The Unsustainable urban growth of Gaborone City, Botswana

Gaborone is a very young city, dating back as early as early as 1966 when it was first developed as a Capital city for the newly independent Botswana from the British Protectorate. Before this the administrative centre for the colony had been based from Mafikeng which is now part of South Africa.

The centre of the city was constructed in three years, including Assembly buildings, government offices, a power station, a hospital, schools, a radio station, a telephone exchange, police stations, a post office, and more than 1,000 houses. The basic infrastructure was in place for Independence Day on 30 September 1966.

The city is locked on all sides by different land usage (illustrated on the below zones) which renders it very difficult for further outward growth.

Gaborone map

Gaborone map

  1. Government Enclave, Parliament and Ministerial Buildings

  2. Mogoditshane Village

  3. Tlokweng Village

  4. Mmokolodi Game Reserve and Kgale Hills

  5. Gaborone Dam

The city is locked on all sides by different land usage (illustrated on the below zones) which renders it very difficult for further outward growth. Tribal owned land to the east of the Batlokwa people means the city can either assimilate this unto its suburban sprawls as is the case to the west (01) which is a suburban village of Mogoditshane now virtually part of the city. The city’s water supply, Gaborone dam (04), once outside the city is now side by side with the newest industrial units. The worst of the growth on this side will soon see the dam inside the City. Increasing the ever likelihood of flooding risks.

Suburban City Growth Pattern

The city’s growth pattern is based on a rural growth model/ or suburban settlement pattern; where everyone gets a plot of land, which they then fence and build a bungalow house within. Terraced housing or developments are very limited and even those are confined within walled private development plots.

typycal plot layouts

Typical Gaborone plot layouts

This type of planning and building is not only space consuming but bad for infrastructure planning. The once traffic free city is now jammed with traffic movement of people just getting from one side of the city to the other. The roads are hemmed in within privately walled residential units, making expansion of roads impossible. Provision of services, especially water, electricity, sewage and telephone infrastructure is an expensive measure because of the unnecessary wide spread location of houses.

The city has less than half a million people (230 000 est.) with an average density of not more than 1101 sqkm per person. Compare this to say  2500 people per square kilometre  for London or 2,050persons per square kilometre in New York. This comparison of course is with far developed and populated places but eventually  Gaborone city will grow and have to be redeveloped and planned for a better use of space and that would be a very expensive task.


Goverment enclave

The rapid growth of the government buildings and the increase in ministries has seen the once spacious enclave crowding with low rise developments with little or no public spaces. Where the green spaces do exists in this area they often are fenced in and out of bounds to the public.


Goverment enclave

The only truly open and public space probably in the whole of the city is the main mall , where open market stalls and public sitting areas makes this space the most successful. In my next blog I will focus on its lifestyle.

Main mall

Main mall

The natural evolution layout of a ghetto settlement

On the outskirts of the city to the south, along the railway line lies the city’s largest ghetto settlement called Bontleng (see fig below). Which has dual meaning in setswana, one meaning; ‘on the outside’ or ‘of beauty’.

Here the city planners have largely stayed away leaving the settlement pattern to evolve organically. The result is actually something better in terms of space organization and overall residential density per hectare compared to the suburban allotted plots. The living conditions are not at all ideal and the sanitary conditions need desperate improvement but what the settlement shows is an almost seamless way of roads and housing layout that utilizes space better and less rigidity based on grid planning.


The natural ghetto


Other social, security and heath issues of course exists and I will reveal these on my later blogs but there are lessons to be learnt on the natural way the settlement evolved.Other social, security and heath issues of course exists and I will reveal these on my later blogs but there are lessons to be learnt on the natural way the settlement evolved.


4 Responses to “The Unsustainable urban growth of Gaborone City, Botswana”

  1. Mark Ellery on July 5th, 2009

    Comment from “violainvilnius”

    Gaborone Planning?
    Here a guy (of the planning variety, presumably) writes about the layout of Gaborone, described as unsustainable. He suggests that the none-too wide roads, hemmed in on all sides by houses in more or less large gardens cause lots of problems, eg traffic snarl-ups (which might explain my 40 minute wait for taxis the other day)….


    click here

  2. killion on July 8th, 2009

    Well the problems with Gaborone roads goes much further than being narrow; the use of the traffic round-about, which were really meant for old days when cars were far and bettween is one of the beggest problems. The roundabout worked when the population of cars was small now cars are almost equaling half the population of the city..the damn things just cause chaos.

  3. Robert Pike on July 9th, 2009

    So the Bontleng settlement is more sucessful due to organic growth and that the CBD is overcrowded and forboding. This is an interesting thing considering that organic growth usually occurs first as the basis for a settlement. Can lessons be learnt from this and applied to the development of a better plan? What drives development in the ghetto? Who is in charge? What is the culture of it? Art, theatre…etc?

    Also I sense that there is more issue over land ownership here and that causes problem. Land has been claimed in small plots in an imperialist fashion. Does this make development difficult?

    I do think the way the city is contained and is not allowed to sprawl is good. Some former colonial cities like Auckland have been allowed to sprawl massively and has a result have no clear logic. Can the city develop a more city like feel from this?

  4. killion on July 13th, 2009

    Rob, the biggest problem we have with people in charge of planning is that for a long time there were really not experts in planning or architecture per-say. The development of the city has for too long been dependent on consultancy reports which lead to policies from that they drew out or demarcated deployments zones. Even these zones still didn’t come with any building guidelines or regulations on densities or appropriate height for that particular zone.
    So in the end you could buy a big plot on an area that can really use dense habitation but instead build a two bed bungalow in the middle of it and that’s it.
    So you see the problem not lies with these plot layouts only but also with the fact that there are no were local frame works to guide development. Lately there is a beginning of change, we are seeing the first building regulations being implimated and palnning of the city has been passed on to local town plnners (MPI design) who have revised the latest city development plan.
    Now the difference with ‘Bonlteng as you will see on my next blog’ is that there are no rigid plots and the density per sqm is reasonably high and therefore there is relatively good use of space.

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