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Call for urbanism collaboration in South Africa

Call for urbanism collaboration in South Africa

Aug 5, 2014

By Kathy Gibson at #UIA2014Durban

A call has been made for various professionals involved in urban planning start working together to ensure that the ongoing crisis in South Africa’s cities can be effectively resolved.
Timothy Hewitt-Coleman, an architect and member of the board of the SA Institute of Architects, explains that there are huge problems that challenger the country’s cities, and that concerted action is required. He points out that South Africa’s cities, even today, can be described as “town” and “township”. Inner cities are in decline while the middle class areas are under siege.

Meanwhile, a lack of spatial integration denies the poor access to critical urban resources, and there is a massive sprawl in fossil fuel-dependent urban regions.

“Our cities are a monument to inefficiency, social dislocation and environmental dislocation,” Hewitt-Coleman says. Possibly even worse than the apartheid legacy, he says, is that fact that – 20 years later – urbanists are still perpetuating and reinforcing the failed pattern. “And the crisis continues even though there are skills available to address these challenges and to transform cities into vibrant models of balance,” he adds.

“The most significant obstacle to meaningful urban transformation is not a shortage of know-how, or a shortage of public sector investment, or of private sect mobilisation – but in the entrenched dysfunctional relationship between those three sectors.

“They all operate in silos, separately, with no true collaboration.”

One of the main challenges is that the public sector has to procure private sector services using a standardised procurement mechanism, so there is no true collaboration, vision and direction. In addition, says Hewitt-Coleman, urbanists in the academic world are under pressure to focus on pure academic ursuits, teaching theory and not necessariy practical solutions.

Professional architects, on the other hand, help to perpetuate the problem by focusing on running their businesses rather than sharing their visions.

Hewitt-Coleman says there are a number of issues that can be accepted as common cause:

  • Progress in addressing the crisis in South African cities depends on collaboration;
  • Effective collaboration is substantially obstructed by public:private supply chain processes;
  • Effective collaboration is obstructed by current higher education human resources policies; and
  • The burden of research and development is not shared in any meaningful way by the private sector.

If it can be accepted that these statements are true, Hewitt-Coleman concludes that architects in private practice have a role to play in promulgating a vision to address the challenges. A formal structure for sharing data doesn’t exist to any meaningful extent in our universities, he adds, while research is not an emphasis in continuing professional development.

He puts forward three propositions that he hopes will help to alleviate these challenges:

  • That the SA Institute of Architects (SAIA) is best placed from a systemic reach to collect the wisdom from practicing architects and share it – and would be failing in its mandate if it did not do so;
  • That the SAIA is the best place to ensure that the SA Council for Architecture expands guidelines for accredited schools of architecture to include minimum levels of professional experience for various categories of teaching positions; and
  • There is no institution better placed that the SAIA to commit to a comprehensive research project to test the hypothesis that the current South African public sector supply chain management processes do not match the best architectural skills and talent with the tasks that most require these skills and talents.

Hewitt-Coleman calls for the profession to debate these propositions, and to step into a leadership position to ensure that the energies of South African architects are directed to the growing urban challenge facing the county and the continent.

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