"The Johannesburg we need": Yasmeen Dinath on the JDA and UN-Habitat's 'New Urban Agenda'

Tariq Toffa, Johannesburg Community Manager, and Costanza la Mantia
Johannesburg, 20 September 2016

In March 2016 UN-Habitat released a document (‘The City We Need’) summarizing a common vision fora‘New Urban Agenda’, to be delivered at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III). We spoke with Yasmeen Dinath, ‎Planning Manager of the ‘Planning and Strategy’ team at the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), exploring whether and how these principles are being enacted in Johannesburg.

How many of the principles of ‘The City We Need’ campaign can you recognize in the operations of the JDA?

The Johannesburg we need is a just, inclusive and collaborative city.While economically vibrant, italso needs to be collectively managed and democratically governed. It needs to focus on regeneration through co-production of space and place in order to shape a well-planned, walkable and transit-friendly city that is also socially inclusive, safe, engaging and innovative.

Many of the principles of ‘The City We Need’ campaign are part of the strategic vision for the City of Johannesburg; the new 'Spatial Development Framework' recently approved and adopted, together with its detailing instrument, the ‘Integrated Development Plan’. As the main implementer for City strategies, JDA works in a multidimensional way, implementing both on a programmatic and project oriented way. We use a “4C” approach to implementation: Connecting People to Opportunities; Catalysing Growth and Investment; Creating Great Places; and Co-ProducingSolutions with communities rather than for them.

Could you give examples of some of the projects or programmes in which these strategies were applied?

Two current and recent projects which embed the vision and methods that the JDA believes needs to be part of the daily practice of shaping the Johannesburg we need are the 'Noordesig Social Cluster' project and the 'My Alex'project.

The Noordesig Social Clusterproject in Soweto engaged members ofthe Noordgesig community in sharing their views on developments that they would like to see in their area, collectively reflecting on how to capitalize on the general Transit Orientated Development (TOD) strategies of the city at the neighbourhood level. In particular, the community was invited to give input into the design of an overall Precinct Plan, focusing on the social cluster in relation to the "Corridors of Freedom" vision.This community involvementhas pointed to potential projects such as the development of multi-storey housing units, cycling pathways, pedestrian-friendly connections to public transport hubs, and a recreational parkland along both sides of a river crossing the neighbourhood, connected by pedestrian bridges.

A similar collective approach informed the project called ‘My Alex’, whichfocused on youth perceptions of Place. Through a series of workshops aimed at generating creative tools for self-identification and self-expression,it engaged with youth aged 18-25 on their experiences of Alexandra township and their views on the township's future potential. The youngsters used a range of amazing skills – from BMX'ing to drumming, playwriting, poetry, rap, marimba and dance – tooffer their unique take on theirneighbourhood. The project involved the double goals of enhancing pride and sense of place and vocational entrepreneurship in one of the most degraded areas of the city, and re-establishing trust and dialogue between a disillusioned youth and City institutions.The process culminated with two eventsto coincide with national Youth Month in orderto reach wider audiences.

While the JDA is busy with the general Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP), which is established to coordinate intergovernmental activities to develop Alexandra township, projects like ‘My Alex’ are important to set up citizens platforms of engagement that complement and enhance the physical dimension of the transformation of the city.

Photo: Elias Nkabinde/JDA

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