The rapid urbanisation of South African cities is especially challenging for professionals responsible for the planning of urban development in Gauteng. According to the United Nations Habitat Report, it is estimated that by 2050, more than 1,2 billion people will live in urban areas across the African continent, as opposed to the current estimated 400 million urban dwellers in Africa’s cities.

Johannesburg, in Gauteng, is one of the 52 cities on the continent boasting a population of more than one million residents. It is estimated that more than 66% of South Africans already live in urban areas. As the smallest and most densely populated province in South Africa, Gauteng bears the brunt of urbanisation. With a population of around four million people, Johannesburg, especially, faces various urban development challenges.

A significant number of people in Gauteng have migrated from places such as Sasolburg, Rustenburg, and Potchefstroom to Gauteng in search of jobs and better living opportunities over the past two decades. People also move towards the urban areas in the province to be closer to services.

In 2007, the three metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Ekurhuleni already had a population of more than 8,9 million people according to Stats SA 2007. It is expected that rapid urbanisation in Gauteng will continue in future. According to the information from the 2001 SA Census, Gauteng was home to more than 12,2 million residents at that stage. With the rapid increase in the province’s population, it is essential to address challenges regarding urban development in Gauteng, in order to ensure sustainability of the province.

Why the Large Population?

Reasons for the high population figure in the province include the fact that it is home to several large mines, Pretoria being the administrative capital of the country, and Johannesburg being the economic centre of South Africa. The province contributes over 30% of the national GDP according to StatsSA. Considering that South Africa consists of nine provinces, the value of the province cannot be stressed enough.

Pressure on Resources

In order to ensure the sustainability of the province, it is thus essential to address urban development challenges. The influx of people from other African and Asian countries also places enormous pressure on the natural resources in the province. More people mean more pressure on water resources. It also means more waste production and an increase in traffic.

Addressing the Challenges

Other challenges include the development of sufficient transport infrastructure, as a large portion of Gauteng’s population is dependent on public transport. Due to the racial separation, which characterised the cities of the pre-1994, many communities are far from services and job opportunities. The people from those communities have to travel far to get to hospitals, work, and school. They often spend hours commuting to and from work. The challenge is to create sufficient road infrastructure to facilitate rapid public transport.

The urban development challenge regarding travel distance is also handled by means of the development of mixed-use areas where housing is placed close to industrial and commercial developments. In this way, workers do not have to commute long distance to get to work. That said, it remains an urban challenge, as more and more people flock to the province. This large-scale migration also leads to housing shortages. The result is the rapid increase in informal settlements. The communities in these informal settlements require access to water, waste removal, electricity, transport, and job opportunities.

A balance must be attained to limit the urban sprawl. This, in particular, is a challenge, which is yet to be effectively addressed in the urban development of Gauteng.

The environmental impact of the large-scale urbanisation must be addressed. Water and air pollution, landfills, general waste next to the roads and within communities, inadequate infrastructure to ensure optimal service delivery, and more are problems that must be addressed.

Help is Available

The expertise and urban development planning experience of town and regional planners, such as those at The Practice Group, should be utilised to the fullest, in order to ensure sustainability of the urban development in Gauteng. We understand the short- and long-term challenges, and work with other professionals to create balanced development, in order to address the above issues.