Only on comparatively rare occasions does the opportunity arise to assist in the development of a brand-new town from scratch. In practice, much of the time, the more likely task of the nation’s city planning consultants is to research and develop the most effective manner in which to extend, to renovate, or to re-purpose some portion of an existing settlement. While sound, practical buildings and efficient infrastructure are important, the process is far more than an exercise in draughtsmanship and civil engineering. Whether developing small towns or sprawling modern cities, first and foremost, these are human settlements. As a result, the needs and opinions of the community must play a key role in the design of each project, as must its possible impact on the surrounding environment.

The first step in any plan is to gather as much relevant information as possible. In this case, the process is one that relies heavily on joint participation between the local residents, whose opinions will be crucial to the formulation of meaningful objectives, and the city planning consultants. Determining just what may or may not be relevant is a skill that builds with experience. It could involve something as simple as checking with utility companies and municipalities to determine patterns of movement in the area under study. A tendency for new residents to remain in the area for only brief periods could, for instance, draw attention to a lack of suitable facilities for socialising or an inadequate public transport service. Alternatively, the current traffic system may be causing chronic congestion during peak hours or perhaps high-density living is leading to an increased incidence of antisocial behaviour.

Although of key importance to any proposed plans for future urban development, garnering public opinion is only one facet of the data-gathering process. Before a plan can be drafted, there will be legal implications to be considered. For example, where it may be desirable to re-purpose an area from residential to commercial use, it will be necessary to comply with the relevant re-zoning regulations and to evaluate the cost of doing so against the potential benefits. Armed with the data from the needs analysis, the next step for the city planning consultants is to draw up a preliminary plan aimed at satisfying those needs in a manner that is desirable, practical, and cost-effective. In turn, the draft must be subjected to a rigorous SWOT analysis to determine its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats applying the findings to further refine it. Such refinements might include developing measures to minimise disruption due to demolition and construction activities.

In a project of this nature, both the cost and timeline will play a major role in the decision-making process. For this reason, the experienced planner will include some suggestions regarding alternative ways in which certain of the more crucial goals might be attained to save time or money. Once again, it will be the best interests of the stakeholders that should determine which of these options will provide the desired way forward, while the role of the city planning consultants is to ensure that every aspect of each option is thoroughly understood.

Whether revitalising and old community or developing a new one, a sense of identity is important to those who will live and work in it. Preserving selected landmarks or historic buildings can help to preserve continuity while iconic new structures can become the focal points of a future history. The task requires great insight and is not one for a single specialist. Instead it is a collaborative project that calls on the expertise of architects, construction companies, surveyors, and civil engineers, to name just a few.

Based in the Pretoria suburb of Menlo Park, The Practice Group leverages the skills and experience of established experts such as these, along with its own expertise in the fields of urban development and town planning to serve the interests of commercial and residential communities across South Africa. In addition to complex, integrated projects such as the development of shopping centres, business estates, high-tech industrial parks, and residential townships, the city planning consultants also offer support with related individual tasks. These include subdivision and consolidation of land, the acquisition of land use rights, and zoning.