April 12, 2024
2 Min. Read


Manhattan is 14.6 kilometres long and 3.5 km wide. Fumba is 14.3 kilometres long and 3.6 km wide. Otherwise, the two peninsulas couldn’t be more different, of course. Glitzy Manhattan, one of the commercial and cultural centres of the world, full of skyscrapers, banks, offices, residential skyscrapers. Fumba in Zanzibar, still green and rural, showing only nascent signs of urban development. 

The comparison, however, demonstrates what growth could be imaginable.  Manhattan was a sparsely inhabited territory of marshes and swamps in 1609, it now houses 28,000 people per km2. Zanzibar has 768 residents per km2. This may sound few, but it is already three times the population density of Majorca, a tourism island in Spain, for example. Zanzibar (with Tanzania) has one of the highest population growths in the world.

Would we want Fumba to look like Manhattan? “Maybe more African”, answers Fumba Town developer Sebastian Dietzold, “but a higher density of buildings must be achieved, to adequately house a growing population.“  Another urban planning expert, Canadian Kurtis Lockhart, is more radical. Should Zanzibar become like New York? “Absolutely”, Lockhart replies, “the central park in Manhattan is one of my favourite places in the world.”

Lockhart’s mission is the global development of new cities to lift people out of poverty (see his guest comment on the left). 

Currently, Zanzibar City is accommodating new residents by simply sprawling outward. This type of urbanisation has not helped the island to prosper; unemployment of youth has risen to 20 per cent. Fumba is earmarked as a free economic zone to attract foreign investment.

  A joint proposal for Fumba‘s development by the Charter Cities Institute and developer CPS says: “Building new cities in Zanzibar will require close cooperation between public and private actors”. The simple reason: African countries are urbanising at much lower income levels than other regions historically and have not enough tax income to build infrastructure. Planned cities “will generate jobs and introduce new growth sectors”, the proposal argues. 

  Manhattan thrived by clever planning: with high density building, good coordination of land stakeholders and a comprehensive infrastructure plan. Comparing the two maps, Fumba Uptown would be like a Lower Manhattan, Fumba Town the Upper West Side.  

And Zanzibar‘s nature, the palm trees and beaches? Who would swap a tropical paradise for a concrete jungle? “It’s not a trade-off between urban environment and nature” says Lockhart. “Fumba Town with its amazing integration of permaculture shows how an island city can stay green and still grow.”  Manhattan light – will that be an option for Zanzibar, the island off the east coast of Africa?

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