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Better urban planning to reduce commutes and boost productivity

29 Nov 2016

South Africans spend more time in the traffic commuting than their counterparts in 22 similar countries – and when taken into account, the country’s poorest citizens typically live on the fringes due to the legacy of spatial fragmentation – the impact of the transport challenges are most significantly felt by those least able to afford them. 

Urban planning considerations in South frica must look to densifying our cities to ensure public transport is sustainable, efficient and effective.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) How’s Life study in 2011 reflected South Africans spend an average 58 minutes daily on commuting, the longest time among the countries analysed. Already urbanisation has been recognised as the cornerstone on which the globe’s cities will develop with 2005 being the milestone year when for the first time more than half the world’s population lived in cities. 

The United Nations (UN) World Urbanisation Prospects Report 2013 indicated 30% of the rise in city dwellers will be in Africa and Asia and 70% of the world will occupy city residences by 2070. According to the Integrated Urban Development Framework released by the South African Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department (COGTA), by 2030 over 70% of South Africa’s population will be living in urban areas. 

This exponential growth poses significant challenges for urban planning with UN under-secretary general and UN-Habitat executive director Joan Clos reflecting nearly 800 million people globally live in slums, including 62% of the sub-Saharan African urban population.

It is into this environment, South Africa generally and eThekwini Municipality specifically, must approach their urban planning with a critical eye. 

Earlier this year national Treasury deputy director-general Malijeng Ngqaleni said correctly managing urbanisation was the potential hook for turning around South Africa’s growth trajectory. She noted that until now the country had implemented unsuccessful planning methods that merely further entrenched the apartheid spatial legacy and South African cities were consequently “unproductive, unequal and unsustainable”. 

She called for a new approach where citizens were part of the process and the government provided consistent, coherent leadership, recognising there are clear catalytic interventions to initiate action. 

The topic was also discussed at a recent conference hosted by Tongaat Hulett Developments, GAPP Architects, Iyer and Urban Design Solutions with the assistance of Urban Solutions Architects. 

Tongaat Hulett Developments planning director, Rory Wilkinson, says the eThekwini Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network (IRPTN), colloquially called Go!Durban, was a key facilitator for improved urban planning in a rapidly urbanising society. 

“The aim is changing people’s mindset from using private motor vehicles to accepting public transport and non-motorised forms of transport. However, that only happens with education, commitment and an appropriate approach that facilitates alternative forms of transportation,” he says. 

Go!Durban aims for a flexible and cost-effective transport system across eThekwini Municipality by investing in sustainable infrastructure and is an integral pillar to stimulating regional economic growth and development and accessible, inclusive urban centres. 

The initial phase creates links between Bridge City, Durban central, Pinetown, KwaMashu and Umhlanga with seamless transfers across transport modes, railway stations and taxi precincts as well as using electronic ticketing systems. The initial programme includes the design stage for the stations, station precincts and park and ride facilities. 

The IRPTN stations and station precincts, will be designed as community focal points and sustainable economic hubs. 

“This highly commendable investment initiative will be a fully integrated system and, while the whole project will take time to complete, it is a socially-driven and sustainable structure that will become a lasting legacy in Durban and fundamentally change the way that workers, residents and visitors behave,” Wilkinson says. 

Cornubia and Bridge City as north coast commercial hubs, both developments for which Tongaat Hulett Developments was the instigator, have Go!Durban station and bus terminus facilities. 

 “Urban planning considerations must look to densifying our cities to ensure public transport is sustainable, efficient and effective. City planners can look to creating integrated developments that allow for a range of land uses at appropriate higher densities, that will have a knock-on effect on reducing commuting distances and addressing special imbalances,” he says.

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