The geographical centre of Accra has been shifting northwards, in relation to the sprawl and growth of the city, from central Accra towards Legon. The Tetteh Quarshie interchange is now a major intersection between the northern, southeastern, and western parts of the city, as it is expanding. With the construction of the landmark Accra mall to the east of the intersection, a commuter hub has developed, serving the exchange of commuters between the Spintex road to the east, La Paz to the west, and Adenta Madina/Dodowa to the north. The increase in student admissions at the University of Ghana and its affiliate institutions have also made Legon an educational hub and home to student dormitories that are growing in number on the East Legon side of the road.
Residential East Legon was built gradually over a 20-year period by civil servants who were planning for retirement, non-resident Ghanaians who remit foreign exchange homes for wealthy, home-building individuals and politicians. Since the origin of its occupancy, it has been synonymous with affluence and high social status.
In recent years, the commercialization of East Legon has been growing at a rapid rate. It has been transformed by the modifications, additions, and conversions of residential properties into shops, offices, restaurants, boutiques, and food joints. These transformations have made it more convenient to stay in East Legon than to travel downtown to Accra to shop.
Jungle Avenue, the subject of this study, 3 kilometres from the Tetteh Quarshie interchange, has become one of the most popular interior roads in East Legon. The rate of commercialization of residential properties is the subject matter of this photo report. The phenomenon of transformation through commercialization begins with one major building, which serves as a primary node. A node is an urban planning term used to describe a place of concentrated activity of humans. When one commercial node is established, spinoffs from the node are generated as support activities or secondary commercial activities. A conglomeration of these can form a secondary node. Spinoffs from the secondary node can be a series of spread-out, light commercial activities.
1980 -1991 PRE-DEVELOPMENT YEARS
Landscape and Biodiversity
East Legon extension was a harsh and barren grassland savannah of trees and neem tree shrubs. The location that is being referred to is the harsh dry grasslands across the Motorway cattle beyond the underpass, a land inhabited and used by Fulani cattle herdsmen to raise cattle. To this day, this area carries the ticks and insects that have resulted from the infestations caused by cattle dung.
The soils are naturally poor, consisting of shale and rock, commonly referred to by construction workers and foundation diggers at “East Legon biscuit’. This area was used as cattle rearing grounds, as the reservoir dam, now called ‘the lake´, was located nearby. The cattle underpass beneath the motorway served as a cattle crossing, but is now used as a tunnel for vehicles.
The landscape was scattered with tall termite hills, some as tall as three meters. Removing them became a specialized trade for some workers who had learned to perform the ritual of capturing the queen of the colony. By spreading her pheromones while being taken away, all the other termites would follow, leaving the hill empty for demolition to pave way for construction. The subsoil was a dangerous inhabitation for poisonous scorpions, driver ants, monitor lizards, and different species of snakes. Early residents had reported seeing pythons that were as long as four meters. Construction workers also set grass cutter traps for the rodents that were abundant in the area.
In 1991, the area still had a few uncompleted homes, dirt roads, and electrical lines, but no water lines. It was inaccessible by any form of public transport, such as tro tros ( a local 15-seater van) or taxis. The area was notorious for being a passage for armed robbers. With the indigenous villages of Baweleshi and Shiashi miles away, and the Legon police station even further away, the area was very susceptible to attracting armed robbers who terrorized the developed roads and areas such as the Mensah wood street. The rough sandy road now called Boundry Road that runs along the edge of this undeveloped area was connected to the motorway by an illegal route that served as an escape route for robbers and smugglers from the Tema port. These criminal activates subsided by about 1991, when the area came under heavy military police surveillance patrols at night.
1991 THE BLOCK-MAKING BUSINESS
There was only one residence on Jungle Road at this time. The Okrah family were the founders of the local Christian service centre, a small church that mostly served the builders and construction workers in the area. The Okrah family owned a block-making factory called Harko Blocks, which supplied most of the construction sites. The business of block-making was thriving, which only required a large flat piece of land to operate on, a truckload of sand, a storage space for cement bags, and a shed under which the block-making machine stood. It was a simple machine consisting of a vibrator, compactor, and water tank. There were electrical lines in the area to operate the electrical motors of the block-making machines. The compacted blocks would then be dried in the open sun. Locally manufactured water tanks on old Bedford trucks supplied water to the factory as well as the residents. The blocks were supplied on a truck on order to construction sites around the area. A typical factory employed about six workers: a machine operator, two loaders, and three block packers. Two or three others sometimes joined the supply truck team to act as off loaders for the supply services.
1995 SQUATTER COMMUNITIES
The construction of East Legon attracted a generation of migrant workers from the Volta, Eastern, and Northern regions. They settled in uncompleted projects and served the property owners as caretakers, masons, carpenters, and labourers. As East Legon developed, the migrant workers became security guards, gardeners, and household helpers, supporting the domestic life of the home owners. The squatter culture has now become a part of living in East Legon. Many more rural and urban migrants are still pouring in to find jobs. Many look for livelihoods selling all types of goods, providing services, such as street catering, for shop and office workers, and as bus and van drivers in the urban transport sector. Their simple aim is basically looking forward to a better life and for sending their children to school.
The squatter culture has now moved on to kiosks on the fringes of the Motorway, or serving as caretakers on undeveloped plots of land. This has become a urban problem that has to be tackled through seeking macro- economic solutions.
2000 PRIMARY ACTIVITY NODES
According to the urban theory regarding the generation of activity nodes, the A&C Shopping Mall, the Equity Pharmacy, and East Legon Christian Centre were the first activity nodes. The primary nodes are the first activities that gather large numbers of peoples and are capable of generating spinoffs. In this case, the first was the Christian Centre, a church founded by the first residents of the area. Its first congregation was made up of the squatters in the area, the current one includes a large number of nearby residents consisting of home caretakers, drivers, security guards, and general workers. The Equity Pharmacy is the only pharmacy on the road and its central location serves both homeowners and servants. It’s the only place where one can receive quick medical attention. The A&C Shopping Mall is by far the greatest attraction of activity. Its opening heralded the beginning of the full commercialization of Jungle Avenue.
2005 GUEST LODGES AND HOTELS
There are two medium-sized hotels in the vicinity of Jungle Avenue. The older of the two is the Sonant Court Hotel with 20 room and a swimming pool, conference hall, restaurant, and cocktail bar. The Mirage Hotel is a bigger hotel located next to the shopping mall. These hotel facilities signify confidence in the area as a viable place for business. The Mirage Hotel is well patronized by international guests and family holidaymakers due to its proximity to the mall.
The Lion House is another landmark that was used as a guest centre, even though it was originally built as a private home with a rooftop pool. Its architecture resembles that of a castle. The owner, who resides in Austria, built this replica of a small castle after obtaining the plans from the Austrian authorities. Once popular for its rooftop pool parties, it was closed down by the owner a few years later.
According to the urban theory, the presence of hotels, leisure centres, and clinics siginifies that an area has reached a milestone in development.
2010 THE STARBITES SUCCESS STORY
Starbites Food and Drinks has become a well-known, citywide brand. It all started in East Legon: two former attempts to launch a restaurant in that location had already failed. But the chances of success greatly increased after the growth of the suburban area of Agyiringaanor and the tarring of Boundry Road. For residents passing through on their way to Agyringaanor in the evenings, it was a convenient stop for social interaction. It became even more popular when it installed a big screen for viewing World Cup football matches. The biggest stabilizer of its operations was the establishment of the American International School directly opposite to the restaurant. Parents waiting for their children became customers. When the restaurant increased its range of products to include ‘takeaway’ services, its popularity grew. Since then, other neighbouring restaurants have been established that now compete with Starbites.
2015 THE A&C SHOPPING CENTRE
Now termed a ‘mall’, the A&C Shopping Centre was completed and opened in the year 2000. It not only serves as the centre of shopping activity on Jungle Avenue, but also as a landmark for all of East Legon and its residential extensions. Its anchor tenant is the well-known MaxMart, a large retail shop for upper-middle-class residents. Its success has made it a household name. Other big names that can be found there are the Woodin fashion brand, EcoBank, and Fidelity Bank, as well as a clinic, a number of eateries and restaurants, juice bars, electronics shops, boutiques, photography studios, a wine shop, and many others.
The A&C group first leased part of its land to a Total fuel station. It has also built two other facilities; a gym, swimming pool, office block, playground and another block of shops and offices. This has made the shopping centre more like a community centre.
Now, over 50 different enterprises rent spaces in the shopping mall, which employs 180 workers and features a carpark with a capacity of 70 cars.
2016 SIDEWALK COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY
Small sidewalk businesses have not been left out of this process of growing commercialization. There are a number of growing activities located between the Christian Centre and the mall, usually situated in front of empty plots of land or wide sidewalks or any space that can accommodate them: fruits stands, small shops, convenience stores, gift shops, food joints, barber shops, boutiques, kiosks, etc.
Following the theory of the generation of activity nodes, these could be considered as tertiary activities that have been generated as a result of secondary nodes, but also serve the primary nodes. The ever-increasing rate of commercialization of residential property ensures an increasing amount of sidewalk commercial activity, which makes use of the sidewalk and empty spaces at different times of the day.
Its concentration around free spaces also makes it vulnerable to the owners of these lands, who may evict these businesses when seeking to develop their properties or when the district authorities consider them a nuisance.
2016 COMMUTER DYNAMICS
The theory goes on to predict an increase of transportation dynamics following commercialization. Over 120 employees of the A&C Mall – salespeople, cleaners, bankers, office workers – come to work everyday, generating heavy pedestrian and vehicular activity. Taxis, tro tros, private cars, and office vehicles all arrive and leave the A&C area during rush hours. This has created secondary activities, such as a Total fuel station , an on- street taxi rank, and many food joints that serve the workers.
The Christian Centre area also has an on-street tro tro and taxi point that serves the artery roads, which are all developing commercially as more homes are being partly or fully used as offices.
2018 ENTERPRISE MIGRATIONS FROM OSU OXFORD STREET
The last five years have shown a growing trend of commercialization through the increasing construction of taller structures. New buildings, which are neither conversions nor use of residential frontage, keep popping up. Plots are used solely to build two- or three-story offices or retail blocks that also try to provide customers with parking spaces. Their tenants reveal the growing trend of well-known retail brands migrating from Osu Oxford Street to East Legon and Jungle Avenue. The proprietor of Chez Julie, a well-known 40-year-old African fashion brand, migrated to Jungle Avenue due to the extremely high rents in Osu. The Pinocchio ice cream parlour, which is part of an existing franchise, and the Photo Club are also other migrants from Osu, along with African Market, which brings street bazaar characteristics of Osu. New buildings contain offices for rent to accommodate the growing migration of offices and businesses from Osu and the airport residential area. Their new locations suggest that Jungle Avenue will soon become the new retail corridor, rivalling Osu Oxford Street.
JUNGLE AVENUE AND BEYOND
Currently, a growing number of secondary and tertiary commercial activities are beginning to develop around the A&C Mall. An analysis of these activities over the years reveals that they have spread beyond Jungle Road. Many of the residences on the artery roads have started conversions and demolitions. Informal retail activities have begun to spread behind the shopping mall.
The negative impact of this spread has been the pedestrian and vehicular conflict it has created. Parking space for all the shops that are being constructed seems to be limited and is obstructing vehicular movement.
THE THEORY OF THE SPONTANEOUS GENERATION OF ACTIVITY NODES
The study of the development of Jungle Road demonstrates the theory of the generation of secondary activity by the establishment of primary ones. It states that by establishing a primary commercial activity, other related activities will be generated spontaneously to support or fill in the deficiencies of the primary activity. These secondary activities often generate tertiary ones which develop through induction or attraction to the secondary activities. The opening of the A&C Mall generated vehicular traffic, commuters, and on-street lorry parking, which further generated a fuel station and a taxi rank, which further generated drivers and workers, chop bars and fruit stands.
For example, a women’s salon and boutiques will attract the presence of a hair product shop, which may be followed by a cooking utensil and home appliance shop hoping to serve customers who patronize the salon. Most likely, a baby and children’s clothes and toy shop would be generated next, followed by a gift shop. Similarly, the establishment of a small hospital or clinic will attract a pharmacy, a convenience shop, a snack shop, or a food joint all to serve patients’ visitors. Together, these secondary commercial activities could form a primary node of commercial activities which is characterized as a shopping precinct.
In developing countries, there is often a conflict between formal planning and reality. Formal plans for our cities seem to result in informal outcomes over time. This may also be as a result of not understanding the nature of spontaneity in terms of an urban setting. What must be realized is that the provision of one facility may result in the attraction or induction of other allied activities, as demonstrated in this study. The spinoff or secondary activities must be anticipated and provided for so that future planning can accommodate them.
When developing commercial spaces in urban areas, even around residences, this must also be taken into consideration. It requires an understanding of socio-cultural or socio-economic contexts. Modern city planning in developing countries should therefore take development patterns caused by the generation of spontaneous activity nodes into account and adopt them into formal planning.