Cities need holistic approach to inclusive, sustainable development, SACN says

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22nd April 2022

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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Urban information and research network the South African Cities Network (SACN) has published its fifth 'State of Cities' report, which recommends that cities take a whole-of-government and all-of-society approach to meet their objectives of becoming more economically and socially inclusive, sustainable and spatially transformed.

Cities are crucial for global development, and their performance in delivering basic services and positive development outcomes is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of their citizens, regions, countries and the world, says SACN CEO Sithole Mbanga.

South Africa is no exception to global trends in experiencing rapid urbanisation, with more than two-thirds (67%) of its population having lived in urban areas in 2020. The country's population is expected to grow by 19-million to 24-million people by 2050, many of whom will live in cities or towns.

Despite an expected growing population and number of households, South Africa’s metros have maintained relatively high levels of service delivery, in terms of basic services, namely water and sanitation, electricity, waste removal and information and communications technology infrastructure.

They have also managed to increase their contribution to the national economy, while operating in a climate of poor economic growth, the report says.

South African cities have, however, made little progress in achieving key development outcomes and metros face challenges related to informality, public transport and associated infrastructure, as well as declining operational expenditure on maintenance, the report states.

“Cities have struggled to translate their accomplishments into positive developmental outcomes and to create a better life for all citizens. Outcomes have, at best, been mixed. Positive outcomes include adequate access to food and improved literacy rates, and negative outcomes include unemployment, poverty and inequality, and more people affected by environmental problems,” the report says.

However, there are pockets of excellence where an all-of-society approach and cooperation among government spheres have made cities more inclusive and safer, involving the youth in urban processes, improving informal settlements’ living conditions and creating better public spaces, says Mbanga.

“Other cities are urged to follow in their footsteps, as there is a general lack of progress in making and managing more inclusive spaces. This is in part owing to local governance structures that are constrained in terms of devolution, transversal management and intergovernmental relations.

“Conflict among communities and stakeholders also exists and changing the status quo will require a whole-of-government and all-of-society approach, including the participation among government spheres, public agencies and other sectors of society,” he emphasises.

Further, cooperative governance and all-of-society approaches underpin the National Development Plan 2030, the Integrated Urban Development Framework and international instruments, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and are central concerns that the District Development Model is trying to address.

Despite policy support and commitment, these practices are not widespread and not always successful. Their use has been haphazard, with isolated instances of good practice, rather than broad application, the report states.

“However, despite the challenging municipal environment, there are examples of successful practices. What is urgently needed is to remove the barriers and to facilitate broader project-level and systemic uptake of these practices,” the SACN recommends in the report.

“Cooperative governance and all-of-society practices are increasingly important for South African cities, especially in a climate of dwindling state resources and growing public demands at the local level, including health, economy and social security, and when developmental outcomes are the mandate of, or dependent upon, other urban actors,” the SACN State of Cities Report 2021 states.

Further, enabling a just urban energy and green economy transition to tackle issues of sustainability is essential, and partnerships are needed that enable knowledge-sharing and cooperation, such as on matters of energy, water and waste, as these affect all its residents, especially those living on the outskirts of cities.

While national policy frameworks and city-level strategies are being adopted, which demonstrate cities’ commitment to a just urban energy and green economy transition, the practical challenges associated with this shift have not been fully grasped. Stakeholders across sectors of society need to formulate a shared value proposition to achieve great change, says Mbanga.

“South African cities face a triple challenge, namely responding to environmental issues, deepening socioeconomic inequalities exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and a new mode of cooperative government that can navigate the complexities of cities in the information age. Addressing this requires cooperative governance, codes and practices, partnerships and integrated infrastructure plans.

“Cities also need to recognise that citizens are their greatest resource and that they need to put themselves at the centre of discussions and policy,” concludes Mbanga.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online


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