According to the UN report titled “Urbanisation Challenges of the 21st Century” by Dr J Clos, well over 800 million people in the world live in slum conditions. Over 61% of the African urban population live in such conditions, in comparison with just over 26% in the Caribbean and Latin America, around 38% in East Asia, and 43% in West Asia. City planning in South Africa and other African countries will therefore have to focus on the improvement of living conditions in the urban areas in order to bring the continent’s urban development in line with other continents across the globe.

Reasons for the Current Problems

The severe lack of proper city planning in African countries has led to the growth of slums. In South Africa, we face the challenge of informal settlements developing within mid-level and affluent areas. In smaller towns, the informal settlements often develop spontaneously near new employment opportunities and in other situations, the local municipalities are unable to deal with the growing population. As a result, areas are allocated for such settlements, but these settlements create problems such as improper facilities to ensure healthy hygiene, open fires (which add to the air pollution problem), excessive littering, and piles of waste.

According to Dr Clos, a lack of public space is another contributing factor to the challenges faced by modern city planners. In many African countries, less than 10% of the urban land is allocated as public space. Provision of the essential services, such as proper sanitation, clean potable water, and electricity remains a challenge. Service delivery channels and improvements in the infrastructure to get the basic services to the people in the lower income groups must be developed.

Traffic congestion, as in most other countries in the world, is also a problem in African cities. More freeways, better public transport services, reduction of the number of vehicles on the road, special walking and cycling paths, and mass transportation infrastructure development are priorities. In addition, planning must consider where the people work and live. By bringing people closer to their workplaces, it is possible to remove the need for long-distance travelling. Reduced travelling time gives the urban residents more free time and thus helps to improve their quality of life.

Economic factors also contribute to the problems faced by modern city planners. High levels of unemployment, especially among the younger generations, lead to poverty. With more people in the lower economic class, more informal settlements develop and people are unable to create decent living environments because they cannot afford it. More pressure is placed on the municipalities to create living spaces for these people.

The growing informal economy across the globe that, according to the UN report, is more than 70%, means more street vendors at traffic lights, informal shops on the city walkways and less control over product quality. City planning needs to address means to provide spaces for the vendors where they can sell their produce without affecting walkways, the aesthetic appeal of an area, and free movement of people.

Proper governance must be in place and public safety needs to be addressed. The growing social disparities lead to the creation of a larger gap between the affluent and the poor, with the middle class becoming a smaller group. We see a growing tendency of developing security estates and gated communities to protect against crime; this way, the segregation between the affluent and the poor becomes more eminent.

How to Address the Challenges

Urbanisation can be used as a means to economic expansion. In order to do so, the country needs a solid urbanisation policy and proper city planning approaches, which include the creation of larger public spaces and reducing overcrowding, though density can be increased with proper planning.

The UN proposes the development of national urban strategies with incentives for implementation. Accordingly, urban growth must receive more attention with the focus on the creation of natural and energy corridors for minimisation of urban sprawl – which means that the impact on the environment should be reduced with more people urbanised in higher-density areas in which they receive adequate basic services for ongoing sustainability of human and economic activities.