Where to from here? Reflections on the Global and Local Urban Landscape

As 2015 draws to a close, we reflect on global and localised responses to rapid urbanisation, the mushrooming of informal settlements and the position and potential of the urban and rural poor within these realities. In particular we examine the response and strategy of the South African SDI Alliance as it builds community capacity and advocates for the building of inclusive cities with inclusionary decision-making structures.

SAMSUNG CSC

The Global Landscape

The year 2015 marked a significant transition in the global development agenda. The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set new and ambitious targets for global development practice. While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) introduced socially responsible goals in national and institutional budgets and resource allocation, they did little to affect institutional decision-making.

FEDUP Saver, Sophie Mofokeng at Savings Gathering in Mahikeng, North West Province

FEDUP Saver, Sophie Mofokeng at Savings Gathering in Mahikeng, North West Province

For the urban poor, therefore, a post-2015 framework that foregrounds the influential inclusion of the poor is crucial. The challenge is for governments to rethink development institutions so that poor people are included in decision-making on finance, program conception and project implementation.

SDI start a session at World Urban Forum 7 with Alliance anthem

SDI start a session at World Urban Forum 7 with Alliance anthem

The SDGs also need to be clear about what we actually mean by “inclusion” and “participation”. For the SDI network, the key is not to dictate specific policies and interventions for every country but to articulate specific principles of institutional inclusion and material outcomes:

  • Inclusive institution building. State institutions to be created to embed partnerships with community organisations, especially at the city level to drive decision-making about programs and financial allocations for development of urban infrastructure.
  • Inclusive land management. Well-located land made available to the urban poor. This should ensure zero forced evictions, and grant security of tenure so as to make investment in infrastructure viable for both local government and slum dweller communities.
  • Inclusive urban infrastructure. Water, sanitation, electricity, and transport infrastructure that services the poor so as to achieve zero-open defecation cities globally within 10 years, electricity for all, and 100% improvement in life-affirming job opportunities over 10 years.
  • Inclusive community development. Programmatic investment by national and local authorities in capacity building of community organisations so as to continue deepening the inclusive development agenda highlighted in the first three elements.

Urban Poverty and South Africa 

Queuing for social grants in Bethal Mpumalanga

Queuing for social grants in Bethal Mpumalanga

South Africa’s National Development Plan 2030 (NDP, Chapter 8) emphasises the need to address spatial divides that have been perpetuated by post-1994 policies, placing low-income housing on the periphery of cities. Recommendation include the upgrading of all informal settlements on suitable, well located land by 2030, ensuring better quality public transport, ensuring that people live closer to their places of work and more jobs in or close to dense, urban townships. 

Government’s Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) for the electoral period 2014-2019 sets out to implement the NDPs vision with a focus on radical economic transformation and improved service delivery. Outcome 8 outlines the situation for human settlements: despite the delivery of 3.8million subsidised houses since 1994, 2700 informal settlements accommodate a further 1.2million households with 713 000 more households living in backyard shacks. The Department’s broad vision is to see “adequate housing and improved quality living environments with 1.5 million more households living in new or improved housing conditions by 2019” (MTSF Outcome 8, p.26). A prominent aspect includes the upgrading of 750 000 households and ensuring basic services and infrastructure in 2200 informal settlements through the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP).

FEDUP income generation initiative in Limpopo

FEDUP income generation initiative in Limpopo

However, the Department’s rapid appraisal of Outcome 8 (Oct. 2014) notes that UISP has not been applied as easily as was intended: the UISP grant has been used to fund alternative housing programs and has been characterised by a lack of deep community engagement. Similarly, the People’s Housing Process (PHP) was not generally “considered a programme for delivering at scale because of the community engagement element and the manner in which people are involved in building their own shelters” (Rapid Appraisal Outcome 8, p. 27). In response, a core recommendation relates to “an attitudinal shift amongst provinces and local government staff in terms of how they approach informality. A positive attitude is desirable “ (p.39).

Joint Planning in Khayelitsha Cape Town

Joint Planning in Khayelitsha Cape Town

The capacity and the will for building inclusive cities with inclusionary decision-making, project preparation and project implementation structures is low. The role of urban poor participation in building “integrated” human settlements seems to be marginal. The strategy of the SA SDI Alliance in response? Supporting shack dwellers with tools that enable them to know their communities and their cities in order to implement precedent-setting projects that leverage participatory and inclusive partnerships with government. Amandla Imali Nolwazi. Power is Money and Knowledge. Know Your Community, Know Your City to build inclusive cities.

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