by Michelle Gololo

Gauteng sets up 'centre for urban innovation'

Challenges of urbanisation

A new 'centre for urban innovation' has been launched.

Minister in the Presidency, Trevor Manuel and the Premier of Gauteng, Nomvula Mokonyane, recently announced the establishment of a 'centre for urban innovation' which will be based in Johannesburg.

Gauteng Premier, Nomvula Mokonyane made the announcement during her address at the opening ceremony of Metropolis 2013, which took place in Sandton, Johannesburg.

Metropolis is a global network of 150 cities – a network that for almost 30 years has provided support to cities, while connecting local leaders and academia with civil society and business, and setting benchmarks on how cities can be effectively managed and run.

The four-day meeting – called 'caring cities' – includes discussions on rapid urbanisation, food security, resource resilience, safety and security, caring cities, the use of technology, social cohesion and greater citizen engagement, and funding models for growing cities.

Mokonyane said details of both the centre and the fund had been provided during a Metropolis session on 19 July, called Global Dialogue for Innovative Urban Practices.

Earlier she said it is the intention to turn Gauteng into a "city-region", empowered to  look at innovative ways of developing the country's richest province through "functional, social, spatial and economic linkages".

"We are taking into account the imperatives of the National Development Plan in the formulation of Gauteng Vision 2055," said Mokonyane.

She added: "The Gauteng provincial government is also closely involved in the process led by national government to formulate (the) Integrated Urban Development Framework."

Talking about the innovation centre, Minister Manuel, the architect of the National Development Plan, said: "We have taken the decision to collaborate on this initiative because we understand that with urbanisation expected to continue, the challenges are unlikely to ease. We know that the solution does not lie in merely repeating what we have done in the past."

Manuel earlier told delegates that cities occupied a crucial space in a country's national discourse. "You have gathered to discuss precisely how cities are designed, built and governed. You have gathered because we need shared learning and we need to recognise that there is much wrong with the expansion of our cities in the developing world. Consequently, issues of spatial design, efficiencies and management become extremely difficult."

He said cities were growing at a rapid rate, with most urbanisation taking place in informal settlements. Urban populations in Africa have almost trebled in the last fifty years, while host city Johannesburg alone has added 1.2 million people to its population between 2001 and 2011, according to the results of Census 2011.

Incredibly, he said, South Africa today "has almost the same number of people living in informal settlements as it did in 1994.” He added: "This is in spite of the fact that government has provided nearly three million houses during the period. What this means is that people who migrate to the cities find city life alienating in all forms. They cannot find suitable formal accommodation in the cities closer to places of employment, and they cannot actually find formal jobs. People thus resort to informal activities on the physical and economic periphery of the city."

He said while there were several long-term plans in place like the National Development Plan 2030, the Gauteng Province's Vision 2055, and the City of Johannesburg's 2040 vision, the challenge was to "put in place credible plans to transition". He said: "Bold leadership and 

He said: "I hold the view that the scale of challenges such as youth unemployment, spatial and income inequalities and economic exclusion, require that cities should become sites of innovation. City leaders, researchers and policymakers should create opportunities for experimentation with different models of delivering services, developing and maintaining infrastructure and creating jobs."

He said to this end the National Development Plan proposed a three-pronged approach: "Firstly, it proposes that we should increasingly move certain types of economic activities closer to deprived areas such as black townships. Secondly, we should promote development along transport corridors to capture the value of the investment in existing infrastructure. And thirdly, we should invest in efficient and affordable public transport systems to link people to different parts of the city."

He said the failure to act swiftly could result in social unrest. "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 and not the periphery. 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."

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