Should we base development on Generalisations OR Uniqueness?

Abdul Semakula
2 min readApr 13, 2024

--

I’m reading this World Bank report on Greening African Cities where they do research on a handful of cities, find general patterns, and synthesize them into policies that they impose on places/cities and thus control where money goes. So when I contrast that with Regenerative Urban Development which focuses on understanding the unique essence and potential of a place and using that as a basis to manifest what the place can become, I can see a polar difference in the direction of development.

Generalising development

is based on the need to scale solutions or policies that disregard and suffocate the unique potential of places — It’s a colonial legacy policy that creates a monoculture of development — we now have a global monoculture designed to enable extractive behaviours and disable regenerative ones, at the bottom. This top-down choice architecture has brought some benefits but has also stifled diversity, which is essential for social, ethical, economic, and environmental resilience.

Uniquenising development

is based on the need to develop the unique potential of a place. It’s bottom-up, it’s contextual, and based on living systems design. Unlike colonial-rooted systems design, which seeks to maximize accumulation, living systems aim to fulfill diverse functions without maximizing any one aspect.

So, instead of having a mountain of financial wealth and anthills of natural wealth and social wealth, places can nurture all forms of wealth, for both human and non-human beings. Transitioning to the latter paradigm has the potential to keep human activity within planetary boundaries, yet adopting it can’t happen within the extractive structures, processes, and systems we’ve built.

With statements like “How can a fast urbanizing Africa build sustainable and resilient cities and communities, while avoiding being locked into a “grow dirty now, clean up later” development path?” the World Bank seems to be coming around, yet statements like “it is now too costly and impractical to restore the wetland to a state where benefits can be achieved.” show how working within the financial-accumulation paradigm can be limiting to our imagination of what is possible.

It also shows that we need a fresh foundation for development where motivation isn’t primarily financial accumulation, but regenerating life on earth.

The World Bank, like the entire development model, is still locked in financial incentives and metrics as drivers of change, ignoring the fact that it’s the focus on that that brought us here in the first place.

How can we shift human motivation from financial accumulation towards the restoration of our natural wealth and social wealth?

How can we reduce the mountain of financial wealth to increase natural and social wealth from ever-reducing anthills to mountains as well?

I would love to hear your thinking. Thank you.

--

--

Abdul Semakula

Systems Innovator co-creating bottom-up a distributive & regenerative future at https://opencollective.com/nvc