Ur­ban plan­ning more rel­e­vant to­day than ever

Lesotho Times - - Opinion & Analysis - Kele­bone Lekunya

UR­BAN and re­gional plan­ning as a prac­tice boomed at the end of the World War II in Europe be­cause of the vast de­struc­tion of cities which needed to be re-built af­ter 1945. Politi­cians and res­i­dents of the Euro­pean states un­der­stood it as a dis­ci­pline and prac­tice that would make Europe great again, and it did.

While dif­fer­ent schol­ars of ur­ban and re­gional plan­ning have ar­gued that plan­ning or its sem­blance could be recog­nised in the an­cient Greek cities and early Ro­man towns, they gen­er­ally agree that mod­ern set­tle­ment plan­ning be­gan in the early 1900s.

Ur­ban plan­ning of cities and towns is more im­por­tant to­day than af­ter 1945 dur­ing the re­build­ing of Europe. What makes it so im­por­tant is the rate at which global warm­ing is wrack­ing havoc in our lives.

The ef­fects of green-house gas emis­sions into the at­mos­phere and the de­ple­tion of the ozone layer are be­ing felt mostly by the poor and least de­vel­oped coun­tries like Le­sotho.

This year, we have been warned by the Le­sotho Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Ser­vices of a se­vere drought. We are about three months into the sum­mer crop­ping sea­son and we still have no rains.

This sim­ply means that we should ex­pect food short­ages and house­hold food in­se­cu­rity come the next har­vest­ing sea­son. What we need from now on is the func­tional ur­ban and re­gional plan­ning ser­vice to pro­vide nec­es­sary guid­ance and as­sis­tance to all other state agen­cies in de­sign­ing adap­ta­tion, mit­i­ga­tion and re­silience strate­gies against the harm­ful ef­fects of global warm­ing. Phys­i­cal plan­ning’s (as ur­ban and re­gional plan­ning is called in many ju­ris­dic­tions in­clud­ing ours) pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity is to cre­ate hu­man set­tle­ments which are sus­tain­able for hu­man habi­ta­tion.

This means that phys­i­cal plan­ners should de­sign our set­tle­ments in such a way as to as­sist us in curb­ing the ef­fects of global warm­ing.

The sec­ondary role is reg­u­late the ar­range­ment and re-ar­range­ment of land uses or what plan­ners call zon­ing for the pub­lic in­ter­est (don’t ask me who this pub­lic is or who gives the plan­ners the au­thor­ity to act in the in­ter­est of the pub­lic). Th­ese two roles of plan­ners should play a big­ger part in as­sist­ing Ba­sotho to fight green-house gas emis­sions and adapt to global warm­ing.

Pro­fes­sor Verna Nel (of the Ur­ban and Re­gional Plan­ning depart­ment in the Univer­sity of the Free State) ar­gued in one pa­per in 2011 that in de­sign­ing the hu­man set­tle­ments, plan­ners should group in­di­vid­ual plots to­gether within a set­tle­ment (what plan­ners call den­si­fi­ca­tion) in or­der to en­cour­age high use of pub­lic trans­port by the res­i­dents. When the res­i­den­tial sites are compact, she ar­gued, res­i­dents would mostly likely use ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive pub­lic trans­port not their pri­vate cars to and from work.

This would go a long way in re­duc­ing that par­tic­u­lar set­tle­ment’s car­bon foot­print con­sid­er­ably. To­gether with group­ing the in­di­vid­ual land plots to­gether within the set­tle­ments, it is im­por­tant for phys­i­cal plan­ners to con­sider ar­rang­ing the dif­fer­ent land uses within those set­tle­ments to­gether in or­der to cre­ate mul­ti­pur­pose and one stop shop set­tle­ments.

A typ­i­cal planned set­tle­ment should have a school (from pre- school to sec­ondary school), a health post, dif­fer­ent con­ve­nience shops, ac­cess roads, civic ser­vices, sports and religious grounds and a pub­lic park. This ar­rang­ing of dif­fer­ent land uses in one place as­sist in en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to walk (which is also healthy) or to cy­cle to get to dif­fer­ent ser­vice points.

There would be min­i­mal need for us­ing ve­hi­cles around. The func­tion called de­vel­op­ment con­trol in var­i­ous ju­ris­dic­tions should also be used to en­force ap­pro­pri­ate in­di­vid­ual de­vel­op­ment in the set­tle­ments.

Res­i­dents should be guided and as­sisted on which ma­te­ri­als to use in con­struct­ing their houses and how to ori­ent their houses to make max­i­mum use of nat­u­ral warm­ing and cool­ing sys­tems.

It would be vi­tal if peo­ple were ad­vised about us­ing re­new­able en­ergy sources like so­lar and wind to gen­er­ate their house­hold elec­tric­ity for their house­holds. Their toi­lets can also be turned into gas man­u­fac­tur­ing plants for cook­ing and heat­ing.

Plan­ners should also de­sign ad­e­quate sites for peo­ple to prac­tise ur­ban agri­cul­ture within their house­holds, be it an­i­mal or plant hus­bandry. Hav­ing food se­cure house­holds would go a long way in fight­ing global warm­ing through able-bod­ied res­i­dents.

We have reached the prover­bial global warm­ing Ru­bi­con; we have not yet crossed it. Ur­ban and re­gional plan­ning can be used as a vi­tal tool now to fight global warm­ing.

What ur­ban and re­gional plan­ners in Le­sotho should ad­vo­cate for is for ev­ery sin­gle set­tle­ment to have green pub­lic parks and forests as the lungs through which that set­tle­ment can man­u­fac­ture oxy­gen and trap and ab­sorb car­bon diox­ide for us to live longer. The plan­ners should pro­vide enough space for each in­di­vid­ual site to have a place where to plant at least a tree.

I there­fore call upon all stake­hold­ers of this won­der­ful prac­tice (note that I de­lib­er­ately fail to call it a pro­fes­sion yet) to unite and build Le­sotho to be a re­silient coun­try and leader in the fight against the harm­ful global warm­ing ef­fects.

l Lekunya is a town and re­gional plan­ning stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria.

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