Sean Anderson

Dakar, 2011. Photo: Jeff Attaway/Flickr.

IN 1856, at the height of aggressive empire-building campaigns across Africa, a French official claimed that Dakar would become “the capital of all our African possessions.” The westernmost point on the African mainland, Dakar had much to offer France’s colonial regime: resources, geography, and labor. Indeed, through a complex history of planning, building, and sometimes-deferred development, the city would eventually become both a source for and an image of modernity.

The conjunction of modern design techniques with colonial mandates allowed for a number of French cities throughout Morocco, Algeria, and Vietnam to be organized according to spatial divisions that replicated (or reified) the structure of its “civilizing mission.” Scholars have described this fashioning of urban space as a dialectical model in which the historicized medina, with its dense passages and exoticized

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