The way land is used in South African cities should form the foundation of inclusive growth, according to prof. Ivan Turok, director of the Economic Performance and Development Unit of the Human Science Research Council (HSRC).
"Land reform is a burning issue in SA at the moment. We have a crisis on our hands in the country and a major obstacle is how inclusive development can be created," he said at the Planning Africa 2018 conference taking place in Cape Town this week.
"Whenever we talk about land in SA, we talk in terms of rural land, but what about urban land? We need to take the issue of the critical use of land by urban planners much more seriously."
He alleged that a major land grab was currently happening on the coastal road between the Cape Winelands and Cape Town, this despite the area being a nature protection zone. He also pointed out that the major invasion of wetlands at the edge of the city was hazardous to live on, especially if flooded.
He said there's a lot of opportunism in the land-grab process, with rumours of political parties trying to gain traction from it. He claimed there was anecdotal evidence of people being provided with free building materials, so they can put up informal housing on invaded land. In some areas existing roads were being blocked so that people can put up informal housing, he further claimed.
"There are a lot of questions about what the longer-term impact will be on poverty, economic development and municipal resources. Our cities are already very inefficient and very exclusionary," he said.
He emphasised that in inclusive growth the spatial patterns created are very important.
In his view the urban planning system needs to be more "action oriented" to identify and release land, especially suitable state-owned land.
"We have to streamline regulatory procedures and have mechanisms to invest in affordable housing. Partnerships between the private sector, NGOs and community builders are needed," he said.
"Much more needs to be done with higher density development, including multi-storey developments."
Laurine Platzky of the University of Cape Town said for many people planning meant control. In her view, planners have to work against vested interests and find ways to understand what was for the public good.
"If you are going to intervene as an urban planner, you have to see where the economic opportunities are going to be," she said.
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