Urban planning and policies to shape our cities

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A number of Research Chairs are involved in work that aims to build a better understanding of urban spatial and development issues to guide policy.

Urban planning. (Supplied)

The Chair in Development Planning and Modelling at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), held by Professor Philip Harrison, is looking at what he terms dynamic city regions — focusing initially on Gauteng, specifically Johannesburg.

Human mobility and spatial changes

Harrison’s research focus is on changes over the past 20 years so that they can be better understood and relates mainly to spatial changes such as infrastructure, housing, service delivery, industry and the like. 

He has attempted to do so in the context of understanding how changes in factors such as the economy, society, politics and governance have shaped trends in and around the city.

The research has looked broadly at how government, the private sector and society have influenced these changes with a view to understanding how and what policies and regulations should be applied to enable better planning in the future. 

These outputs are closely linked to policy making, which he has been able to influence directly through his position as a member of the National Planning Commission. His work has also had the impact of informing regional structures such as the Gauteng Planning Commission and at local government level through a partnership with the City of Johannesburg.

His colleague at Wits, Professor Loren Landau, holds the Chair in Human Mobility and the Urban Diversity, awarded in 2012, which provides important insights into strategies that enable and address diversity in both urban and rural settings.

This work is partly about viewing the movements and mixing of people — whether from within South Africa or from across our borders — as natural and potentially empowering. 

The primary concern of his research is to understand the politics that emerge in diverse and fluid communities. This has the potential to improve human security and livelihoods, although the major focus is on understanding the nature of politics, representation and authority.

Exploring urbanisation

Professor Edgar Pieterse at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is involved in similar work as holder of the Chair in Urban Policy, which also explores the effects of urbanisation, although the scope of his research is broader than the South African context. 

His work is designed to elevate the conversation and understanding of these impacts beyond purely academic and scientific research.

His work is being done in parallel with the Africa Centre for Cities, an interdisciplinary research centre he set up at UCT in 2007 to establish global links and networks to investigate the impacts of urbanisation.

He explains that his Research Chair is delving into the characteristics peculiar to African urbanisation and how alternative policy responses can deal more effectively with this by looking at the phenomenon in relation to other rapidly urbanising regions.

His mission to elevate these issues beyond purely academic work has seen him publish the findings, observations and alternative ways forward in the book City Futures: Confronting the Crisis of Urban Development. This was followed up with the publication earlier this year of a second book, Africa’s Urban Revolution.

The impact of Pieterse’s work has been furthered by undertaking what he terms experimental research, which includes inviting insights from the field of humanities — artists, photographers, architects, writers and the like — to talk about their understanding of urban development. This is presented in the form of a journal in which these contributors are able to express their experiences from Africa’s urbanisation to present alternative, non-academic views.

This supplement has been paid for by Department of Science and Technology and its contents signed off by the DST and the National Research Foundation.

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