Research and Movie by Felix Heisel / Bisrat Kifle
EiABC / Addis Ababa / Ethiopia / 2012

Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, is in transformation. Currently the home of approximately four million inhabitants, the city might triple its size within the next 30 years due to the increasing rural to urban migration, as well as natural growth. Already today, Addis Ababa suffers from a housing shortage of estimated 300.000 units. And, according to UN-Habitat, 80% of the existing dwellings are in ‘sub-standard, slum like’ conditions. Thus, in 2004, the government launched a large-scale mass housing program with the ambitious plan to erect 200.000 condominium units within 5 years. To date, 100.000 units were built during the last 7 years, out of which nearly 70,000 are handed over to end users so far. In 2011, the Addis Ababa City Administration announced to redevelop all ‘informal’ and ‘unplanned’ parts of the city until 2020.

Small and micro businesses in Addis Ababa are start-ups for many inhabitants, especially migrants coming to the city. A ‘listro’ (shoe shiner) defines his business area by setting a shoe shining box down on the ground. He then brings a chair to claim the space. In time, a plastic shade covers the customer’s seat. As the space defines itself, side businesses emerge, like the selling of tobacco, candies, chewing gum and so on. At the streets of Addis, daily, public space turns into private and vice versa.

Due to the current redevelopments, the streets of Addis Ababa will change for good within the next years. Hence, now is the right time to document a century old tradition of start-up micro economies in Ethiopia’s captial. We believe that its informal sector can teach important lessons about the use of architecture and its social role.

This movie is an educational documentary on the use of the streets in Ethiopia's capital. Based on the life’s story and experience of one selected Listro, this movie tries to tell a generic experience of thousands of migrants in Addis Ababa. Looking at one spot in the area of Piazza for the duration of 24 hours, one can notice the importance of micro economies as part of the public realm. Interviews with listros and experts give further insight into the topic.

“Supporting Spaces” is the third of a series of documentaries on spatial developments in Addis Ababa.