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Where I work… Woodlands, Lusaka, Zambia

A series of boots-on-the-ground blogs from the hometowns of our research team

Let me begin with some life updates: 

  • My cat has turned one
  • I – against my will – have turned 30
  • And CCI Zambia has moved offices

After a year in our Rhodes Park, Lusaka office, we moved to Woodlands. I talked intensively about my ongoing attempts to walk to our old offices in Lusaka in my earlier blog for the “Where I live/work” series. The Woodlands office is more spacious. We have a backyard. Now, I have my own actual office. 30 is grown up, and I am a serious office worker. One problem with Woodland’s office: IT IS FAR FROM WHERE I LIVE.

This map highlights the locations of woodlands and Rhodes park.

Walking? Driving? Moving?

When we settled on the new office location, I first thought about just continuing to walk to work as I did with our old location. It was only a brief thought, though. I Googled the walk and discovered it would take about a 65-minutes. A walk is probably the healthier option, but I know myself. I definitely won’t be able to do it daily, certainly not twice a day. I am writing this in the middle of the rainy season when the very few sidewalks that

Lusaka does tend to get very slippery. Forget the slippery road; walking daily for around 120 minutes is just not for me.

Okay, then, it’s a Yango drive. Taxi-sharing apps are fantastic and accessible but not quite affordable. It’s almost double what I used to pay for the old drive to work. Okay, maybe taking a taxi daily to work and back is not for me.

Rent in Lusaka is not cheap, especially if you are a millennial expat (fancy word for migrants who work in development) who wants to live in a safe, furnished house with your cat. The price range of the units found in an area with a 30 – 40 minute walk to work is around 1200-1400 USD per month. Let’s just say this is a bit out of my price range.

So walking, car-sharing apps, and moving are not valid options. What is the solution?

Public transportation…

My stance on spatial planning is clear; dense environments supported by a functional and accessible public transportation system are the way to go. Functioning labor markets are the cornerstone of any sustainable city development, and an accessible public transportation system is the key to connecting the labor and employees.

Will public transportation be the answer to my problem?

I have to start using public transportation In Lusaka more often than I would like to. But here is a little issue: I had no idea where to start. The buses don’t have a schedule or indicate where they are going. Most of my friends rarely use public transportation. But I was determined. I asked our interns, who were helpful; they knew the bus I needed to take, where to take it from, and where I should be dropped off.

On the way to the hospital(s)

Our offices are right next to Lusaka Trust Hospital, but my hospital route is something else. So, to get to work from where I live, the best route is to take the public minibus going to “The Hospital”. The hospital here refers to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) on Nationalist Road. So, every day, I try to take the bus from Allick Nkhata Road and get dropped off at Independence Avenue. The journey takes around 40 minutes, and it’s broken down into several activities.

First, I start walking for around 5 mins on Thabo Mbeki Road. The road is not well equipped for walking. There are no sidewalks. There is just gravel, and it isn’t even comfortable gravel, by the way. Thabo Mbeki is a two-way road only fit for two cars. As I said, it’s around a 5-minute walk, so being uncomfortable is not that bad.

After I stop at the Mass Media bus stop, I wait a maximum of 10-15 minutes until the bus comes. The buses going to Town (the other bus route that goes through Allick Nkhata) come more frequently than the hospital route. The mini-busses that take The Hospital route are privately owned and operated (all mini-busses in Lusaka are). Two people run a mini-bus; the driver and the conductor collect the fair and call out the mini-bus’s route name out of the window to get more customers. Often four people are crammed into a three-person coach, making the total number of passengers 18 plus the conductor. The drive is often pretty direct, just 10-15 minutes. The ride costs 10 Kwacha (close to 50 cents on a good day). I rarely get to sit in the front seats, so I took a picture when I could.

The last part of my journey is the walk along Independence Avenue¹. This walk is pretty
nice, in a mid-lane surrounded by trees from both sides. You often encounter people
running for sport along the road. The walk takes me another 15 minutes to finally arrive
at the office.

L: View from the front seat of the bus
R: Independence Avenue

Sometimes I walk…

When taking the mini-busses, I get some steps in but not enough for my body or daily
goals. Sometimes I walk home, but only if I finish early enough and there is still sun
outside. I take the same route on foot that the minibus takes. Besides the horrible non-
existence sidewalks of Thabo Mbeki the sidewalks are pretty comfortable on this route.

When I say the walk is comfortable, I mean comfortable for me. I have nice shoes that are definitely made for walking. I also have a lightweight rain jacket, a waterproof back bag, and very comfortable rain boots. Kurtis pays me enough to consume the calories needed to meet the physical demands of the walk. I probably consume too many calories, but that’s a conversation between me and my jeans.

According to UN-Habitat, An estimated 78% of Africans walk for travel every day. Most people who walk have no other choice and don’t have the comforts I have. I have the equipment to make my walk more comfortable, even in the rain. Most importantly, I have the choice not to walk or not to ride public transportation, which is a bit outside of my budget but doable. This later resulted in just getting Yelodos to work (while being expensive, they are the fastest and most efficient way to get to work).

The more I walk and live in Lusaka, the more I am intrigued by the city’s access to labor markets and mobility. The mini-buses are so expensive, the city is sprawled, and the infrastructure is not equipped for non-motorized mobility. The more I research, I more I am shocked about the lack of evidence-informed research and policy on southern African urbanism in general (outside of Cape Town and Johannesburg). Lusaka’s Urban Lab research agenda is inspired and informed by those everyday city experiences. This year, Lusaka Urban Lab’s research agenda is a lot of research and projects centered around people, mobility, labor, and density. Keep an eye out for all the upcoming Lusaka Urban Lab activities and research. 

¹ Independence Avenue is the Avenue where the State House and the Army Headquarters are located, as well as many other government buildings

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