Urban planning more relevant today than ever
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.