Urban Renewal for a Sustainable Future: It Is Not Just About Building Restoration

In the past, urban renewal focussed on addressing inner-city decay issues. Today, it is about the regeneration of cities for a sustainable future. One city that has proven that greening of the environment does help to improve the quality of life and reduce the environmental impact of human activity is that of Curitiba.

The city has made in-roads with city regeneration projects long before it has become a trend among city council members across the globe. They implemented an Integrated Plan long ago and by 2016, Curitiba already boasted a fifth of its landscape as dedicated to environmentally-protected land, putting the city among the top-performing green cities in the world.

The city council implemented a sustainable urban renewal plan and made sure to have widespread public participation. With the city residents in support of the initiative, the plan could move forward to ensure people-focussed sustainable development. They succeeded in planting more than 1,5 million trees with more than 80% of the travelling currently taking place by using public transport systems. In addition, the main portion of the refuse is recycled. With such efforts, the city has regenerated into a healthier and more sustainable environment.

The connection between urban renewal and sustainability

City regeneration projects have always been important, but instead of just giving a new face to old and run-down buildings, the focus should be on cultivating a sustainable future. The Habitat-2 City Summit of 1996 laid a solid foundation for the creation of economically viable, well-being focussed and environmentally friendly developments. Part of this entails city regeneration with the focus on creating city environments with lower carbon footprints, where people are able to get to and from work using public transport, where they have green spaces for pausing and exercising, and where infrastructure can be developed to facilitate from-home working.

Examples of city decay in South Africa

The areas of Hillbrow, Berea and Parktown in Johannesburg are examples of how overpopulation, unemployment, run-down buildings and a lack of infrastructure can lead to rapid decay, higher crime levels, visual pollution and overall health risks.

To simply attempt urban renewal projects that involve establishing more parks or cleaning up slum buildings hardly address the issues in the mentioned areas. For sustainable city development, comprehensive urban renewal plans which form part of integrated planning must be developed and supported by the affected communities. It must be done in line with the overall spatial and sustainable development goals of the country as a whole.

What can be done in South Africa?

Although the infrastructure of South African cities is a far cry from that of world-class sustainable cities, it is possible to address pressing social issues related to rapid urbanisation. This can be done through urban renewal policies and projects that involve more than buildings and infrastructure. These are only the tools and vehicles used by city dwellers. For any renewal project to bring about long-term economic, health and environmental benefits, the users of the infrastructure should be considered. This means accounting for the great economic divide between the poorer communities and the affluent residents.

In an effort to remedy the living situation of a vast majority of lower-income residents, the focus should be on providing safe and affordable housing for those who live in informal settlements. Access to reliable electricity and clean, potable water should also be factored in as well as effective refuse removal and recycling solutions for these communities. Ensuring that workplaces are situated closer to employees’ residences will grant them easier access through the use of public transport.

These efforts will improve safety, reduce criminal activity, limit health risks, and increase accessibility.

In summary, city regeneration should be comprehensive, inclusive of tree planting projects, greening of the inner-city areas, establishing places for exercise, improving transportation infrastructure, demolishing slum buildings and erecting housing that helps to minimise urban sprawl and more.

Where to start?

Ensure your city is not left behind in the process of building healthier, more economically viable, and environmentally friendly cities. Get expert help on sustainable urban renewal from our experienced town planning consultants.