Cities should be innovation sites

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19 Jul 2013

Cities should become sites of innovation for addressing challenges such as youth unemployment, spatial and income inequalities and economic exclusion, says Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel.

Minister Trevor Manuel says city leaders, researchers and policymakers, should create opportunities for experimentation with different models of delivering services, developing and maintaining infrastructure as well as creating jobs.

Speaking at the Metropolis Annual Meeting in Sandton, Manuel said City leaders, researchers and policymakers, should create opportunities for experimentation with different models of delivering services, developing and maintaining infrastructure as well as creating jobs.

Unless leaders act swiftly, the patience of citizens, who live on the periphery, will run out.

“We need to urgently devise and implement credible plans to intervene and make our cities inclusive; and bring the majority of citizens of our cities into the mainstream and not the periphery. We need to equip our people with skills and education to take advantage of opportunities offered by the economies of the cities. We need to plan, design, and manage cities for people,” said Manuel.

The four-day meeting, which started on Tuesday, will see mayors, officials and leaders from over 85 cities around the world gathering to discuss key issues garnered towards enhancing development and improving the lives of citizens within an urban development and long-term city development context.

Specific issues that will be tackled at the annual meeting - which this year is promoting the theme "Caring Cities" - include rapid urbanisation, food security, resource resilience, safety and security, social cohesion, waste management, greater citizen engagement and funding models for growing cities.

The cities were designed for the imagined, affluent populations yet the reality is that too many people wake up each day to shattered dreams of improvements in lifestyle. Manuel said this was the reason why cities should relook at the urban policies to accommodate the current needs.

He proposed that they needed land use management systems that allow mixed uses where poor people feel that they have a right to the city; that capture the appreciation of land value for the benefit of the public; and that promote the sustainable use of land.

Manuel also proposed the need to review the country’s building norms and standards to ensure that they are appropriate for the level of incomes of the citizens in the cities, as well as for the efficient accommodation and movement of dense concentrations of people.

“Rules that regulate building height, plot sizes and building material should reflect the affordability levels while providing scope for improvement in the future and taking into account environmental considerations. Using any other criteria will perpetuate inequality and make informality permanent,” he told the meeting.

The minister, who is responsible for the National Planning Commission, also proposed the need to put in place urban development policies that allow cities to play an effective coordination role to stimulate the social and economic dynamism of cities.

He said effective coordination is necessary to maximise the value of the investment that individuals make in housing, that firms make in commercial property, and that the state makes in social infrastructure and other public goods.

“Fourth, we need financial institutions that meet the needs of the different populations of the cities. We need both primary and secondary mortgage markets that target currently underserved segments of the population. Whilst we appreciate the difficulty of developing criteria for affordability, we must do so to avoid the complete bifurcation into either formal high-end mortgages or state provision,” he said, adding that the extent to which the city can grow its revenue base is dependent on whether it can construct the requisite systems and institutions. - SAnews.gov.za

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