Rural development can be sustainable

12th November 2021 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Developing sustainable rural hamlets and villages will not only help to counteract urbanisation, but also enable livelihoods to be created in rural areas where 40% of South Africans live, rural development company Crossways Farm Village co-developer Dr Chris Mulder said this week.

Towns and cities the world over developed from villages growing and eventually merging. South Africa should focus on creating smart and sustainable villages in rural areas that provide good living standards, he suggested during a webinar hosted by Rode and Associates.

"People are looking for rural living and open spaces. However, in developing Crossways Farm Village, we were told that we would not be able to receive any water or wastewater treatment services from the municipality.

"We secured water abstraction permits to draw water from the Van Staden river, and built our own potable water and wastewater treatment plants," he said.

The project proved that sustainable development of rural villages was not only possible, but also that it could be done without relying on government to first create the infrastructure, he noted.

Mulder criticised the typical development of houses by municipalities for not being focused on addressing the full breadth of needs of communities and providing a healthy environment within and around the residences, which leads to these houses not providing a desirable and healthy lifestyle for residents.

"Creating developments with enduring value requires a diverse, passionate and multidisciplinary team, including architects, town planners, engineers or environmental specialists, to design, plan and build for economic value, social and cultural value, environmental value and sensory value," said Mulder, describing what he views as the four core elements of sustainable development and property value retention and growth.

"Social and cultural value distills the contribution a place makes to society and community members' sense of worth and belonging. Environmental value, meanwhile, is fairly simple because, if you do not take care of your environment, your environment will not take care of you. A focus on environmental value also improves cost effectiveness and enhances returns on assets in addition to providing a healthy environment and healthy living.

"The final value creator is sensory value, referring to sights, sounds and smells. If a place does not have sensory value, people will not want to live there," he said.

An important element is to ensure a mixture of different amenities and residence sizes, including single-family and multi-family dwellings, as well as waterfront homes. The development is also scattered and not contiguous, preserving environmentally sensitive areas and open air spaces.

"The development started as an almost 600 ha dairy farm on both sides of the N2, 30 km from Jeffrey's Bay and Port Elizabeth. We started with an environmental analysis to map out high-potential agricultural areas and soils and conservation areas, including riverine areas, which were excluded from development.

"There are still cows on the 120 ha of agriculture areas, which also mow lawns and provide us with fresh milk, and the agricultural areas were preserved to support local food security. We also insist that each household harvests rainwater," he said.

The development also has dedicated fibre-optic infrastructure, a school, a farmers' market and many outdoor activities such as mountain biking and hiking. More than 660 residences have been built, he added.

"Sustainable rural development is achievable and feasible," he said.

The second phase of the development will include mixed-use shops and office buildings, and the developers have secured permission to build an airstrip. A community trust has also been established, which receives 2.5% of the proceeds from sales.

"The stands are typically smaller than [Reconstruction and Development Plan] houses, but the difference is the amenities that all 3 000 residents enjoy. Core to creating enduring value of properties, and which makes the difference in creating a desirable development, is the planning and design of the end product.

"This is a smart village, not a smart city and not linked specifically to digital technology, but designed to be sustainable and liveable. It can be done. We can develop rural South Africa outside of urban boundaries, while providing communities with all the utility services to establish and maintain a community and livelihoods," he said.

"The rest of the world developed in hamlets and villages like this, and this is what spurred me to focus on rural development with the aim of creating places that enable people to live a life of dignity," Mulder said.