It is a well known fact that the apartheid sought to separate and racially divide South Africans. This was not just done through pass laws and separate development but even in the way black people were settled in the country and especially in the urban areas. The HDA’s Monitoring and Evaluation Unit offers some insights on how far we have gone in addressing or redressing apartheid spatial planning to realize the objective of building, resilient, vibrant and sustainable communities throughout the country. How has the transformation progressed over the last five years?
Looking at the country in its entirety, transformation is on-going, although at very different rates and often taking different forms - there are however excellent pockets of transformation. The HDA has monitored and evaluated a sample of 10 human settlements projects whereby the scale, nature and appearance of these communities have visibly changed. For many, many people, life in the city has improved and modernised vastly: many who were previously denied full citizenship rights now have access to basic services, shelter and city resources. The most significant public sector investments have been in low-income housing, public transport infrastructure, and bulk infrastructure for basic services provision, as well as in improved access to health and education.
With the introduction of Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) contracting and streamlined integrated planning both vertically and horizontally, the spatial transformation agenda should be more easily achieved.
What are the major challenges in situating these developments in urban areas?
Generally, there is scarcity of well-located land in prime urban areas. And, where it is available it makes greater sense for the city to draw higher rates and taxes from the land by offering it up towards developments that will realise this. If it is privately owned the owner would similarly be more interested in profit; affordable housing generally results in lower income for the city—which then constrains the city’s ability to cross subsidise.
For the state, and especially local government, these implications relate to service delivery, the ability to deliver on spatial transformation goals and fiscal viability. The cost of providing services is higher in sprawling urban environments because services have to be provided over long distances to where most low-income housing has been built
That said, it is important to revitalise and put investment in areas where people already live, so that there is socio-economic opportunity in multiple areas as opposed to people having to travel to one prime urban district.
What developments have been made in terms of other aspects of spatial planning transformation such as transport, increased health facilities and schooling?
Government invested heavily in road infrastructure for private vehicles and has largely neglected the inclusion of minibus taxi industry which is largely operated informally and is not formally a large contributor to the city’s income.
Moreover, there is lack of investment in infrastructure for pedestrians and other non-motorised transport (NMT) users, especially in poorer peripheral locations where (ironically) walking is the dominant mode of mobility.
Lack of transversal alignment from the initial planning and budgeting phases restrict the ability to timeously integrate health and education amenities in new developments
Are the targeted amounts of units required getting met by the demand?
There are great discrepancies in determining housing demand, specific to subsidised housing, usually the housing backlog is used which is actually more indicative as opposed to being actually reflective of what the demand might be. Land invasions, overcrowding and informal backyard units suggest that the targeted amount of units is either not being met or not being met rapidly enough.
Has addressing the spatial planning debacle made a significant difference in upliftment of lower income households or are there now a different set of challenges such as scarcity of opportunities?
Generally, and broadly speaking, efforts towards increased integration using spatial planning as a tool have created increased accessibility, brought about more equitable and affordable living arrangements and increased the opportunities for people of various demographics to access opportunities which they were previously restricted from accessing.
Specifically speaking, good location has not translated into improved livelihoods; a perfect example is that of Alexandra, Johannesburg, where the well-located township has not translated into vastly improved livelihood prospects for its residents. Being located next to the Sandton economic hub has done little for Alexandra residents’ power to change, influence or participate in the city. Unemployment and under-employment, as well as poor infrastructure, facilities and services, all contribute towards sustaining depressed conditions with relatively few opportunities and limited access to resources.