I RECENTLY bumped into two young men arguing over whether Kumasi is a beautiful city. While one of them thought Kumasi was beautiful, the other disagreed and they advanced all manner of arguments to support their stand.
As I stood for a while thinking about which of the two men was right, it dawned on me that one needs to critically examine various elements before deciding whether a city is beautiful.
Khushwant Singh, a prominent Indian novelist and journalist, described a beautiful city as one in which the beauty of nature is combined with great architecture.
He explained that it should have green hills as a backdrop, an expanse of sea or a large river flowing through it. It must have a history. Its buildings, bazaars, plazas, markets, places of worship, museums, art galleries and residential quarters should blend harmoniously with their natural surroundings.
There could be other additions to Singh’s description as attempts are made to answer the question of whether Kumasi is beautiful.
Last week, I saw a Toyota pick-up vehicle belonging to the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly (KMA) with the inscription, “Kumasi Beautification Project”.
“What project is this?” I asked myself. I later came to the realisation that it was the project that was started by the KMA in 2007 with the view to seeing Kumasi, once an admirable city, undergo a historic transformation to befit its status as Ghana’s Garden City.
The fortunes of the one-time Garden City have plummeted due to mismanagement and disrespect for by-laws governing the city.
City authorities believed a beautification project was one sure way of restoring Kumasi to its former glorious days.
Even though the authorities may have had a good reason for coming out with the beautification project, many questioned its relevance as beautification was supposed to be a process rather than a project, which has a life span.
The Chambers 21st Century Dictionary defines the word beautify as ‘having an appearance or qualities which please the senses or give rise to admiration in the mind.’
Indeed, there had long been potentials to build the traditional city of Kumasi into a megalopolis but the political will has always not been there to fulfil this dream.
I have always had the conviction that we need to learn from others in getting the best for our cities. The Chinese, for instance, have, through shared vision, transformed their major cities, including Shanghai and Beijing, into some of the finest you can find anywhere in the world today and we can walk through the same revolutionary lines given the right approach.
More than half of the world’s population currently live in cities. Projections have it that by the next 20 years, another 10 percent are expected to become urban settlers meaning by that time,metropolises in the world would be home to some five billion people.
Consequently, many governments and city authorities are crafting policies and programmes that can turn the fortunes of their cities around and give hope for the people who live there.
So is Kumasi getting any better with its decision to undertake the beautification programme?
To answer this question, there is the need to examine some specific areas that bring beauty to a city and see if Kumasi has moved to make any meaningful impact in those areas.
The old settlements such as Adum, Ashanti New Town, Asafo and Bantama have been considered dignified and beautiful as a result of their spectacular layouts. These suburbs thus inspire in their beauty and harmony.
Conversely, new settlements provide a great disharmony and disorder in planning. In many of these peripheral areas of the city, access roads are virtually non-existent as people build haphazardly. This does not depict a city of beauty.
The city needs to follow modern planning ideas to enable Kumasi to get what is better.
A great city requires beautiful architecture. The architecture of Kumasi is generally synonymous with simplicity and material beauty.
Kumasi may not have skyscrapers,but the simple architecture will leave nostalgic memories of many a visitor.
This is not to say all is well with the city in this respect, as a number of the buildings do not befit the status of the city. Many still live in squalid and unhealthy conditions, which does not hold anything good for the city.
This has been the most challenging aspect of the city’s beautification process. One of the environmental challenges is sanitation.
In spite of the KMA’s effort to overcome this challenge, not much has been achieved as filth continues to pile up in some parts of the metropolis.
The problem has arisen partly due to the inability of the KMA to enforce its bye-laws on sanitation.
The KMA’s bye-laws on sanitation, promulgated in 1995 under section 79 of the Local Government Act 462 of 1993, cover the disposal of refuse, removal of weeds and rubbish. It also provides prohibitions against the disposal of litter, refuse or other matter in gutters and drains, and that any person who contravenes any of the bylaws commits an offence, and shall be liable on conviction by a Court or Community Tribunal to a fine not exceeding GH¢5 which has been revised to GH¢20, or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding three months.
Another environmental challenge is the way lunatics roam the streets. At a point, controversy arose over whether the KMA or the Department of Social Welfare was responsible for taking care of lunatics in the city.
But, it is a fact that keeping mentally handicapped persons in safe places is the responsibility of the KMA and this must be taken serious to enable Kumasi realise some beauty.
In the run up to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 2008, an attempt was made by the social service subcommittee of the assembly to clear the city of lunatics, and in the process, about 38 mentally handicapped were arrested and admitted into the Cheshire Home at Edwenase, where they were offered medical treatment. This was however unsustainable and the situation has worsened over time.
The Kumasi Central Market is considered the biggest in West Africa yet, it has not seen the expected development.
The current KMA Chief Executive, Mr Samuel Sarpong, had initiated action to get the market reconstructed and expectations are that this would be carried through to befit the status of Kumasi.
Other satellite markets must also be developed in the interest of the city’s advancement.
The above and other elements such as roads and transportation development are all crucial in determining whether Kumasi is beautiful.