The South African City Futures Project is a collaborative research project led by the South African Cities Network (SACN), in conjunction with the African Centre for Cities, Architects’ Collective and various partners.
The project is funded by the Johannesburg Development Agency and the Nelson Mandela Bay Development Agency.
The project is headed by Osmond Lange Architects & Planners, Izuba Africa Architects and Andira Urban Solutions and caught my eye with it’s sparkling key words of ‘participation’, ‘public’ ‘re-imagine’ – all triggers for a Future Johannesburg mind.
The idea of the workshops held, was to re-imagine possible futures of South African neighbourhoods from the citizen’s point of view. Addressing the people who live, work and play in the identified areas, and who relate to it in a personalised way which typical planning models would not capture. It also hopes to introduce the various kinds of perceptions and readings of the neighbourhoods from the citizen’s perspective to encourage an enriched conversation.
Focus areas were identified using a model of a 5-10min walk from intermodal nodes.
In Johannesburg, workshops have taken place in 3 neighbourhoods: Rosebank, Alexandra/Marlboro and Braamfontein (Park Station Precinct). The two identified areas in Port Elizabeth are Baakens River Valley and the Inner City.
The workshops were structured using a method that has three core legs:
- Urban Form / A Spatial Lens;
- Urban Narrative / Storytelling Techniques;
- Urban Simulation / Facts and Figures
This process of workshopping participation aims to address a few project aims:
- There is a significant gap in urban planning where ‘big-picture’ thinking often lacks a local voice. This project aims to minimise those gaps and document the desires and ideas of the local citizens.
- The country’s National Development Plan explicitly calls for community-level participation in imagining our futures to 2030. The individuals heading up this project, are all affiliated and interested in cities, but have different skills and passions and this variety tries to break the ‘silo’ thinking.
- Finally it is a thought experiment that is trying a new methodology. Given that African cities are at the sharp end of urbanisation challenges, this project has the potential to also harness the imaginations of others interested in city futures more generally.
Whilst I fully support the project for it’s vision and aims of streamlining and developing tools for public participation, my questions arose around the product and the outcomes and whether these were useable.
Andile Skosana of Andira Solutions explained that the product was a documentary film, targeted and documented interviews, generated models and maps which would ultimately be exhibited. There was no mention of a direct link to future projects.
I wonder, is this enough? The initiation and execution of South African City Futures is commendable, no doubt, but are we, as a country, utilising the data we have to truly benefit our communities and cities?
Sure, I’d love to see this in an exhibition. I’d most certainly support a documentary. But I would love it even more, if I went home with more than just the photographs of documented work, and more of a materialised vision in my city.