Cities need to address their spatial vision

Qondile Khedama
Qondile Khedama

SOUTH AFRICAN cities need to adopt a radical stand in addressing their spatial vision.

This strongly held view is based on the 2016 State of South African Cities Report released in Johannesburg on 22 June by the South African Cities Network (SACN) and partners.

They encourage the exchange of information, experience and best practices on good governance, urban development and city management as both research source and a catalyst for debate.

The finding is that while South African cities have been able to drive growth and development under difficult circumstances over the past five years, there have been mixed performances in achieving inclusivity and sustainable growth and development.

Released every five years since 2006, the Statistics Online Computational Resource (SOCR) monitors city’s developments and service delivery against local benchmarks and strategies, national urban development priorities and internatio-nal development targets.

The 2016 report notes that with mounting job losses and the economic downturn affecting both the rich and the poor, attention is increasingly focused on the role that cities play in stimulating and supporting economic development.

According to the report, cities have been generating almost two-thirds of the country’s economic activity and just over half of national employment.

It also indicates that cities have improved on service delivery and generally had good strategies in place to facilitate economic growth and social development.

SACN emphasised the need for the country’s institutions and systems to be reconfigured to support the cities in their endeavours of improving services of their respective customers.

Cape Town, the only metro which does not belong to the network, is the only city in South Africa where the proportion of people living in informal areas has increased over the past five years.

The increase is said to be due to the significant population growth in the city between 2001 and 2011.

While Cape Town has made progress in reducing poverty and improving livelihoods, inequality remains a challenge.

The issue of exclusivity is also being singled out as a challenge, with many city dwellers struggling to access opportunities.

The SACN says violence and the vulnerability of groups such as the youth and foreign migrants could be associated with the inability of large segments of the population to derive any benefit from “urban promise”.

Though the report is silent on revitalisation of small municipalities in an attempt to address some effects of urbanisation, it does, however, give a special focus on the complexities of spatial transformation.

Given the picture painted, I am agitating for cities to adopt a radical stand in addressing their spatial vision.

Conceptualisation and laments regarding spatial transformation are overdue.

Cities need to act and act now in dealing with their open spaces and these open spaces need to address poverty and the downtrodden.

The report makes an intense reference to the systemic dynamics of cities that are self-reinforcing and how cities are configured, grow and change are inherently linked to other aspects of city performance.

Their liveability, efficiency and attractiveness are also related to how economically productive they are, which typically influence how inclusive, sustainable and well-governed they are.

It further notes that apartheid was based on racial segregation, control and deliberate dispossession and socio-economic marginalisation of black people.

Black people were forcibly removed from urban land and had no legal claim to land or property ownership rights outside of the homelands.

Housing for black families was created on the periphery of cities and access of black labourers to the city was limited.

Transport services were designed to control access to urban areas, with commuter flows that brought people over the long distances in the morning and took them home in the evening.

At the same time, the government invested heavily in road infrastructure for private vehicles and neglected public transport, which paved the way for the rapid growth of the minibus taxi industry (Barrett, 2003).

Furthermore, little investment was made in infrastructure for pedestrians and other non-motorised transport users, especially in poorer peripheral locations where (ironically) walking is the dominant mode of mobility.

The full report is available on the network’s website:

  • Qondile Khedama is head of communications of the Mangaung Metro and writes in his personal capacity.
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