“Part of the integration challenge is that the cities and urban nodes are spread out across far reaching spaces and are fragmented. This also adds to the expense for people who live outside of cities, but need to travel into the cities to pursue valuable employment opportunities,” says Phahlane. “To rectify this, focus needs to be placed on infrastructure projects that will interlink these nodes, open opportunities for people to move within and between nodes with much greater ease – and in so doing, support growth in the second economy and encourage more inclusive participation in the mainstream economy.”
The New Urban Agenda has placed significant focus on how people will move within and between cities. Futureproof planning therefore means that the bigger picture must involve the integration of major transportation infrastructure projects with provincial and municipal development. It must also consider planning for and the development of the critical mass of support infrastructure that feeds into and from the primary infrastructure.
“Public transport infrastructure therefore still has a crucial role to play in the future of African cities. It’s not surprising that plans to expand all modes of public transport is on the development agenda for most African states. However, these expansion plans will only be affective and successful as they are integrated into the larger regional and cross-regional transport networks. Changing how we think about, plan, design and build integrated public transport networks will bode increased confidence by people – and towards effecting positive change in mindsets about the reliability, safety and comfort of public transport solutions,” adds Phahlane.
Technology as an integrator and enabler
Groves says: “Part of focusing on people is also looking at how technology can be introduced and used to improve access to services and the quality of life city dwellers. Technology must be considered a social and growth enabler, but in context of the bigger vision.”
Citing Kigali as a keen example, Groves says: “Rwanda has come out of a very war-torn situation from the early nineties and today Kigali is one of the flourishing cities in Africa – largely because of the opportunities offered by a strong technology-based backbone.”
“We cannot escape that we are living in a world that is increasingly being transformed and driven by advances in technology. To ensure we are not left behind in the latest revolution, we must embrace technology and ensure that our cities are technologically enabled and powered. This will drive immense opportunities for people living in our cities to have access to services, but also information. More connected and informed city dwellers will make help make our cities smarter,” says Phahlane.
Digitalisation presents incredible opportunities for African nations to leapfrog some of the traditional development trajectories. While in its infancy in Africa, improving cost effective Internet access and adopting digital technology could drive radical changes that can boost access to social infrastructure in the short- to medium-term, such as e-Learning and e-Health services, for example. Furthermore, in the long-term, embracing disruptive innovation as part of the process to deliver complex and sustainable projects presents opportunities to implement changes now that will transform how we view and use infrastructure, ensuring that it is enriched and futureproofed.
Futureproof approach to sustainability
Climate change and changes in and extreme weather events present inevitable risks that African nations will be faced with.
“Given the scarcity of access to resources, many current basic services infrastructure plans are reliant on one solution. For example, one water solution, or one energy solution. However, this poses eventual risks to a city’s supply services,” says Groves.
Groves explains that the City of Cape Town is a prime recent example. The city has always been very reliant on the Twee Water dam. In responding to the water crisis, the city had to look at alternative sources and solutions for water supply in the region. “If the City of Cape Town had had more diverse water supply from the onset, the region would have been more resilient through the drought.”
“We need to understand that without intervention the urban form of the city will not rapidly and materially transform itself towards being more efficient and sustainable. Going forward and as we look to adapt our cities to be more low carbon cities, we need to look at diverse solutions – things that network with each other, but can operate independently – and that promote resilience, particularly considering climate change to come,” adds Groves.
WSP believes that to develop a sustainable city, the barriers of isolation must be broken down and a holistic and integrated design must be considered upfront; including transport, future energy, climate change strategy, water, waste management and socio-ecological systems, housing, etc. as well as intelligent systems powered by telecommunications and technology adoption.
“Building a smart, sustainable city is a complex undertaking for any economy. On a microeconomic scale, a town or city has layers of impact that extend far beyond the boundaries of individual building projects, including on the atmosphere, built environment, urban infrastructure, natural attributes, and social impacts, etc. It is only when we design and plan for the homogenous growth of all these layers together that we will achieve future cities that are ergonomic, more sustainable and innovatively smart for a future where society can really thrive,” concludes Groves.