The Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI) and the Earth Institute (EI) were honored to host Accra Mayor Alfred Vanderpuije this week, for a series of lectures and meetings focused on Ghana’s capital.
Mayor Vanderpuije met twice with the leadership of the MCI Accra team – Professor Patricia Culligan, Vice-Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Assistant Professor of Architecture Kate Orff, Urban Design Lab Director Richard Plunz, Centre of Sustainable Urban Development Director Elliott Sclar and MCI Co-Director Susan Blaustein – to review their two-year plan for the Earth Institute’s work in the city. The Mayor also informed the MCI team of several new potential partnerships to help the cities, including one with UN-Habitat, a MCI partner in other Millennium Cities.
Mayor Vanderpuije met on Tuesday with leaders from the American Academy of Pediatrics to explore possible health-related initiatives on behalf of Accra’s children. He then addressed the graduate planning seminar focused on Accra, led by Professor Sclar and the rest of the MCI/EI team. The mayor was introduced there by EI Director Jeffrey D. Sachs, who shared with the students his belief that helping this vibrant, coastal commercial hub achieve the Millennium Development Goals can spur sustainable economic development across the entire West Africa region.
On Wednesday Mayor Vanderpuije addressed a gathering at the Institute for Africa Studies, inviting the students there, once they have finished their studies, to come to Accra and share their expertise. He spoke about Accra’s venerable cultural and political history, its growth and its major challenges in infrastructure and the provision of public goods and services. A lively discussion ensued about the merits of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly’s (AMA’s) current policy of destroying illegal structures that clog the waterways and thoroughfares. One human rights advocate who works in Accra praised the city for destroying the child brothels, fraudulent rental schemes and other criminal enterprises that had flourished in these informal settlements – two of which, the mayor pointed out, are nicknamed “Babylon” and “Sodom and Gomorrah” for a reason. A Barnard College historian argued that those whose homes had been leveled by the AMA were twice victimized, first by the criminal exploitation and then by the city which, in eliminating the entire context for such illegal activities, was also demolishing their homes and livelihoods.
Throughout his visit to Columbia, Mayor Vanderpuije displayed an audible passion for meeting the city’s challenges and a commitment to service that appears to have characterized his life long before he entered politics. Unusually for an African leader, before returning to Ghana last year to accept this plum presidential appointment, Accra’s mayor lived in the United States for 25 years, where he was a middle school principal in Kansas City, Chicago and Columbia, South Carolina. “When I was a principal,” he told the Institute for Africa Studies audience, “I never accepted an appointment at a wealthy school; I always chose to work in inner cities. You know why? Because in inner cities are opportunities for growth.”
It is this commitment to help the poorest of the poor that impelled Mayor Vanderpuije, whose father was a Ga chief, to reach out last summer to Professor Sachs and to seek the support of the EI to help the City of Accra address specific technical challenges and to improve the quality of life for its citizens.