Why a Fresh Look at Spatial Planning is Essential

South African urban landscapes are still characterized by uncontrolled urban sprawl that feature unplanned informal settlements, road infrastructure that struggles to accommodate the increased number of passenger vehicles, and workplaces that are far removed from the residential areas. To bring the country’s cities in line with the worldwide trend towards sustainable smart cities, it is essential to rethink spatial planning practices.

Questions with which spatial planning consultants and urban planners struggle range from how to create integrated spaces, maximize the potential of smart technologies, and reduce the environmental impact of human development, to ways for addressing urban sprawl without marginalizing the poorer communities. Simply by looking at these challenges, one realizes the extent of the problems.

The cities of today are still highly focused on passenger vehicles as the main transport. Mass commuting is limited to trains, which only operate along specific rails, minibus taxis that can handle only a limited number of passengers at a time, and ageing bus transport.

Some of the cities, such as Cape Town, have introduced the rapid bus systems, playing a significant role in getting workers to and from work. Others like Johannesburg and Pretoria have introduced faster train systems such as the Gautrain. But are these measures enough? The answer is a resounding no. Effective spatial planning addresses the issue of what must be placed where and how to connect all the elements within the urban environment.

Rethinking zoning has become important. Mixed-use areas are now more prominent than in the past century. Smart cities are emerging, but care should be taken not to repeat spatial planning mistakes of the past. If the focus remains on passenger vehicles as the main transport methods, while the poorer informal settlements continue to develop next to highways and workers still having to travel far to get to their places of work, then nothing changes. We will continue to see slum areas develop as businesses move to newly-developed areas while homeless people and slumlords take over unused or under-utilised areas. With such, also come social problems.

What is needed is a rethinking of what sustainable spatial planning is about. The idea should be to reduce the carbon and environmental footprint. This also means reducing traffic congestion. To achieve the latter, fewer cars must be on the roads while the road infrastructure must be developed to increase flow. Smart technologies can only be put to maximum use if the city layout makes it possible.

One of the issues to be addressed is that of professionals not working together. Architects, city engineers, government officials, municipal officials, land surveyors, and urban planners have to work closely together and involve public participation. It is of no use to develop new layouts if the communities affected by the layouts are not involved. Any infrastructure changes should be done with consideration of the future economic activities and social stability of the areas involved.

What is the solution?

Proper spatial analysis of an area helps to get the necessary data for decision making. That said, data is worth nothing on its own. The data must be analysed by experts. Such data ranges from geographical information presented in maps to data about the demographics of an area. Armed with the necessary information, the various stakeholders and professionals can work together to address challenges, such as the high number of pedestrians with solutions ranging from more walkways to increasing public transport modes to accommodate the increased number of people in urban spaces.

Where to find spatial planning help

Even smaller municipalities can benefit from spatial planning consultancy services as offered by The Practice Group. As an experienced town planning consultancy that offers services ranging from urban design to environmental impact assessments and geo-mapping, we have the experience, professional teams and necessary tools to collect the relevant data, analyze such and create designs for the sustainable developments of the future.

We are one of the most experienced town planning consultancies in South Africa. Our track record speaks for itself. Completed projects include, but are not limited to:

• Shopping & lifestyle centres.
• Residential townships.
• High-density residential projects.
• High-tech industrial parks.
• Urban renewal and design frameworks.
• Integrated developments.
• Airports.
• Transport, road and rail planning.
• Sports stadia.
• Golf courses.
• Resorts and eco-tourism planning.

View more information about our portfolio of projects here.

We are a dynamic consultancy, focused on creating solutions with long-term benefits for the local and national economy, environment, and the communities within the affected areas. Reach out for more information on how we can help with workable spatial planning solutions in South Africa.