How Can Urban Renewal Help Rural South African Communities?

Rural South African communities often struggle to make a living and have limited access to resources normally available in cities. However, it is possible for urban renewal to support rural South African communities even though they stay outside the boundaries of the cities.

To understand how this is possible, we need to take a closer look at what urban renewal means and entails.

What is urban renewal?

It is an approach that local governments use to revitalise distressed areas in cities and towns to stimulate economic growth in these areas. This is achieved through public funding and infrastructure investments to encourage and support private developments.

Why urban renewal is important for sustainability

When the streets are no longer adequate for use, buildings are poorly maintained and the area is polluted, private investors, property developers, and business owners move away from the area. The reason for this is that their businesses in the area are not profitable or their returns on investments suffer as the property values drop. The result is that they take their expertise and investment capital elsewhere. This causes the area to regress further, leaving more people in the area without work and desolate.

Public investments from governments and local governments regarding infrastructure development, cleaning of the environment, job creation, technical support and the like create a base for attracting private investment.

With improved amenities, financial support, and infrastructure developments in place, the area can attract renewed interest from developers. These developments strengthen the economy and create sustainable living and working environments.

If the city areas are improved, residents experience a better quality of living. More jobs are created, and the economy can grow. As a result, fewer people move away from the cities to rural areas where resources are often limited.

An example of distressed areas that benefit from urban renewal efforts

Old and derelict buildings which are occupied by homeless people often become slums as these buildings no longer have running water and electricity supply. With such conditions, the quality of life of the occupants is severely affected. It also opens opportunities for criminal syndicates to control the buildings and charge the occupants high amounts to stay there.

Refurbishing such buildings and transforming them into affordable and fit-for-occupancy housing units can help to reduce crime and social issues. Every building that is refurbished and transformed into a usable space improves the aesthetic of the area and helps to attract more investments to the area.

What are the benefits of urban renewal?

Improving the infrastructure and renewing the city landscape holds several benefits, which include, but are not limited to:

Preserving the cultural heritage of the city – instead of demolishing culturally significant buildings, renewal takes place. This promotes tourism, which also means more jobs and economic development.

Reducing urban sprawl – as decentralised development takes place, inner cities often become abandoned and dilapidated. So, more and more development takes place on the outskirts of the cities. This means more agricultural land is taken up. With inner-city refurbishment, investors return, and more jobs are created. People move back to these areas and less agricultural space is taken up.

Reducing crime – renewed areas have less crime as the people have jobs and there are fewer slums and opportunities for crime.

Reducing the housing shortage – informal settlements can now be seen next to highways and national roads across South Africa because of a severe housing shortage. As once in-demand inner-city apartments are now slums, fewer places are available to rent. Middle-class families have to rent properties on the outskirts of cities at high prices while the poorer communities live in informal settlements, often without basic services. With the cities renewed, more housing becomes available, helping to make rentals more affordable.

See examples of effective urban renewal frameworks here.

So, how does urban renewal help communities in rural areas?

The outskirts of cities are sometimes referred to as rural areas. Informal settlements often develop on the outskirts. These areas are frequently not serviced with proper road infrastructure, healthcare services, schools and water supply. As a result, the slums move outwards. With city revitalisation projects, more housing becomes available, enabling people to live closer to work.

Also, for those living in small rural communities outside cities, renewal projects for the towns and villages help to stimulate economic growth in those areas. As such, more private investments follow in these areas where job opportunities are created. This also implies better housing, better access to retail facilities, education, and improved income generation capacity for small businesses in the mentioned areas.

Where to get expert urban renewal planning assistance

Make use of the expertise offered by The Practice Group regarding urban and regional planning frameworks. Use the online information request form to reach out. Alternatively, contact us at (012) 362 1741 or send an email to