Nel builds case for interlinked urban-rural development

Monday, October 15, 2018

South Africa’s Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Deputy Minister Andries Nel says sustainable urban development cannot take place in the absence of rural investment.  

Nel was speaking at the Planning Africa 2018 Conference at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Monday.

“The focus must be on strengthening linkages between urban and rural development, but all of this demands effective urban planning. At the core of effective urban planning is strategic spatial planning, which promotes spatial justice, spatial quality, spatial efficiency, spatial sustainability and spatial resilience - the values advocated in the National Development Plan (NDP),” Nel said.

Held under the theme ‘The Making of Modern African Cities’, the South African Planning Institute’s eighth Planning Africa Conference, which started on 14 October, intends to drive debate towards meaningful solutions for development. 

The four-day conference focuses on the role of planning in shaping the future and it is a platform for rethinking, discussing and envisaging the outcomes that planners desire for the future. The conference creates synergies between urban and regional planners and other practitioners, including policy makers and academics. 

In his opening remarks, Nel pointed out four primary factors perpetuating existing social, economic and spatial patterns in South Africa’s urban areas. These include existing property markets and land use, unsustainable infrastructure networks and consumptions patterns, continued segregated urban settlements, and unequal income levels and access to services.

Nel said in South Africa, where 66% of the population already live in urban areas, the economies of metropolitan municipalities are growing twice as fast as those of secondary cities and the rest of the country.

“Metros have much higher average incomes (by about 40%) than the country as a whole. Between 1996 and 2012, employment grew twice as fast in the metros than anywhere else, [and] between 1996 and 2012, metros accounted for three-quarters (74.9%) of all net job creation in the country,” Nel said.

However, Nel noted that at the same time, South Africa’s urban areas continue to be hampered by a legacy of racial segregation, poverty and exclusion from social and economic opportunities.

“The property and land use status quo undermines access to urban opportunity, and reinforces the highly inefficient urban sprawl that is characteristic of South Africa’s urban areas. There has been no substantial land reform and restitution, especially in urban areas, in part because of the importance of the formal property market, which increased significantly between 1994 and 2014.

“South African urban areas are profoundly resource intensive, highly polluted and wasteful. The spatial form of South African cities, dependency on cars and suburban-lifestyle aspiration produce an extremely resource-intensive and inefficient form of settlement,” Nel said.

The Deputy Minister decried the profound social divisions, which stem from apartheid planning and since 1994, have been reinforced by the uneven growth in land values and limited access by the poor to resources.

Integrated Urban Development Framework

In response to these challenges and to give effect to the NDP, Nel reminded conference participants that in April 2016, Cabinet adopted the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF), which marked a “new deal for South African cities and towns”.

“It sets a policy framework to guide the development of inclusive, resilient and liveable urban settlements, while addressing the unique conditions and challenges facing South Africa’s cities and towns. The IUDF provides key principles and policy levers for creating urban spaces. 

“The nine policy levers and priorities are premised on an understanding that integrated urban planning forms the basis for achieving integrated urban development, which follows a specific sequence of urban policy actions,” Nel said. 

Getting transport right 

Nel underscored the importance of integrated transport planning, which should be underpinned by integrated infrastructure network systems and efficient land governance.

Together, he said, these trigger economic diversification and inclusion, and the creation of empowered communities, which in turn, will demand deep governance and financial reform. 

“The levers in combination address the structural drivers that promote the status quo and bring the different sectors together to work towards creating compact, connected and coordinated cities and towns.

“Furthermore, the identified priorities should strengthen rural-urban linkages, promote urban resilience, create safe urban spaces and ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable groups are addressed.”

Nel said the IUDF policy levers should help restructure urban spaces by reducing travel costs and distances; preventing further development of housing in marginal places; increasing urban densities to reduce sprawl; improving public transport and the coordination between transport modes; shifting jobs and investment towards dense peripheral townships; making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, and developing and implementing holistic disaster risk management at all levels. –