7 ways to ‘decolonise’ urban planning in SA – academic

The “decolonisation” of planning education in Africa will produce better planners for creating better cities on the continent, according to Vanessa Watson, professor in the City and Regional Planning programme and deputy director of the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at the University of Cape Town.

She was one of the speakers at the Planning Africa 2018 conference taking place in Cape Town this week under the theme “the making of modern African cities”.

She said the democratisation of access to universities is an important part of this process.

There are two different interpretations on the issue of “Africanising” the planning curriculum for students. The one implies that one should "cut yourself off from the rest of the world", but Watson is not in favour of this approach.

“We need not delink ourselves from the rest of the world. Rather look at how the rest of the world thinks about planning but look at it from our perspective from over here,” said Watson.

“It is very important to continue to read texts from scholars from the ‘global North’ and the ‘global South’, but with concerns about our different challenges on the continent.”

She said urban planners in SA should ask what their vision is and what could be lacking from the vision of planning SA cities. In her view, there is not yet a clear vision of what such an “alternative” vision could be to bring into the local planning curriculum.
“Evidence-based planning is needed if we want to convince politicians of what the right thing to do would be. Evidence-based planning is critical and requires analysis before planning,” she said.

“Governance forms a very important part of this type of approach.”

She proposes seven ways to "decolonise" planning education in Africa:

1. Rethink how planning history is taught

Rethink how planning history and planning theory are taught.

It must be explained how colonial and apartheid history have shaped cities and how these inequalities persist.

2. Question parochial bias

Questions must be asked about parochial bias.

Recognise how the “global North” continues to dominate in planning ideas in the “global South” – not just in Africa.

This continues to often give rise to inappropriate solutions.

Draw in local sources wherever possible. It does not imply disregarding international expert authorities on planning. It is about approaching them from a deconstruction perspective.

It is not about the “Africanisation” of the curriculum, but there are a growing number of planning concepts developed in and from Africa and these publications need to be taken notice of as well.

3. Importance of planning curriculum

The planning curriculum should be grounded in “situated knowledge” of the context in which the students will end up working.

Simply applying a global best practice approach is often disastrous. Rather draw on local case studies as much as possible and base planning studios in local communities.

4. Mutual learning

Encourage mutual learning in poor communities.

Create dialogues so that students can begin to enhance their inter-personal skills.

Adopt an openness to the experiences of many diverse residents in cities to nurture an empathetic attitude to knowledge and learning outside the classroom.

5. Values

Change the self-reflection of values. Encourage students to evaluate their own values and to respect that of others.

Planning often positions itself as apolitical, yet planning cannot be portrayed as neutral.

Students must understand who the "losers" and the "winners" are in any planning intervention.

6. Inter-cultural learning

This is important especially in student group work. Tensions can arise among students because of unhealed wounds from the past and a misinformed understanding of where other students come from.

Sometimes mediation might even be needed among the students.

7. Diversity

Staff need to be diverse and it is important that students are exposed to "different voices".

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