How Agenda 21 Affects Modern South African Urban Development Planning

Urban development planning must be done with due consideration regarding the effect of human settlement policies. Such policies cannot and should not be based only on physical and economic development considerations.

It is essential to ensure adequate investment in the public environment with consideration in urban development plans for educational and health facilities, recreational spaces, police stations, and places of worship, etc. With the addition of the above, communities are more likely to participate in development of their own environments.

The above being said, high crime levels affect human settlement and it is thus equally important to consider safety and security of citizens when conducting urban development planning. It is thus essential to address the issues of crime and violence on a national and local level. Government policies must be in place to ensure adequate policing and monitoring of safety. On a local level, community policing forums establishments can address crime experienced within communities.

Another very important aspect of modern urban development planning is the adoption of the principles of Agenda 21. This is a programme of Action for Sustainable Development, which the United Nations adopted in 1992.

The focus of Agenda 21, as pertaining to urban development planning, is to ensure sustainable development practices as related to social, economic and natural environment development. With such in mind, modern urban planning practices focus on the creation of integrated environments to ensure protection of natural resources, minimisation of the human footprint on the environment, and the creation of sustainable living and working environments.

We can thus expect to see more mixed usage developments in the urban areas of South Africa where office parks, industrial parks, schools, places of worship, recreational facilities, human settlements, transportation, safety and security facilities, and retail centres are placed in development nodes within landscaped environments.

Protection of ecosystems will become important. Energy consumption levels will be addressed and functions such as recycling and green building practices will become more prominent in future. The idea is to balance development with the responsible usage of resources to ensure that future generations will also have the privilege of having such resources at hand.

As part of the above focus, the South African Government also committed to the development of spatially and socially integrated urban areas with the aim of creating living spaces free of segregation and gender discrimination.

The commitment also extends to the creation of economic and environmental centres of development where the urban residents have the opportunity to enjoy safe living and working spaces. To ensure the goals can be reached, it is essential to also create centres of democratically management and sustainable urban governance in which the local and metropolitan governments are accountable for their actions and work in close cooperation with civil society.

Up to now, South Africans have only experienced limited results regarding the above, but with Agenda 21 adopted worldwide by member states of the United Nations, it can be expected that the urban character of South African cities will change considerably towards reaching the goals of sustainable urban development.

In order to reach these goals of productive and efficient urban areas, the local economies must be developed to reduce the disparities that exist in society through creation of proper infrastructure for the disadvantaged communities. This also includes ensuring better housing access.

The modern urban development planning practices furthermore include addressing spatial inefficiencies, which in the past have led to long distance travelling between home and work for urban residents. The creation of mixed usage spaces aims to address such, ensuring that urban residents are close to their employment.

Rapid urban transport systems, such as rapid bus transit, form part of the solutions. In addition, the focus on reduction of the carbon footprint necessitates the reduction of vehicles in the urban centres where traffic congestion problems are often experienced. Creation of special cycle paths and promoting cycling as a means of transport are among the many solutions.

Another characteristic of modern urban development planning is the improvement of the urban environment quality through practices that allow for integration of environmental features in the urban environment to create more tranquil and aesthetically appealing urban centres.

To reach the above and many other goals of Agenda 21 for urban development, it is important for governments to work closely with municipalities and expert town planning companies to transform urban environments – also in South Africa, with the aim to create sustainable economic, environmental and living environments.