Wednesday 11 December 2013

Neighbourhood Facilities for Sustainability

It is increasingly acknowledged that current plans to implement sustainability are not achieving the scale and speed of change required. National built environment strategies to address sustainability tend to focus on large-scale programmes in areas such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. While this approach can
improve national environmental indicators such as carbon emissions profiles; it appears unlikely to achieve sustainability.

In recent paper titled Neighbourhood Facilities for Sustainability, Jeremy Gibberd argues that more comprehensive, and more local, approaches are required. Interventions at a neighbourhood level should be developed that enable day-to-day living patterns to become more sustainable over time. A key element of this are built environment characteristics and facilities which support sustainability.

Neighbourhood Facilities for Sustainability (NFS) are initiatives undertaken by individuals and communities to build local sustainable systems which not only improve their quality of life but also reduce environmental impacts. The paper argues that this approach is a valuable way of ensuring that sustainability is addressed rapidly and effectively in urban settings. It also argues that the NFS approach may be more efficient and effective than national programmes as it responds to the local context and develops local ownership and capacity to which ensures systems are well managed and maintained. The approach will be illustrated through NFS proposals developed for an informal settlement neighbourhood in South Africa. These proposals will be critically reviewed and recommendations for further study, made. A presentation on the concept is provided below.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Integrated Urban Development Framework

The Integrated Urban Development Framework was launched at a conference organised by the Departments of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) and Human Settlements on the 25 October 2013. The framework has been developed as a response to Chapter 8 of the National Development Plan. In particular, it aims to address the NDP's vision of urban South Africa:

By 2030 South Africa should observe meaningful and measurable progress in reviving rural areas and in creating more functionally integrated, balanced and vibrant urban settlements. For this to happen the country must: clarify and relentlessly pursue a national vision for spatial development; sharpen the instruments for achieving this vision; [and] build the required capabilities in the state and among citizens.

The document states it will give more practical meaning to the urban vision set out in the NDP and will provide a framework for managing urban development more effectively and efficiently and, where necessary, offer policy and legislative proposals to support the implementation of the framework.

The framework lists many of the problems with current urban situations in South Africa; 'Population growth in our cities is in an upward cycle','Our urban areas remain largely segregated','Existing property values (and land use) perpetuate urban segregation','Our municipalities are facing enormous challenge'.  It also alludes to improvements that will be achieved;  'The urban dividend will be reaped', 'Policies and resource allocation will be more effective','Civil society and the private sector will play their part','Rural development will benefit','Urbanisation will be better managed'.

The document asks for public engagement and to provide input to the framework. However in its current form, this is difficult as the the document does not address the main problems of 'what type of urban environments and processes do we need to move towards' and 'how this will be achieved'. Without this substance, it is difficult to engage with the document. The problems of urban areas are well know and the improvements proposed in the framework will remain a wishlist without appropriate implementation mechanisms.  The NDP also make specific reference to 'functionally integrated, balanced and vibrant urban settlements'. What does this actually mean in detail? This should be central to the framework but appears not be to be discussed.

There are key urban development questions that need to be addressed, such as;

  • What should South African urban environments look like? 
  • Can a vision of future urban environments be developed?
  • Can this vision be described in sufficient detail to show how it incorporates objectives of the Constitution and Nation Development Plan as well as addressing aspects such as climate change and sustainability?
  • Given the existing starting point how can this vision be achieved?
  • Are there innovative, highly effective and efficient (smarter) ways of achieving this vision?
  • What is the role of government, business, NGOs and communities in developing these environments?
  • Are there policies and processes that can be used to support the development of these environments?

Tackling these questions and outlining innovative and conceptual solutions could be used to prompt active engagement by key stakeholders and the general public and ensure that important changes in urban environments and processes are achieved more quickly.