This Place - A Short Film about Jamestown, Accra
Julien Lanoo-Belguim
“Akwaaba*, welcome to our home”, said one of the locals who sat on the stairs leading to Jamestown beach. ‘Home’ is maybe the best definition of Jamestown I have ever read or heard of. Described by many as poor and unsanitized, it has been marked as the biggest slum of Accra. Historically, Jamestown has emerged as a community around the 17th century, and in time, became the first man-made harbour on the coast. The area carries the history of its colonial past and of a dense mixture of commercial and residential uses. Today, there is a certain feeling of transitoriness. There is no distinction between work and social space, and architectural concept is non-existent since the neighbourhood was literally developed from the ‘wild’ – dwelling units and structures emerged from the need of people. Available material for building are typically few and of the simplest, but enough to provide shelter and create an “urban” pattern. The fishing port, the semi-informal housing, the market stalls and the colonial architecture are inherent to the existing socio-economic urban network. It is a place where life “took over” and created a self-contained community. The economy of every place, its political situation and historical background are all symptoms that make people dependent, and therefore their habitat, and the question is how to filter our senses to understand better a place and its social forms. Photographer Julien Lanoo documented the area over the past two years and the short film refers back to the traces of our basic daily dimension – a necessity for understanding its notions, vastness and autonomous forms. Such architectural emergences, that with or without architect create scenarios by the use of the footprint and potential of space, can raise critical questions on how to shape our cities to find potential approaches towards breaking the social conventions of a healthy form of urban development not only where certain realities resist reinterpretation, but, above all, at its core, towards the concept of a more global consciousness. Many architectural offices have developed plans for the redevelopment of the area, but not a single one has managed to pinpoint acutely the dynamics of its complex structure. Most of them offer ecological, political and universal solutions, but the fact alone does not make them sustainable. They are true, only if the city was a product to be consumed. The built human environment is ‘home’ to people in the first place, and shanty towns are complex interdependent systems that act as a loop within the urban fabric. They are endemic to almost every big city in the world in diverse forms and indicate the scars of past and present times. As Ghanaian poet Ybor Kojo Ybor describes it, Jamestown is a place of “no time” and “yes time”, a “place where everything is nothing and nothing is everything, as if this place chops magic, magical how it’s all things to all peoples, especially its locals”. Akwaaba /in Twi/: Welcome
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