By Professor Phillip Harrison; SA Research Chair in Development Planning and Modelling at the University of the Witwatersrand and a member of the National Planning Commission.
The National Development Plan identified the transformation of space as one of its key objectives. This may seem an overly abstract concern when compared with pressing matters such as promoting health and improving education, but where we live and work does matter.
Poverty and inequality are exacerbated where there are long distances between home and work, and where there is poor access to public services and extreme separation between social groups.
Our towns and cities were mainly created under segregationist apartheid rule and so consigned the majority of South Africans to places far away from work, where services could not be sustained and where it was difficult for the poor to participate in the economy.
There are also pressing environmental concerns.
Our towns and cities developed during an era when carbon-based fuels were relatively cheap. So they are poorly equipped for a new era of rising carbon prices and fuel scarcity. They are also inefficient in the use of resources such as electricity and foods, and face concerns over food security.
The hard reality is we have not made much space during the post-apartheid years.
We have largely failed to build viable and valued places that support job creation, livelihoods and access to social opportunities.
The National Planning Commission acknowledges that this is a long-term objective that requires a long-term view and a complex set of interventions over an extended period.
But the commission also recognised that there are compelling examples elsewhere in the world (Latin America, for example) where targeted interventions have made a significant difference in the lives of people over a relatively short period.
The commission proposes to start a national conversation about cities, town and villages that would encourage alternative designs and proposals to improve and restructure working and living environments.
It also, however, offers a series of practical measures that could be introduced in the short term to shift the spatial trajectory. These include:
- The development of a national spatial framework to tackle inherited spatial divisions at a macro scale and unlock the development potentials of under performing regions.
- Reforms to strengthen the spatial planning system.
- A revision of the housing finance regime that would shift state expenditure from the direct provision of housing to the development of public goods such as public transport, public spaces, and economic and social infrastructure.
- New incentives, regulations and implementation mechanisms supporting more inclusive land development, greater spatial flexibility, more sustainable infrastructure and a stronger link between land development and public transport.
- Specific measures to support green infrastructure, reduce demand for electricity and water, deal with environmental hazards and promote energy-efficient building.
- Among the specific proposals are recommendations for: zero-carbon building standards by 2030; legal instruments to regularise informal settlements; translating municipal integrated development plans into spatial contracts; and provision for cross-boundary plans that promote collaborative action in transportation and climate change adaptation.
Many South Africans still live in poverty traps in former homelands while agricultural employment has steeply declined from the 1990s. However, rural areas cannot be indiscriminately written off. They are critical in terms of national resource security, offer economic prospects across a range of sectors; and provide livelihood and sustenance for a significant proportion of the population.
Transforming urban and rural space across South Africa is a large and complex agenda requiring policy shifts and changes in household, business and institutional practices. While we cannot change the world overnight, we can collectively develop a compelling long-term vision, then work to achieve systemic change over time.
April 18 2012