A movement towards revival in South Africa, by Bouwer Serfontein, Director: Europe at NEW URBAN.

Bouwer Serfontein, Director: Europe at NEW URBAN.

Government’s proposed National Development Plan (NDP) for 2030 has the potential to guide society towards more equality, justice and inclusivity but needs meticulous attention-to-detail in order to be implemented.

Learning from the holistic implementation of past NDP’s is key.

A “first things first” approach should be followed to guide the nation’s development.

The restoring of existing urban centres and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of inclusive and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy presents enormous opportunities.

This “grow from the center” approach will revive the economy, create jobs, allow the needs of urban and rural citizens to be met and ensure the NDP largely succeeds whilst not losing sight of the critical component of development, implementation focused.

This will allow Government to direct urban and rural investment speedily for resource deficient urban/rural areas and secure needed foreign investment – another NDP objective.

This will not solve all the complex challenges South Africans face but is a movement towards revival in South Africa.

We are in support of the NDP 2030 when the dual approach is to development and focus New Urbanism’s bold ideas that work.

New implementation approach required

Where and how do we start a new approach for NDP implementation, practically speaking?

Ten years is a short time in development terms. Coordination of implementation is critical for success and would need to be addressed at this level.

Recommended implementation approach:

  • National, provincial and local broad-based citizenry task teams should be established – comprised of public and private sector leaders, community activists, and multidisciplinary professionals as they represent diverse views on development implementation.
  • Government should review spatial norms and planning standards
  • Strategic urban and rural projects should be identified. Projects should adhere to socio-economic cultural challenges, green infrastructure and spatial growth and should meet the sustainable development goals (SDG’s).
  • Economic vitality, community stability, and the wellbeing of the environment can’t be sustained without a coherent and supportive urban and rural framework for development. Frameworks should be established by teams and integrated with other projects.

The balanced approach

The socio-economic and cultural objectives of the NDP align with the concept of livability.

However, what is not clear from the Plan, is the definition of livability.

The metropolis has a necessary and fragile relationship to cultivate land in close to and interconnected with cities.

The relationship is environmental, economic, and cultural. Farmland and nature are as important to the metropolis as the garden is to the house. These specific alignments with livability concept are clear. If there is no balanced approach to national development, there will be no livability.

 Working together to reduce inequality

Housing will play a significant role to reduce inequality.

Giving people access to own their homes enables dignity and economic activity.

For example, during construction by accredited /efficient SMME’s, a reduction in inequality occurs. More could be done to enable SMME’s to grow business in maintenance and management in the housing sector.

Carbon neutral infrastructure development will also play an increasingly larger part in reducing inequality. When transition towards neutrality occur, there is a risk for inequality to increase.

Long term inequality will only be reduced when all South African citizens work together and grow a strong inclusive economy in support with the NDP.

This transparent approach will give marginalised communities confidence in an economy and governance structure that works for all.

Bold new ideas

  1. New spatial norms and planning standards are required to densify cities. Creating vibrant, diverse, inclusive and exciting places is directly related to the concentration of population and activities.

The benefit of higher density includes:

  • Reduction in land, infrastructure, and energy cost
  • Reduction in cost and reduction in vehicle emissions
  • Concentration of knowledge and innovation thinking
  • Reduction in crime
  • Preservation of green spaces
  • Encouragement of greater physical activity, with consequent health benefits.
  • Fostering a social connectedness and vitality
  1. Improving green transport infrastructure and communities are designed for the pedestrian, transport accessibility as well as the car.
  2. Locating jobs where people live on all urban scales street and squares should be safe, comfortable, and interesting to the pedestrian. Properly configured, they encourage walking and enable neighbours to know each other and protect their communities.
  3. Upgrading informal settlements will improve livability. BUT will development plans again allow upgrades to contribute towards sprawling, dusty, resource intensive, low density places? We should not, compact diverse communities could be achieved through the integration of upgrades in spatial growth frameworks close to city and town centres.
  4. Fixing market gaps will allow neighbourhoods a broad range of housing types and price levels and bring people of diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction. This approach builds strong communities.

Change is required

Public policy and development practice in South Africa should be restructured. No small individual changes to housing or infrastructure will do.  We need bold principles to support the following actions:

  • Develop neighbourhoods diverse in use and population
  • Re-develop cities and towns shaped by physically defined and universal accessible public spaces and community institutions

Develop urban and rural spaces should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.

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