Developing our city

2009-10-15 00:00

THE City Summit to be held next week Tuesday and Wednesday under the auspices of the Msunduzi Innovation and Development Institute (Midi) will be a unique event in the life of our city. It represents a major project of Midi which is committed to the constructive development of the city over the next several decades. Behind the desire of the three partners — the Msunduzi Municipality, the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) — to sign a Memorandum of Understanding from which the Midi Trust emanated, was the common belief that the city has great potential and that the best ways of fulfilling this need to be explored through research, consultation, partnership and creative planning. Already engaged in facilitating some exciting projects to achieve this end, Midi conceived the summit as the window through which a brighter future may be seen. What kind of city do we want our children to live in?

Each person, perhaps, will have his or her own vision in this regard, but there will be common themes. Among these will be the desire that our children should stay here, make their lives and car­eers here and not join the growing band of ex-Maritzburgers who have successful careers elsewhere. After all, they have been educated here in schools and colleges that are the envy of many other cities and towns throughout the country. It is no secret that we need far more jobs within a local economy that is becoming more diverse and a great deal more vibrant­ and dynamic. Almost no dev­elopment can be sustained in the long term without private sector development and growth. It is a national failing, it seems, to believe that government determines the state of our economy through its own mechanisms. Its investments, in infrastructure for example, will possibly only last as long as the economy generates a sufficient quantum of taxation. The role of government must be to ensure that the regulatory and policy environments, in all spheres and not just some, stimulate business, economic growth and employment. In reality, the role of local­ government in supporting this objective­ is critical — far more so than municipalities, including our own, seem to realise. It’s nice theory­, but what are the implications in practice? Well, they relate to the city’s airport and the nature of development along the N3 towards­ Durban, for example, and the challenge of increasing urbanisation and the cost of electricity and the extent to which existing businesses invest further and grow.

Underlying this challenge of economic development is the state of the city’s dark side — the disadvantaged people who, because of their strained and prejudiced circumstances, are not able to contribute towards the development of the city. Yet they are part of its citizenry and determine the extent to which we can claim to be a world-class “capital” — a real “city of choice”. That is why food security is high on Midi’s agenda. We lie in the midst of an area of great agricultural potential and we have access to a growing market of consumers, yet we have people who are hungry and destitute and we have not found the way to utilise our advantages to solve this problem. We also recognise, sometimes without comprehensive understanding, that sustainable development is inextricably linked to the environment. If we want to live in a safe city, we must control more than our crime. In particular, environmental sensitivity and pro-activity to ensure that we do more than just protect it, health, the provision of water and basic services and poverty allev­iation have to feature in the scenario that we choose to shape our city’s development.

The many challenges of unemployment cannot be addressed without conscious attention to the development, not only of skills, but the wider concept of com­petence. Here we require a mechanism for co-ordination and joint action driven by a creative and goal-driven plan. We also need to take greater advantage of our strengths as a city. Among these are the major events that we host, together with others yet to be conceived­, that have the potential to draw visitors and raise our city’s profile. Our city is one of culture­ and heritage, but has a limited capacity­ to explore the horizons­.

Above all, the divisive damage of apartheid city development needs urgent repair. We were torn asunder by group areas and other legislation and now we have different groups of different qualities of life and different levels of comfort and prosperity, each with its own priorities for city development. If the City Summit does not begin, at least, to align these for the common good of all who live and work here, it will have failed. Midi was not conceived to operate in a failing city, but one that forges­ ahead in the years to come.

• To attend the summit, phone 033 386 0416 or e-mail

• Andrew Layman is a former headmaster and now the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.

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