by Elmarine Anthony
People should be allowed to build their own cities and communities through a broad consultation process with key role players including their local municipalities.
This was one of the main points raised by Maliga Naidoo from the Academy of Leisure Sciences Africa during a networking event at the Old Agricultural Building on Friday, 7 May. The event was hosted by the e’Bosch Heritage Project in collaboration with the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport (SAS).
The community consultation process will contribute to building stronger more viable communities and at the same time address the issues around diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion. According to Naidoo the objective of the workshop was to create the awareness of transforming public spaces and help to develop a workable, multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary strategy for sustainable, equitable, accessible and inclusive communities. “We look at the built environment – physical public spaces – to create and improve the quality of life for everyone while at the same time meet some of the UN sustainable development goals.”
Fifty people from different communities who are trying to make a difference in the lives of others through various projects were in attendance. This included community workers, NGO workers, members of e’Bosch and people who run the Corporate Social Investment (CSI) projects of the companies they work for. Naidoo elaborated on how these valuable community based activities, for example counselling young children, promoting sport activities in schools and teaching women the skill of dressmaking, to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (UN).
Providing a background on why creating liveable and sustainable cities are important, Naidoo referred to a report by the UN Human Settlements Programme which set out the principles for community development, sustainability and liveability. She said the focus was on the challenges and changes as a result of rapid urbanisation which lead to congestion in the towns and cities and the demand for more resources and services. By 2019 almost half of the world’s population were living in cities which created an even growing population of the urban poor. This led to more challenges regarding the availability of resources to provide more housing, education, sanitation and infrastructure. “Cities needed to re-look and re-design what they had to meet these challenges. What we are looking at are innovative and creative strategies to address this growing disparity between the poor and the wealthy.”
According to Naidoo the global pandemic made us aware of the growing need in underserved areas and re-emphasised that this disparity exacerbated the problems. She said we need to address the social economic issues now as a matter urgency. “Throughout last year, the world witnessed the social protests during the Black Lives Matter campaigns, which makes us even more aware of how the segregation policies in South Africa affected our communities during the pandemic. Globally people of colour were placed in areas that were underserved and today everyone is trying to grasp at understanding what the problem is when we created that problem in the first place.”
With the goal of starting to correct this, Naidoo said we should be developing inclusive cities and address the needs at grassroots level. “Starting with a broad-based map of the city, the question to be asked is whether Stellenbosch has a masterplan to work towards addressing diversity, inclusion accessibility and equity? Does Durban have a masterplan? Does South Africa have a masterplan to address the injustice and social disparities in the country? Having a comprehensive plan is about being strategic as to how the municipality will maximise and provide the benefits to the communities to help grow Stellenbosch and improve quality of life for all.”
She said we also need to know what inclusive decision-making processes are in place to build a city from the bottom-up. The consultative approach to decision making helps to educate and create the awareness in communities. Communities will be able to make more informed decisions and be held accountable. Referring to how people can link what they do to the Sustainable Development Goals, Naidoo presented 10 out of the 17 goals during the workshop for the purposes of parks, sport and recreation.
The UN Sustainable Goals identified were : Zero hunger, good health and well-being, gender equality and inclusion, work and economic growth, reducing inequality, climate change, life on land, peace and justice and lastly, partnerships.
Elaborating on the goal of zero hunger and food deserts, Naidoo said building and designing agricultural spaces and food gardens for example in neighbourhoods along pavements or small vacant public spaces, people can grow their own food. Pavement gardens are becoming more significant globally especially during the pandemic when many people lost their jobs and were unable to feed their families.
With regards to health and well-being, Naidoo stressed the importance of exercise. “Stellenbosch is one of the nicest places because it is naturally designed for walkability.” Naidoo said globally there is a move towards exercising where doctors are playing a significant role by prescribing exercising instead of prescribing medications. Again, it was during the pandemic and stay at home regulations, which make parks, recreation and open green spaces even more significant to maintain good health.
Naidoo said the development of inclusive public spaces will lead to economic regeneration. Hence the relevance of the goal: Work and economic growth. She gave an example of the restaurants and coffee shops on the pavements in Dorp Street that are stimulating economic growth and make stopping for a quick coffee more convenient. “At the same time, there are shuttered buildings not being used. I discovered one of them is a museum of historical significance. If they had to open their doors, it automatically becomes an economic buzz for regeneration and growth.”
On the issue of climate change, Naidoo emphasized the need to reduce our carbon footprint by reducing the number of cars on the road, encourage biking and walking through innovative place making design, boosting our oxygen levels by encouraging the growth of indigenous trees, improving the quality of air and saving water by destroying invasive vegetation.
She said partnerships and a multifaced approach (placemaking) are important in addressing the sustainability goals. “We need welcoming outdoor spaces. Is your environment welcoming in a public space? A public space belongs to the city but it is for all to use. Placemaking is about creating that liveable sustainable space where people can engage in a very positive environment. It’s about how one designs the spaces to contribute towards livability and sustainability. Placemaking is all about the collaborative and supportive ecosystem of partners and maximizing our shared value.”
Naidoo asked the attendees about their thoughts on developing a legacy project to improve the quality of life for all in Stellenbosch. She said the key team players in creating welcoming and shared public spaces are the municipality, university, community and the corporate world.
In conclusion she said we need to redirect our energies, effort and resources towards improving the quality of life and liveability by creating better places for people to live, work and play. “Community engagement and a participatory approach will enhance future projects for sustainability. Communities will buy in if they are part of the solution. Helping communities in the preservation of the environment should be embedded into a masterplan for Stellenbosch. A new reimagined, redesigned and revitalised approach will greatly enhance Stellenbosch.”
Referring to the importance of the topic of liveable and sustainable communities, José Cabral, said we need new ideas after the pandemic. Cabral heads up the CSI unit at SAS through the implementation of sport development programmes at previously disadvantaged schools in Stellenbosch and surrounding areas. “We cannot keep doing things the way we were before the pandemic. We knew something was wrong but now we know that more than ever. We need to look at best practices around the world.”
Dr Sias Mostert, Chairman of e’Bosch, also said it is important that we infuse our thinking with the latest ideas. “Covid-19 has given us and forced us to reflect on who we are and what is important in our lives. I really appreciate a fresh perspective on that. e’Bosch is about new ideas. We have come a long way with our partners Stellenbosch University and the local municipality. Going forward the next ten years requires some serious work.”
Some of the attendees at the event:
Featured image: UNESCO PROFILE