Cities fit for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Prof Innocent Chirisa
We publish the second part of Professor Innocent Chirisa’s take on the Second Biennial Symposium on Human Settlements held at the University of Zimbabwe on June 13-15, 2018.

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During the second day of the recent symposium, Mr Magaya, director (Physical Planning) at the University of Zimbabwe, outlined various challenges – endogenous and exogenous factors – that are facing the country.

The department of Physical Planning said it has a key role to play in dealing with the challenges. Similarly, the presentation by Mr Charity Zvokuomba, who was standing in for CABS chief executive officer Mr Simon Hammond, was both insightful and thought-provoking. He explained how urban financing is critical for sustainable settlements.

Traditional sources of urban finance in Zimbabwe have depleted, but local authorities sit on a wealth of funding sources that are land-based, including betterment taxes. He also indicated that land barons have been “getting away with murder”.

“Land barons get land for nothing, sell it to desperate home-seekers for so much, and leave the land unserviced.”

As a result, poor home-seekers were being fleeced of their hard-earned monies and ditched to live in conditions of urban penalty. Lending institutions have set conditions which have to be met by borrowers. Some of the conditions include having means and resources to service loans.

Policy consistency and leadership is also vital. A big lesson CABS learnt from its Budiriro Housing Project was that development, including housing development, needs to be connected and integrated with the existing city. It also needs to take place in a smart way. The project has nice roads within, but there is no (municipal) road to connect to it, making it an island of development. They are battling to have it get services such as electricity, water and sewerage reticulation.

Another intriguing presentation, “The Application of ICTs in Urban and Regional Planning”, was by Professor Walter Musakwa, who is based at the University of Johannesburg’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

Based on various projects jointly undertaken with Durban’s Municipality, the City of Johannesburg and the Gautrain, among others, Prof Musakwa displayed various maps generated through using data from the telecommunication companies and Twitter handles, among other sources of data. The data is a source of determining lifestyles for urban dwellers coming under different labels – commuters, cyclists, land investors and land-users of various categories.

He has since generated various maps of farm land use, cycling patterns of urban residents, climate variations, building heights and urban densities, to name but a few. Some of the information is “right on the phone that you hold”; all it needs to be tapped into a reliable database, from which the planner can make decisions. Planning students need the skills to extract and apply this data.

So there is need for practicing planners to make “new-data” informed decisions and desist from relying on data that is old and outdated. Global organisations like the World Bank and UN-Habitat are calling for intelligent and smart cities, which are the hallmark of the Fourth Industrial Revolution we are in.

From the discussion that followed, a number of issues emerged. There seems to be a general lack of understanding why urban sprawl is a bad phenomenon, as it is likely to strain the city, unlike if it were just compact.

It was also noted that the old dispensation in Zimbabwe had failed to show political will toward densification.

Further, there is a general thinking among planners that people do not like high-rise residential flats. This belief is largely because when planners draw their lines, they have not engaged professionals like psychologists who have the ability to decipher what and how people think.

Tapping such knowledge could help create relevant plans. One critic was worried with home-ownership schemes that have driven urban sprawl; yet the world over, successful economies have many people that don’t own land, save for the apartments they rent.

In that case, why then did Harare sell Mabvuku houses, which were previously rented out by council, to sitting tenants?

Why does it not demolish the bad housing structures in Mbare and put up better high-rise apartments? Some contributors alleged that all the problems seem to point to a “governance crisis” in the country’s institutions, local authorities included. However, this is because in the 1980s and before that, the State shouldered much of the responsibilities, but when its capacity fell, this created a vacuum.

Civil society organisations such as housing associations and cooperatives naturally chipped in. Although they had the capacity to mobilise financial resources to building housing structures, they didn’t have the capacity to provide offsite infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer for themselves.

Other participants also noted that it was difficult for them to get data, particularly from telecommunication companies, which often cited statutory and confidentiality issues. The last panel discussion of the symposium was made up of Prof Joseph Kamuzhanje (University of Venda), Mr Phineas Dohwe (Zirup president), Mr Mike Juru (president of the Real Estate Institute of Zimbabwe), Mr John Ndere (Pearl Properties), Mrs Diana Chimanda (deputy director, Department of Physical Planning) and Mr Precious Shumba (director of Harare Residents Trust). It was facilitated by Dr Kudzai Chatiza (director of Development Governance Institute).

Most discussions centred on how best cities could be inclusive. Zirup believes that we are all losers if a city does not shape up as planned.

Planning has a futurist activity but determining certainty is not always easy to get to. Urban primacy should be discouraged and focus be made to improve the small centres or rural towns popularly known as growth points. New models of planning and housing need to be adopted.

If planning continues just to sing its technical hymns, it risks being completely excluded by society. Does forward planning then still has scope?

DPP is of the view that planning lacks the voice of advocacy. For example, while the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development holds the purse, financiers often determine what gets funding and what does not.

The Kunzvi-Shava Dam for Harare water augmentation has been on the cards for nearly four decades, yet water provisioning should determine urban expansion. Zirup strongly believes that there is need for a new “social contract” which involves professionals, politicians and the citizens, as there seems to be a missing link between citizens and professionals.

Politicians can get ahead and be more appealing to citizens because they operate in the “we-can-make-it-happen” approach. Professionals seem to take a back seat and even give up when the going gets tough.

The new dispensation has been a window to champion what is missing in sound urban planning and real estate practice. Some of the participants indicated that the rural sphere seems to be a neglected area.

Zimstat indicates that 65 percent of people live in rural areas. It was also noted that even urban spaces are becoming ruralised: some people are even roasting mealie-cobs in the city centre.

The push to transform the space and sphere has to be by professionals.

Mr Juru chronicled how the Real Estate Institute was founded in 1942, including the promulgation of the Estate Agents Act in 1975 and the Valuers’ Act in 1996.

However, the push has to be demand-driven. Prof Kamuzhanje is of the opinion that there seems to be “professional suspicion” among the different planners working in various spheres – the public, the private and the civil society.

Pressure seemed to be mounting on Zirup, which must take the lead in publicising the concerns of the profession and widen the space for upcoming professional associations like the Integrated Planner’ Network. Urgent action was needed to make planning known by planners themselves. Planners need to be the drivers of change, beginning with the transformation of the professional bodies themselves.

Some people believe that already planning as a profession is in a fix, which it needs to extricate itself from. The planning system needs to be relooked.

However, others say the system can be looked at later, but fighting for space and recognition is more critical. But are masterplans and local plans working?

These are critical for sustainable development of the human settlements space. Nevertheless, most are now outdated and have not been consistent.

Monitoring the plan is part of making plans work. Masterplans are critical for land banking and preparedness for new infrastructure needs.

Home ownership is unsustainable but was adopted as a citizen empowerment tool. Planners seem not to appreciate how powerful the tools they wield are.

Engaging the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Government can be the first port of call. Planning for the future cannot be according to what it is being done. Council meetings should not be turned into political rallies.

Planners have scope to engage the councillors, religious organisations and other platforms to tell what planning is all about.

Planning needs to have a clear agenda.

In the 1980s, the agenda was very clear – on rural development. But now there seems to be no agenda by planners at all.

Zimbabwe is going through political transition and planners have to take advantage of the opportunity to set a clear agenda.

Planners have to create an agenda for them to be heard.

 

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