Tag Archives: Sustainable Urbanisation

Prosperity in a Rapidly Urbanising World; Where Do We Go From Here?

Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from UCL recently attended a talk entitled “Prosperity in a rapidly urbanising world; Where do we go from here?” given at UCL by Dr Julio Davlia from the Institute of Global Prosperity at UCL’s Development Planning Unit. The talk was focused around the challenge of improving prosperity and economic development in the developing world whilst facing the constraints, challenges and opportunities of a rapidly urbanising world.

The presentation began with an investigation of the causes of modern urbanisation in a sociological sense (in terms of modernisation theory), and also from the point of view of development economics, including the Harris-Todaro model of rural-urban migration, and examining the pull and push factors that affect developing countries (for example, greater employment opportunities and higher wages in cities compared to rural areas).

Dr Davila went on to highlight a number of correlations in the field of urbanisation and prosperity. Strong positive correlations exist between the proportion of population urbanised in an economy and GDP per capita in the country, as well as with life expectancy, rising with the urbanisation rate. Strong negative correlations also exist with child mortality and urbanisation. However, an interesting implication particularly for municipal governments is that tax revenue as a percentage of GDP offers no correlation with an increasing urbanised population. Instead, recovery rates are mostly flat as urbanisation increases. This has significant impacts for municipal governments: with rising urban populations and a flat tax revenue growth rate, the provision of urban services will become more difficult.

A common case study in urbanisation and development is that of Medellin, Colombia. The municipal government of Medellin pursued an innovative approach to the growing urbanisation and pressure on urban services in the city, pursuing formalisation activities contra to new builds and relocation. Space upgrades and the maintaining of the social fabric that had arisen in the cities contributed to a sustainable urbanisation for the city. Mass transit and public rapid transit have been focuses of the municipal government, for example in the construction of escalators between the hillside formerly-informal settlements and the central business district. The formalisation activities have also greatly helped with public buy-in, and public support for the government’s schemes is high.

Medellin, Colombia Escalators

Medellin, Colombia: Escalators from Communa 13 to the CBD – image: wnyc.com

Finally, Dr Davlia returned to the issue of municipal revenue streams and the problem of low taxation returns. Control over local levels of taxation for municipal governments is a key factor for sustainable urban development, and the issue of slipping taxation revenues leading to a downward spiral of non-payment and service degradation has been touched on before in this blog. With the ability to properly target taxation to achieve the municipal government’s social and developmental goals, this spiral can be avoided, and service delivery can improve.

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Cape Town Electricity Department Meeting – 11th November 2014

Xavier Lemaire and Daniel Kerr from UCL, and Yachika Reddy from SEA, recently met with Maurisha Hammer and Zwelethu Zulu, representatives from the Cape Town Municipal Electricity Department’s Electrification Division, to discuss the city’s approach to the electrification of informal settlements, and the challenges facing informal settlement electrification across South Africa.

The Cape Town approach to informal settlement electrification is pioneering compared to the approaches of other countries and metropolitan areas. Informal settlement electrification is under a separate project management procedure to that of formal settlement electrification in the municipality. Formal settlements are project managed by developers, housing associations and “Section 21” companies, which are non-profit housing project developers. Informal settlement electrification is directly project-managed by the Electrification Department, and projects are selected in-situ, i.e. any existing informal settlement has the potential to be electrified under the Council approved Residential Electricity Reticulation policy that requires that  it is a stable settlement (i.e. not transient) and has not been identified for upgrading or relocation . To be considered for electrification, an informal settlement may not be situated

  • in a road or rail reserve or in a servitude, unless otherwise permitted by land owner;
  • in an area below the 1:50 year flood return period contour;
  • in a storm water detention pond; or
  • on unstable land.

This approach is in contrast to other countries’ and cities’ experiences with informal settlement electrification. For example, while cases exist for “slum” electrification in India (notably Chennai and Mumbai) and Thailand (Bangkok), these are processes dependant on the formalisation of property rights for informal dwellers. Part of the rationale behind the Cape Town approach is to do with the constitutional mandate for municipalities in South Africa to provide basic municipal services (electricity, water, sanitation, and refuse management) to all inhabitants of the municipality. Whilst funding constraints prevent the fulfilment of this mandate in many municipalities, Cape Town seems to be succeeding in doing so through this program.

Another major contributor to the success of the program is the community engagement aspect of informal settlement operations. Repeated meetings with community leaders, and notably members of the community themselves, throughout the duration of an electrification project, significantly contribute to investment and participation of the community in the project, nurturing trust in the services and engendering community spirit, cutting down on electricity theft and grid overloading. The opportunity is also used to get cooperation from the community to open up access ways in densely populated areas, not only to facilitate the installation of an electricity reticulation network but also to be maintained as access ways for health emergency services as well as the provision of other basic services such as water and sanitation where possible

The electrification of informal dwellings in the backyards of formal housing developments is a recent initiative. Two pilot projects have been successfully completed in what many regard as a first-of-its-kind program. The main challenge with these projects is the reinforcement of the existing reticulation network serving these properties. In most cases the additional load posed by backyard dwellings makes it necessary to replace the backbone infrastructure. At this stage the programme is restricted to backyard dwellings on properties owned by the City (rental housing) due to legal restrictions around enhancing private properties with public funds.

South African municipalities generate significant income from electricity distribution, and are responsible under their mandate to electrify urban areas, with rural areas under the jurisdiction of ESKOM, the national utility. Given the low rates of return for informal settlement electrification, for less affluent South African municipalities, replicating the Cape Town experience may prove challenging. While the electrification of informal settlements and backyard dwellings may not make financial sense if viewed with too narrow a perspective, the City emphasises wider benefits such as better living conditions, economic stimulation, health and safety, job creation and education opportunities. In view of the challenges faced with the delivery of free formal housing due to growing demand faced with urbanisation and historic spatial planning legacies amongst others in formal housing, informal housing has an important interim role to play and will not disappear overnight. It is with this knowledge that the City Of Cape Town decided more than a decade ago to provide electricity to those living in informal settlements.

In all, the Cape Town experience in informal electrification has useful implications for the SAMSET project. The management of informal electrification projects by the municipality has served to mitigate a number of risks inherent in informal settlement electrification, and this experience -under a number of conditions – could be cross-applied to great effect in other metropolitan areas in developing countries globally, particularly in the Sub-Saharan African context.

Energy and Sustainable Urban Development CPD Course – Day 4

This blog is part of a series on the Energy and Sustainable Urban Development in Africa course , 17 – 21 November, 2014, University of Cape Town. For more details on the purpose of the course, see this blog.

Day four of the CPD was dedicated to the interlinked themes of urban planning and transport energy consumption, as well as introducing themes on policy planning for urban development.

The day began with two presentations from the technical and policy side of urban form and urban planning. Dr Nancy Odendaal, University of Cape Town began with an introduction on thinking about urban planning, covering the history of urban planning development in Sub-Saharan Africa, from colonial concepts of urban planning to modern considerations, such as dealing with urban sprawl. Urban planning was defined as methodology for societal development, re-imagining an urban region or wider territory, priorities for investment, conservation, infrastructure and land use. Dr Odendaal also made clear the fact that urban planning is not restricted to city planners, and planning occurs in all spheres, therefore it can be clearer to refer to the planning system, rather than planning activities. A different kind of urbanisation, that of modern development, requires a different kind of planning – 62% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa live in slums, and 60% work in the informal economy – 78% in Francophone countries. Informality is no longer the exception, yet city planners often still see informality as illegality.

Professor Ivan Turok from the Human Sciences Research Council continued this theme with a presentation on the current state of urban and urbanisations policies in Africa. A key assumption in planning is that the functional urban form is the foundation for everything else to be built upon, and dysfunctional urban forms perpetuate dysfunctional energy relationships. Despite a wealth of experience in the sector in the region (50 years of projects, 20-30 years of sectoral programmes, 5-10 years of cross-cutting urban policy development), the lack of shared experiences and cumulative learning has led to a lack of integrated strategies, which is a critical barrier for developing effective urbanisation policies. Some counter-examples exist in Ethiopia, with the Federal Urban Development Policy focusing on SME development and job creation for urban areas, and Morocco, where the Integrated Progressive Human Settlements program since 2001 has had a major impact on slum populations. A number of other African countries are developing urbanisation plans in the face of the urban energy challenge.

cpd blog day 4 image MeluParticipants at the Energy and Sustainable Urban Development CPD Course. Image: Melusile Ndlovu

The afternoon sessions focused on transport policy and development in an urban context. Initially linking to the morning’s planning sessions through a brief introduction of the Voortrekker Road corridor upgrading in Cape Town, Herman Pienaar, head of Planning at the City of Johannesburg, presented on the Corridors of Freedom project, and more broadly an introduction to corridor-based transport planning in an urban context. Johannesburg is connecting key economic nodes in the city with bus rapid transit corridors, and in an effort to create system sustainability, is also encouraging mixed land-use planning and a network approach to transport planning in the city. With sustainability and liveability of the urban built form the key goals of this project, a combined whole-system focus is seen as the most effective way of achieving this.

Dr Lisa Kane, consultant and Honorary Research Associate at the Centre for Transport Studies, University of Cape Town, went on to present about challenges to transitioning to a lower energy and emissions transport sector through a broadly-focused presentation on transport energy use culture and perceptions, as well as policy momentum. A number of recommendations came from this presentation – for example, public road space for public transport as a policy, increasing vehicle occupancy to improve efficiency, challenging car culture as ‘inevitable’, and supporting civil interventions through the state. Some unexpected points also came from this presentation, for example that the emerging middle class and richer consumers are a valid policy focus, given the unsustainable energy practices endemic to this economic bracket (for example, single-occupancy private car use).

Finally on day four, Roland Hunter, consultant at Hunter van Ryneveld (Pty) Ltd and former Chief Financial Officer of the City of Johannesburg, presented on the relationship between transport and infrastructure in African cities. Transportation spending in Africa as a whole is three times higher as a proportion of gross city product than in Asian cities, approximately 21%. Despite this, some inappropriate solutions are still receiving large amounts of funding from national governments. For example in South Africa, 60% of national government transport subsidies go to the rail sector, whilst they carry only 17% of passengers. Minibus taxis carry 61% of passengers nationally, but receive 2.1% of total government subsidy. Fundamental points from this presentation are that spatial form is the determining long-term driver of transport usage and energy consumption, and transport policy should be as much about improving the patterns of transport demand to improve sustainability.