Strength and the City
Creating Resilient Cities in Challenging Times
When the international Rockefeller Foundation extended an invitation to Durban and Cape Town to join its 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) programme, it committed to helping these cities become more resilient to 21st century physical, social and economic challenges.
Resilience, it seems, has become the new global buzzword. But in terms of the 100RC programme, the term has been refined to specifically describe “urban resilience”, which it defines as the “capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow, no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience”.
Chronic stresses, of which there are 11 in total, are defined as slow-moving disasters that weaken the fabric of a city. These include high unemployment, an overburdened or inefficient public transportation system, and financial and/ or economic crisis. Among the 37 acute shocks recognised by 100RC which refer to sudden, sharp events that threaten a city are earthquakes, fires, floods and outbreaks of disease.
Along with funding to hire a chief resilience officer to lead a city’s resilience efforts, the 100RC programme offers member cities: technical support to develop a holistic strategy to reflect each city’s distinct needs; access to an innovative platform of private sector and NGO services to support strategy development and implementation; and inclusion in the 100RC network in terms of knowledge sharing and best practice examples.
The 100RC programme identifies seven qualities that a resilient urban area needs to develop to mitigate shocks and stresses. These include being:
• Reflective and resourceful: The ability to learn from the past and use these learnings to inform future decisions, while also finding alternative ways to use existing resources better.
• Robust, redundant and flexible: Robust, for example, in terms of developing infrastructure that will not fail catastrophically when design thresholds are exceeded; redundant in terms of purposively creating spare capacity to accommodate disruption; and flexibility in terms of an ability to adopt alternative strategies in response to changing circumstances.
• Inclusive and integrated: Ensuring broad consultation, engagement and involvement while at the same time bringing together systems and institutions and the pooling of knowledge and resources.
When Durban was inaugurated into the 100RC programme and turned its sights towards achieving these qualities, it led to a partnership between Tongaat Hulett, Dube TradePort and the eThekwini Municipality, with the three bodies working together to develop a resilience framework for the northern area of Durban.
“Being resilient is about making sure the foundations are in place to allow us to respond effectively to challenges and, where necessary, to fundamentally change how cities operate,” says Durban’s chief resilience officer, Debra Roberts.
The key corridor identified by the partnership stretches from the Ohlanga River in the south to the uThongathi River in the north and includes the uMdloti River. Inlands, it stretches to the edge of Verulam and beyond Tongaat into Buffelskloof.
Acknowledging the need for balanced and sustainable development in the region to overcome poverty and provide economic upliftment, while still preserving the integrity of threatened wetlands in the region, Rory Wilkinson, planning director at Tongaat Hulett, says: “The project arose out of an acknowledgement that economic development is key if we are to alleviate poverty, which is an imperative at national, provincial and local government level. In order to achieve this, cities need to grow in a way that optimises land use, infrastructural provision and promotion of investment which will generate inclusive economic development, while managing the pressure urbanisation places on the natural environment through largescale transformation.”
Meanwhile, on the opposite coast of South Africa, and recognising that strong central business districts invariably help to build strong economies in metropoles, the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) was invited to attend Cape
Town’s first large-scale 100RC workshop earlier this year.
With the CCID primarily responsible for attracting new investment into the city’s traditional CBD while ensuring that existing investment stays, CCID CEO Tasso Evangelinos notes: “Cape Town’s participation in the 100RC programme is obviously a citywide, holistic one that covers the entire metropole, but we’re looking very seriously at how we can also bring the concept of resilience down to the microcosm of the Central City, so that we can prepare for future stresses or shocks that could affect not only our own area, but have a ripple effect in the metropole beyond our boundaries.
“To achieve resilience for the Central City,” says Evangelinos, “we’re looking very specifically at how we can learn from the past and use the data we’ve collected and trends we’ve identified over the past few years. These can then inform the best possible strategies for the CBD’s future and the way in which that impacts all stakeholders, right from how an investor considers the CBD for investment, to how an employee who works in the CBD or student who studies here engages with the urban environment.”
The data and trends Evangelinos refers to have been collated since the CCID came into being in 2000, initially to plan operations across three of its divisions, namely public safety, urban management and social development. More recently, since 2012, these have also been used by its communications division as the foundation for the CCID’s annual investment guide, The State of Cape Town Central City Report.
Carola Koblitz, author of the publication and communications manager for the CCID, elaborates: “This guide has always looked back at the economic climate of the CBD in terms of being a ‘barometer’ for investors, but the extent of our information gathering and the consequent analyses we now do has begun to enable us to forecast areas of potential growth and business opportunity, as well as challenges that we may be facing.”
Although the report is only published once a year, research and analysis is ongoing throughout the year in order to be constantly aware of any changes in trends. “For example, six months into 2017, we know that commercial and retail vacancy rates are still relatively stable, while the unprecedented year-on-year increases we’ve seen in the prices of residential property are beginning to show a stabilisation,” Koblitz explains.
This, Koblitz believes, bodes well for ensuring that residential property in the CBD remains within realistic levels, even though it has risen steeply in the past few years off a low base since the mid2000s. “Hopefully, the stabilisation we’re now seeing will also begin to encourage developers to take cognisance of the need for more affordable units that could accommodate those in the CBD workforce who find themselves in the ‘missing middle’ – people who do not qualify for government subsidies but who spend up to 40 % of their income just on transportation.
“For example, how can we provide accommodation for bank clerks, shop assistants, social workers, teachers or call centre staff – the employees who very often make up the backbone of a CBD economy?”
Evangelinos finishes by saying: “It’s time for us as a CBD to take a holistic view of our downtown strengths as well as challenges, and work out how we can create a strong core to take us forward and create urban resilience that stretches from our business communities to our residential and visitor economies.”