Who is planning for? Planning with urbanisation and informality in Johannesburg's Spatial Development Framework

Tariq Toffa, Johannesburg Community Manager
Johannesburg, 22 June 2015

Johannesburg remains the focal point for economic opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa and is the largest city in South Africa. Facing global challenges such as increasing urbanisation and economic inequality, the City's Spatial Development Framework (SDF) was prepared and annually revised since 2002 to guide public and private investment toward more equitable spatial and economic growth (fig. 1 and 2). As a key higher order spatial vision, it must translate higher level policy paradigms, such as "the pro-active absorption of the poor (...) into fully-fledged urban citizens" and "settlement restructuring (...) to bringing jobs closer to people" into a coherent spatial strategy. We spoke to Paul Hanger of IYER Urban Design Studio, planning consultants for the SDF with The Urban Planning and Design Lab of UN-Habitat and Urban Morphology Institute, about the process.

Briefly explain the role of Johannesburg's SDF.

The SDF is part of a broader planning process, and sits within a broader suite or package of plans influenced by, and taking direction from, the Integrated Development Plan of the city (fig. 3). It thus has primary legislative function. At another level, the SDF provides the overriding long term spatial vision for the City, exploring appropriate spatial development challenges and scenarios for a "Future City". The dynamics of the city are constantly changing (or rather our understanding of these dynamics is maturing), and a spatial plan that may have been 'appropriate' a decade ago may now have become an obstacle to sustainable urban growth.

What are the major urban-spatial challenges addressed?

The fundamental challenge currently confronting the city is assimilating a rapidly increasing urban population, of limited resources, into an urban system that is already constrained with its own spatial shortcomings (spatial inequality, fragmentation, urban sprawl, limited diversity and inefficient land use patterns, increasing pressure on the natural environment), in a way that is able to generate opportunity and sustain quality urban living. It is not just a case of accommodating a growing population and an increasing of informality, but using these to drive growth and urban sustainability. The spatial positioning and form of this growth is thus critical.

Is the SDF the most appropriate tool to address these challenges?

The SDF on its own will not transform the city. It requires a concurrent capital investment process to implement key spatial interventions. It also requires a more detailed level of planning to give spatial guidance to more localised development patterns (figs. 4). More importantly, in the local government context it needs political buy in and an effective champion.

How innovative is the SDF in offering sustainable solutions?

Johannesburg can have the most innovative spatial vision and framework possible, yet this becomes superfluous if, for example, higher levels of government continue imposing urban development priorities on the city – the provincial housing 'Megacity' approach or the proposed Gautrain extensions are examples here. The SDF cannot realistically address all of the urban challenges without being part of a broader shift in the way we build cities.

What are the major obstacles in implementation?

There are numerous obstacles ranging from political buy in to an increasing inertia to change in many of the 'privileged' areas of the city. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the lack of a common urban vision for the city in our (fragmented) urban context. The reality is that, as a city community, we need to accept that, fundamentally, our city is not working at the level it has historically been positioned, and we need to rethink what it is doing, and where it is doing it.

Picture credits: Figs. 1 – 3: SDF 2010 – 2011; fig. 4: Google Earth.

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