Rapid Urbanisation: designing inclusive and sustainable cities

July 29, 2015
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With the continuous population growth and greater economic opportunities in our cities, rapid urbanisation is a reality. By 2050, the world population will grow to 9 billion of which 7 billion will be urbanised. Most notable is the growth of the middle class from 1.5 billion in 2010 to 4 billion and the informal urban population from 1 to 3 billion. These unprecedented rates of urbanisation put enormous pressure on cities and environmental sustainability and addressing issues such as density levels, land use patterns and connectivity will have a major impact on the climate and economic prosperity. This is what we discussed with Prof. Edgar Pieterse, founding director of the African Centre for Cities and South African Research Chair in Urban Policy, and Cathy Stone, Director of Spatial Planning & Urban Design for the City of Cape Town.

Edgar opened the conversation by highlighting the reality that South Africa is still dealing with an apartheid spatial form where our cities were built to spatially marginalise race groups. This means a spatial landscape where large numbers of people, usually lower income, live far from work and have to spend close to 50% of their income just getting to/from work. Edgar reflected that, while Cape Town is closely aligned to global thinking of Sustainable Development Goals 2015 – 2030, the focus seems more on planning than effecting real transformational change. He posed the question: “Is it possible that we can have all the ‘right’ policies, concepts and plans and still make no impact on the challenges facing the city?” Some additional challenges include the fragmented nature of government and parastatals in terms of policy decisions and fiscal contribution such as our transport infrastructure where rail, buses and mini bus taxis fall under different bodies.

Cathy, through her work at the City of Cape Town, highlighted patterns of urbanisation, the need for densification and transport-oriented development, and focused on fiscal sustainability of the City. Informal urbanisation ensures that people live closer to employment opportunities and natural densification occurs. However, transport is key to development, as is encouraging mixed-use, mixed-income and non-motorised development. Cathy mentioned that investments such as the Bellville raillink which will link Bellville to the airport and new MyCiti routes, will connect people better to economic opportunities. Additional projects being planned or piloted by the City include a pilot in Langa to support businesses and adopting a high street model in Khayalitsha with additional proactive rezoning of residential land.

Both Edgar and Cathy encouraged different thinking and collaboration to address the scale of the problem in Cape Town. As Edgar said: “If we cannot achieve critical mass within the middle-class and business communities to drive radical spatial and social change, in concert with the majority city, no amount of planning and investment will make much of a difference.” Accelerate Cape Town will aim to take this agenda forward through our members as the future of our city is a collective responsibility.

Please see the photos from our Sustainability Forum on Rapid Urbanisation.

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