Ur­ban liv­ing in the fu­ture

CityPress - - News - SE­TUMO STONE se­tumo.stone@city­press.co.za

After five days and 90 dis­cus­sion ses­sions at Gal­lagher Es­tate in Midrand, politi­cians and tech­nocrats from Africa’s var­i­ous mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties this week drew a path to­wards de­vel­op­ing the con­ti­nent’s fu­ture cities. They were care­ful not to prom­ise a utopia. The Afric­i­ties Sum­mit, held ev­ery three years, seeks to bring lo­cal gov­ern­ment ex­perts and prac­ti­tion­ers from across the con­ti­nent un­der one roof to dis­cuss fu­ture so­lu­tions to rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion.

Among those who at­tended was CEO of SA Ci­ties Net­work Sit­hole Mbanga, who said al­though he could not ex­plain what African cities of the fu­ture would look like, they were not about sub­sti­tut­ing low-rise build­ings with sky­scrapers and high-rise de­vel­op­ments.

Nei­ther would they be free of in­for­mal set­tle­ments, ser­vice-de­liv­ery protests or labour dis­putes. The fo­cus was on im­prov­ing the liv­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of their res­i­dents.

“The dan­ger is that peo­ple tend to look for graph­ics to say there will be sky­scrapers. We are look­ing for a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing in the city, like less travel time be­tween home and work, more [peo­ple] ex­pe­ri­enc­ing jobs rather than job­less­ness, and more so­cial in­fra­struc­ture for health and ed­u­ca­tion,” said Mbanga.

Un­like in de­vel­oped parts of the world, most African cities face in­fra­struc­ture back­logs as a re­sult of cen­turies of colo­nial and racial spa­tial de­vel­op­ment.

Also, rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion has over time seen in­for­mal set­tle­ments sprawl­ing around ur­ban cen­tres as peo­ple seek bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Mbanga said the vi­sion for fu­ture cities does not ex­clude in­for­mal set­tle­ments.

“The con­struc­tion of new houses will never catch up as long as we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ur­ban­i­sa­tion,” he said.

“There is al­ways go­ing to be a gap be­tween the abil­ity to lay down hu­man set­tle­ment struc­tures and the de­mand that comes as a re­sult of ur­ban­i­sa­tion. At a bare min­i­mum, we need to man­age in­for­mal set­tle­ments in­stead of think­ing that we will ever get rid of them.

“There are al­ways go­ing to be dis­agree­ments and dis­putes be­tween labour and em­ploy­ers. When work­ers are dis­sat­is­fied they should be able to ex­press that, and if they re­sort to strikes, let it be the case.

“Even in a trans­formed city, you are still go­ing to have those dis­putes.”

New tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments are see­ing African city dwellers de­mand­ing more than just ba­sic ser­vices from lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

“Our com­mu­ni­ties are no longer just de­mand­ing wa­ter and houses. Wi-Fi has be­come some­thing they are de­mand­ing as a right. There is nowhere in the pre­scripts of law where it says we must de­liver Wi-Fi, but more mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have re­alised that it is a new de­mand and they are de­liv­er­ing that,” he said.

Mbanga said the sum­mit pro­vided del­e­gates with “a good sense of ex­actly the mag­ni­tude of the prob­lem”.

A key trend was the change in de­mo­graph­ics across cities. “The cities are be­com­ing younger in terms of the pop­u­la­tion and the av­er­age age of res­i­dents.

“More than 50% of peo­ple liv­ing in cities are aged be­tween 24 and 35,” he said.

“This means you have a huge pop­u­la­tion that is younger, yet fac­ing un­em­ploy­ment. We need to think about how we cre­ate jobs be­cause not do­ing so is a recipe for dis­as­ter. They are go­ing to get frus­trated.”

Ser­vice-de­liv­ery protests were, he said, “not just about the lack of ser­vices like run­ning wa­ter or waste re­moval, but they are also about un­em­ploy­ment”. Fu­ture cities are about ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a bet­ter life. “We have to man­age how these things are hap­pen­ing. We can never over­come them overnight,” said Mbanga.

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY

The high-rise build­ings of La­gos, Nige­ria. What are the fu­ture so­lu­tions to rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion?

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