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The buzzing economic activity of small traders selling mostly food, drinks, charcoal and kitchenware, and businesses such as internet cafes, hairdressers and local shops, is occasionally interrupted by the roaring of a four-wheel-drive car with tinted windows.These big avenues are connected by small passages in between the houses, which can considerably shorten walking distances.

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Trying to explain why I like Maputo is like putting together all those encounters in a unique, yet partial, vision of the city.

Not only have I had great times there, but Maputo has taught me most of what I know about the contemporary city.

Every time I go to Chamanculo, I study the map, and I tell to myself that this time I will know my way around the neighbourhood. I have never had this experience anywhere else in the world.

I have been lost in Chamanculo numerous times, alone and accompanied, and always experience the same: the streets seem to fold onto me and when I turn back the way I came from, it is completely unfamiliar.

Even so, the city has made efforts to preserve and protect what is historic, while applying new practices such as earmarking income from tourism to rebuild local housing and protect architecturally or culturally significant sites.

The city’s masterplan aims to ensure mixed land use wherever possible, so housing, shops, offices and institutions can often be found in the same building.In Maputo, city managers talk of the separation between a “city of concrete” – the old colonial city, designed by the Portuguese – and the “city of reed” – the neighbourhoods, or barrios, where most of the population live.The latter often lack basic infrastructure such as water, sanitation and electricity.As my research became entangled with the future of this city, my own success depended on understanding Maputo. So when I try to explain why I like Maputo so much, it’s impossible to detach the reasons from my own biography.I don’t have a straightforward, bounded picture of the city ready to offer up to others. Maputo revealed to me how contemporary cities go beyond that absurd dichotomy of the “formal” and “informal” city.Most of all, Maputo has taught me to think of the cities as places of possibility.

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