertise and skills, unregulated pattern of settlements and poor motivation are a major challenge for Sierra Leone The cost of urbanization on human health comes from a variety of sources, ranging from the outbreak of Cholera,diarrhoea due to poor sanitation especially in slums is a serious burden on the Council. The proximity of industries to residential areas such as the Wellington industrial estate or the cold storage at Dworzak community is a cause for concern. Deforestation, overexploitation of marine environment and pollution of land based activities (industries and sewage disposal) is not uncommon. Unsustainable population growth and the corresponding human activities have led, over the years, to an adverse impact on health and on the wellbeing of residents of the municipality. Moreover, the Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment (MLCP&E ) is the main central government body with responsibility for urban planning and the implementation of all policies, programmes and plans related to land use controls and the environment. While these policies and laws have continued to be independently applied, the continuous worsening of living conditions in Freetown are indicative of the lack of progress by government in promoting urban sustainable development


The development and implementation of sustainable development indicators would contribute to making the city's sustainable development more visible and transparent, provide decision-making with relevant information, aid in comparison, assessment and prediction and promote citizen empowerment and participation.

There ought to be a robust strategy for prevention of urban planning and development challenges. This can be accomplished by proper urban administration and management of urban land and functional land uses by the city/town planning authorities. Also, it should incorporate the provision and capacitation of an efficient institutional framework for the provision of basic amenities, land use planning, and public education of urban residents on environmental protection and safety.

The national land use policies, and urban planning strategies should be carefully designed to achieve rational urban land use structure including other sensitive environmental protection areas. Enforcement of Urban Land Use policies, Housing Policies and Planning Policies are recommended in all urban areas in Sierra Leone in order to establish coordination and discourage unregulated land use patterns.

Government must be willing and committed to combat urban environmental problems as a major concern. An assessment of the problems indicates the ineffectiveness of governmental institutions to adapt to social, economic and environmental changes, and challenges in governmental action accounts for the worsening deterioration of the urban environment. This is evident in waste management, urban land use, pollution control, health and safety standards, provision of housing development, etc. the Government should therefore initiate through her numerous agencies pro-active measures to remedy this menace.

The increase in population density has resulted in the need to provide suitable and appropriate sanitation and modern landfill sites, as well as the development of recycling initiatives for solid waste management.


In developing countries,Development tends to be over-emphasised, while management is neglected and planning of a kind which serves urban development is mostly unappreciated and ignored. Therefore, the normal disregard of these procedures and the lack of capacity to execute them undermines the foundations of management efforts in a way which extends across the full range of development objectives. Urban development should be guided by a sustainable planning and a management vision that promotes interconnected spaces, livable communities that protect historic, cultural, and environmental resources, and a balance between built and natural systems.

The rapid growth of urban centres in underdeveloped or developing countries like Sierra Leone have caused urban dysfunction and a lot of environmental problems such as over-population, traffic congestion, environmental pollution, unemployment as well as the general deterioration of urban amenities. This situation is a reflection of the poor urban planning efforts in the country.

However, It is recognized that the use of indicators for evaluating urban sustainability performance is an important tool and has been widely adopted. Because of the differences in type and use of indicators in different countries, the selection of indicators should be done with the clear understanding of the needs where they are going to be applied. Thus, Shen et al., 2011 states that there is no single set of indicators that can be used for all the urban areas across the world While measuring urban sustainability performance . Also, Learning form different practices can lead to the development of standard processes, which can be used to guide the selection and usage of indicators, in implementing the sustainable urbanization practice in other cities, especially in less developed countries. Based on the literature review, as far as urban sustainability is concerned, indicators play a significant role in revealing in what fields a city is doing better than in others and according to its specific goals.

Therefore, the need for sustainable development indicators for cities and towns in Sierra Leone is to contribute towards indicating if the cities are showing progress towards achieving sustainable urban development objectives. In particular, it ought to provide the necessary quality and accurate knowledge and information at the city level for developing effective urban policies and programmes towards fulfilling the desired urban objectives. Thus, to have more policy resounding urban indicators, more discourse and research expected to influence the system to improve from time to time. Hence, to improve the links between sustainability indicators and policy process, several formulations of strategies should be used to promote the instrumental and conceptual use of indicators for sustainable urban development.


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