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Overview - inner city progress
08 December 2008

Good progress has been made under the Inner City Charter - transportation, community development, urban management, a spatial plan and upgrading the environment are all reflecting positive on-the-ground results. But plenty of commitments still need to be met.

Neil FraserIT'S that time of the year when one needs to look back over the past 12 months to see what has been accomplished in the inner city and what hasn't - to recognise people or organisations for their work and to present wooden spoons to those who have neither delivered nor lived up to expectation.

This week we'll start at the macro level and then finish up the year by looking next week at what's been happening on-the-ground. 

 


 

National
After complaining for years about the lack of any clear direction from the central government on issues urban, I had a pleasant surprise recently when I attended the Second South African Cities Network (SACN) Urban Conference in Umhlanga, Durban.

The background to the conference was provided as follows: "There has been a growing recognition in South Africa of the critical role of [its] towns, cities and city-regions as both the key places of economic potential and the places where the challenges of poverty, inequality and sustainability are increasingly most acutely felt. Harnessing the growth potential of South Africa's urban nodes and addressing the challenges of inclusion and sustainability have emerged as key policy discussions in most urban municipalities in the context of the wider five-year local government strategic agenda.

"To support this, a well-developed and visionary framework for the growth of South Africa's towns, cities and city-regions in the context of ongoing urbanisation should be developed as an important component of the current national policy architecture. Such a framework has to be rooted in an understanding of the national spatial economy as a whole and has to recognise the complex pattern of economic, social and ecological connections and inter-relationships between urban, peri-urban and rural areas."

The conference, Towards a collective vision for growth and development of towns, cities and city-regions, deserves a full report but not here - possibly after I've digested and reflected on the enormous amount of information and food for thought it generated.

However, let me just make a few comments. Firstly, the Cities Network has emerged as a most important player in the South African urban environment, providing excellent urban research and publications while acting as a catalyst and think-tank for new urban strategies. Secondly, strongly expressed and supported at the conference, was the need for whatever the vision might be to be "a compelling vision". In dictionary terms that means that it should "arouse strong interest and conviction so that it brings about what it seeks to address".

Thirdly, we received a number of revealing reports, including a short overview of the latest State of the World Cities report by Rasna Warah, the editor of this UN Habitat Report. Among many other important conclusions, it found that transport infrastructure was the number one driver of growth - that partnerships are prevalent in the development of cities and that investment in communication technology is critical. It also found that cities were becoming more unequal in the world, with South African cities the most unequal (which I guess is not surprising given our history, but makes one realise that for all the progress made since 1994, that we have a long way to go) and that Johannesburg has an extraordinarily high level of inequality.

The most "equal" city in the world is Beijing followed, interestingly enough, by Indian cities. She stressed that the growing inequality in income and in access to adequate shelter were socially and economically unsustainable and could lead to massive social unrest and major conflict. In concluding her presentation, in which African cities hardly covered themselves with glory, she stated: "There is a tendency for cities to become the same as other cities and they lose their attractiveness. Cities that have retained their heritage have grown their economies - you need to focus on cultural and heritage aspects to bring out your city's intangible assets, such as the ‘soul of the city.'"

Amen, sister!

Against the background of this international overview, was a presentation of the latest South African National Spatial Trends, with fascinating research results from work undertaken by the CSIR; an overview of National Scenarios 2025 from the Office of the Presidency; and the thinking behind a National Urban Development Framework from the Department of Provincial and Local Government. There was a lot more, but the international and three local presentations were, for me, the guts of the conference. Much to read and mull over, but well done to SACN for its proactive approach to this and other macro urban issues.

Coming away from the conference but remaining at national level in relation to cities, and particularly Jozi, the continued ineffectiveness and inefficiency of the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) remains a huge frustration, as does the performance (or lack thereof) of Eskom and Transnet. The Safety and Security Portfolio is just not worth talking about.

Eskom because of the tremendous damage it has done to South African cities during the past 12 months through sheer incompetence, and Transnet for three reasons. While the departing chief executive might be glorified by the financial press for turning around the balance sheet of the parastatal (greatly enhanced by ridding itself of the South African Airways albatross and the highly profitable V&A), its train service for passengers and goods remains pathetic; its attitude towards its strategic land holdings in cities appears to be one of detachment from the long term interests of the cities; while the fact that it just hasn't bothered to make progress with the Carlton Hotel is nothing short of a disgrace!
 

 


 


Provincial
At provincial level, whether government or legislature, it has been a more than disappointing year in relation to the inner city. The Rissik Street Post Office still appears to me to be unresolved. I've heard the legislature's plans in this regard but they remain woolly, with the building still being allowed to self-demolish through neglect.

I wonder how many people within the public service bother to calculate the cost of their inability to take action over such initiatives. When the refurbishment of the post office was first envisaged in 1994/95 the cost was about R30-million. It now runs into hundreds of millions and nothing has yet been settled! Who pays? We, the taxpayers have to bear this massive escalation of cost and inefficiency - it is a total disgrace!

The western half of the Legislature Building, the old City Hall Complex, has been the subject of years of promises regarding refurbishment, but nothing happens. The new premier stated his commitment to the Gauteng provincial government precinct, but what is actually happening on the ground?

From my viewpoint, the communication, let alone the co-ordination, between provincial and local government is practically zero - or maybe I should say the results of such communication and co-ordination are zero. The effectiveness of the provincial department that handles environmental impact assessments has a huge negative impact on development because of the extraordinary time that is taken for the process and the lack of ability of anyone to report on what progress has been made, if any.

Some improvement has been experienced by the Provincial Heritage Resources Agency but there is a long way to go. The announcement by the provincial department of safety and security that it is to provide CCTV cameras in the "ongoing fight against crime" is sadly comical when one knows the details of the long history of surveillance cameras in Jozi.

On the positive side, and hopefully there have been more than the one I am mentioning, the department of economic development has launched the development of a critical long-term vision, Gauteng 2055, as part of the strategy to mould Gauteng into a globally competitive city-region. So mixed results at provincial level, but certainly not worth a pass mark!
 

 


 


Local

At the local government level, there have also been mixed results. Most disappointing was the news received at the beginning of last week that the quarterly Inner City Charter Partnership Forum meeting had been cancelled. The cynics of the proposal for the charter process in the private sector will be saying, "Well, I told you so!"

That certain work and good progress has been made under the charter is unquestionable. Transportation, community development, urban management, progress in the development of a spatial plan and upgrading the environment are all reflecting positive on-the-ground results.

But that a large proportion of commitments has not been met is a concern. A preliminary report tabled at the last quarterly Inner City Charter Partnership Forum meeting by independent assessors (Urban Inc) rated the work done to June 2008 at around the 40 percent mark.

A final report has been submitted to the council, the results of which I am not able to provide as it has not been made public. But the process appears to be floundering, with a lack of minutes and formal reports of progress. And the Inner City Programme Manager will be leaving the council at the end of December, with no announcement of a replacement. All this leaves one with a question mark over the council's commitment.

Particular concerns that I continue to hear voiced among the private sector relate to the lack of promised improvement in planning approval, rates clearance and billing processes and the loss of impetus in the Better Buildings Programme. The programme has always been looked at as one of the mainstays of our Inner City Urban Renewal Programme. In fact, the charter acknowledges this issue when it states that: "The Better Buildings Programme is one of the City's most important mechanisms in accelerating renewal and bringing old buildings to market for new residential development.

"It makes provision for a building where the rates and service charge arrears exceed the market value of the building to be sold to a new owner at the assessed market value, with a consequent writing down of the debt owed to the City. For various reasons the processes entailed in giving effect to the programme on a building by building basis are very laborious and complex. A mechanism is required to speed up the programme."

Well, the mechanism has been announced in the form of the Inner City Property Scheme, but one must question what consultation with the private property sector took place and whether it "is going to speed up the process"! It calls for a complicated interrelationship between the public sector and strictly broad-based black economic empowerment partners who need to have the potential to bring R100-million to the table and engage in a complex implementation process.

It is too complex to spell out here, but I have grave doubts on its ability effectively and quickly to address a steadily worsening situation.

One last issue that has been highlighted to me over the past year is the extreme difficulty that exists in getting council departments to deal with certain private sector initiatives that would greatly benefit the inner city. I don't even say "approved" - just looked at, and practically and honestly assessed. This is just one of the aspects that has gravely suffered since the restructuring that led to the omission of a member of the mayoral committee responsible for the inner city. Very frustrating.

For me, it's been a disappointing year at macro level (with my mood not enhanced by the fact that my ADSL line has been down for a week, courtesy Telkom - the new buzz phrase, incidentally, is - "Our technicians are dealing with the problem, as we speak," which gets tough to digest after a week of hearing the same response!).

I think that things "on-the-ground" have been far more positive but we'll look at that next week, which will be the last Citichat of the year.

Till then, ciao, Neil
 

 


 


Bus tour: Saturday, 13 December
Nooitgedacht anniversary tour
A repeat of the popular tour of the Anglo-Boer War site of Nooitgedacht is timed to take place on the anniversary of the battle. It is situated on a beautiful private game farm in the Magaliesberg that is still owned by the descendents of the original settler family.

The tour will visit a church built by the family and a family cemetery. While being bussed to the top of the mountain, the tour will pass a vulture colony, a black eagle's nest and may be lucky enough to see some of the wildlife on the famed farm.

To fully appreciate the views and the battle sites will require some walking on flat but rocky terrain so please bring sun screen, a hat, sturdy walking shoes, plenty of water and a packed lunch.

Meet Deanna Kirby and Johnna Turner at the Sunnyside Park Hotel, 2 York Road, Parktown at 7.30am for departure at 8am. The cost is R385 per person and bookings are to be made through the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust office.

For more information, telephone Eira Bond on weekdays from 9am to 1pm on 011 482 3349.
 

 


 


Walking tour: Sunday, 14 December

Christmas special Main Street Mall and Christmas trees
This is the time to bring visitors and family who would like to venture into the heart of town, to enjoy a stroll along Main Street with the great mining houses and mementoes of mining, the old stock exchange with its bull and bear sculpture and the fountain in Hollard Street, right through to 44 Main Street, where the Anglo American Group has its Christmas trees, each one created by a South African artist.

From Gandhi Square to the magistrates' courts, history abounds. Meet Dennis Adams and Pascale Petit at the Nedbank open parking area in Marshall Street - between Rissik and Loveday streets. The tour starts at 2pm.

The cost is R50 per person and booking is at Computicket, on 083 915 8000 or 011 340 8000, or through the Computicket website.

For more information, telephone Eira Bond on weekdays from 9am to 1pm on 011 482 3349.

 


 

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