The Importance of Urban Planning and Transformation of South African Cities

Modern urban planning in South Africa is aimed at the development of sustainable living and working environments to address spatial imbalances such as people living far from their workplaces, which add to their living costs as their travelling expenses are high. With people having to commute over long distances to get to and from work, their time to relax, participate in recreational and sport activities, and spend time with their families are negatively affected. The issue also contributes to more traffic congestion, accidents, and pollution because of vehicle emissions.

To address factors such as the above and aspects such as inner city decay and class-distinct communities, it has become important to change urban planning practices in South Africa. The government has initiated a policy for the design and development of more productive and inclusive urban areas that are properly governed. Though some changes have been made, progress in this regard is still limited. The South African urban landscapes are still very reflective of inequalities and though steps have been taken to improve the rate of transformation with public transport systems and housing projects, the government-funded housing projects also contribute further to the marginalisation of the poorer communities. These projects are still located far from the places of work, educational facilities, and health centres.

Factors that still having negative effects on balanced urban and spatial development in South Africa include, but are not limited to:
• Improper alignment of planning with the overall vision of balanced and integrated city developments.
• Conflict in the local municipal plans and the vision and spatial development plans of the government.
• The spatial development frameworks are still geared towards the management of projects for land usage to support private sector agendas instead of proper coordination of investments and spatial planning and investment integration to support the vision for urban planning in South Africa.

Modern urban planning in South Africa must be a coordinated effort to address the changes in the cities. Urbanisation has increased over the past twenty years, with cities such as Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town having experienced tremendous growth. The urbanisation trend can also be related to more immigrants and more people from the rural areas flocking to the cities in search of work and better opportunities.

The rapid urbanisation has led to more pressure on city resources and the cities have increased their spatial footprint. Urban sprawl is on the increase with continuing outward expansion. It is important to contain urban sprawl. With more and more shopping centres having to be built, which also require more parking spaces, a possible solution can be that of mixed-usage high-street development. Such an approach would make provision for diversification of the services and products that are on offer, while security risks associated with such environments can be addressed through advanced security surveillance.

Gated communities and security estates, though more prevalent in the affluent areas of the cities, are often also desired by the poorer communities. Such estates, however, tend to exclude rather than create inclusive urban areas. The government has driven a policy to meet the settlement needs of people in South Africa with plans such as the launching and integrating of human settlement projects with the aim of delivering a large number of residences. Mega urban projects are planned with close cooperation among the various divisions of the government.

New mega development projects and cities are in the pipeline as part of the Gauteng Department of Human Settlement’s plan based on the view that cities can be developed that would change how settlements take place, in order to address the problem of marginalised poorer communities, transportation to work, and access to essential services. An example of where investment in the economy has been redirected to promote a particular sector includes the UAE where the income from the oil industry has been used towards infrastructure development, promotion of the service sector, and promoting the growth of the tourism industry.

Transformation entails changing the urban landscape to address the imbalances discussed above. Unlike spatial restructuring focussed on improving the urban landscape, transformation entails a complete change. Urban planning in South Africa must include the public and private sectors to bring about the necessary changes towards more sustainable cities and land usage in future.