18 July 2013
Cities should become sites of innovation for addressing challenges such as youth unemployment, spatial and income inequalities and economic exclusion, says National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel.
Speaking at the Metropolis Annual Meeting in Sandton, Johannesburg on Wednesday, Manuel said city leaders, researchers and policymakers should create opportunities for experimentation with different models of delivering services, developing and maintaining infrastructure and creating jobs.
Cities ‘must become inclusive’
Unless leaders act swiftly, the patience of citizens who lived on the periphery would run out, he cautioned.
“We need to urgently devise and implement credible plans to intervene and make our cities inclusive, and bring the majority of citizens of our cities into the mainstream,” Manuel said.
“We need to equip our people with skills and education to take advantage of opportunities offered by the economies of the cities. We need to plan, design, and manage cities for people.”
The four-day meeting, which started on Tuesday, has drawn mayors, officials and leaders from over 85 cities around the world to Johannesburg to discuss key issues around enhancing development and improving the lives of citizens within a long-term urban development context.
While cities were designed for imagined affluent populations, the reality is that too many people wake up each day to shattered dreams of improvements in lifestyle, Manuel said, prompting the need to re-assess urban policies.
Re-assessing urban policies
Manuel said cities needed land use management systems that allowed for mixed uses so that poor people came to feel they had a right to the city; that captured appreciation of land value for the benefit of the public; and that promoted sustainable use of land.
Manuel also proposed a review of the country’s building norms and standards to ensure that they were appropriate for the level of people’s incomes, as well as for efficient accommodation and movement of dense concentrations of people.
“Rules that regulate building height, plot sizes and building material should reflect affordability levels while providing scope for improvement in the future and taking into account environmental considerations. Using any other criteria will perpetuate inequality and make informality permanent,” he told the meeting.
The minister, who heads up South Africa’s National Planning Commission, also proposed the need for urban development policies that allowed cities to play an effective coordination role to stimulate their own social and economic dynamism.
Effective coordination was necessary to maximise the value of the investment that individuals made in housing, that firms made in commercial property, and that the state made in social infrastructure and other public goods.
South Africa also needed financial institutions that met the needs of the different populations of the country’s cities, he said.
“We need both primary and secondary mortgage markets that target currently underserved segments of the population. Whilst we appreciate the difficulty of developing criteria for affordability, we must do so to avoid the complete bifurcation into either formal high-end mortgages or state provision.”