Africa’s demand for urban housing is soaring, even as it faces a proliferation of slums. In this setting, can modest infrastructure investments in greenfield areas where people subsequently build their own homes lead to better quality neighborhoods in the long run? We study "Sites and Services" projects implemented in seven Tanzanian cities during the 1970s and 1980s, and we compare greenfield areas that received basic infrastructure investment (de novo areas) to geographically proximate greenfield areas that did not (control areas). Using satellite images, surveys, and census data from the 2010s, we find that de novo areas developed into neighborhoods with much better housing quality. Specifically, de novo neighborhoods are more orderly and their buildings have larger footprint areas and are more likely to have multiple stories and better amenities, due not only to the persistence of initial investments but also to private complementary investments. We also document the role of sorting of owners and residents, which only partly accounts for the differences in housing quality across neighborhoods. Finally, we study initially squatted areas that were also upgraded as part of “Sites and Services”, and our descriptive evidence suggests that they are now if anything worse than the control areas. We conclude that preemptive infrastructure investments can lead to neighborhoods with significantly better housing in the long run.
Differential institutions imposed during colonial rule continue to affect the spatial structure and urban interactions in African cities. Based on a sample of 318 cities across 28 countries using satellite data on built cover over time, Anglophone origincities sprawl compared to Francophone ones. Anglophone cities have less intense landuse and more irregular layout in the older colonial portions of cities, and more leapfrog development at the extensive margin. Results are impervious to a border experiment, many robustness tests, measures of sprawl, and sub-samples. Why would colonial origins matter? The British operated under indirect rule and a dual mandate within cities, allowing colonial and native sections to develop without an overall plan and coordination. In contrast, integrated city planning and land allocation mechanisms were a feature of French colonial rule, which was inclined to direct rule. The results also have public policy relevance. From the Demographic and Health Survey, similar households which are located in areas of the city with more leapfrog development have poorer connections to piped water, electricity, and landlines, presumably because of higher costs of providing infrastructure with urban sprawl.