Johannesburg a welcome challenge for urban planners

gautrain 654

Delegates at the Transformation of Cities Conference took the Johannesburg City Challenge to experience the transport difficulties residents face. Their experience will inform strategies to improve Joburg's public transport systems.

On 4 March, delegates from the Transformation of Cities Conference set off in a light drizzle on the Johannesburg City Challenge, to explore five routes through the city using public transport.

The conference, running from 4 to 6 March, invites urban development practitioners, strategists, analysts, investors, urban planners, and designers, among others, to investigate and discuss how to build better cities.

taxi 654The aim was to place conference delegates in the shoes of people who negotiate the city and who have to make daily decisions and trade-offs based on the current spatial geography and urban form.Buses, taxis, the Gautrain and good old legs were exercised to get from the Bag Factory in Newtown to five major areas in the city, then to the Origins Centre in Braamfontein. Travellers went from Newtown, east through the Maboneng Precinct to Yeoville; west through Newtown and Fordsburg to Wits University; to Diepsloot; to Soweto; and to Alexandra, Sandton. Travellers on each of the five routes had just three to four hours to complete the circuit.

The challenge, an initiative of the Transformation of Cities Conference, allowed participants to travel the city to understand its design and how this design affected travel, housing and social and economic infrastructure and activities. It also showed conference delegates how Johannesburg residents travel across the city, and how they organise their day-to-day lives to according to the city layout.

The Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) partnered with the South African Cities Network (SACN) and the City of Johannesburg to host the conference, which will be held at venues across the city. The SACN brings South African city officials together to discuss and share ideas on urban planning.

Barbara Mbuli, executive manager of marketing and communications at the JDA, said, "This is an experience to enrich each other, showing the day-to-day challenges of what it involves to take public transport."

To publicise the challenge, chaperons with each team shared pictures on the SACN social media platforms, including its Instagram feed. The images were projected onto a map of Johannesburg depicting the route each team had completed, creating a complete image summary of the challenge.

Geci Karuri-Sebina, executive director of programmes at the SACN, said she hoped this experience would start a "broader conversation on spatial transformation".

Transforming Joburg's transport landscape

reavaya 654Rea Vaya - Buses, taxis, the Gautrain and good old legs were exercised to get from place to place. The route description was long and the allotted time was short. Groups had to complete the course in 3-4 hours and end off at the Origins Centre in Braamfontein.Thoko Vukea, an SACN researcher, said she sometimes uses public transport and that it is immensely convenient; however there are many glitches; "If it rains you are jammed up in traffic and then can't get there earlier whether you take your own car or use public transport. There must be sufficient lanes for each mode to work properly. Bus lanes and traffic lanes etc. all contradict each other and converge. The Gautrain is efficient but this caters to an elite demographic."

She adds, "There is a class divide on transport; it is no longer about race, and is now about class. Most people have no choice in the matter and are forced to use the buses and taxis. Transformation must be integrated and here, there is no integration in the planning process.

"We can't copy a system like Germany, for example, who have a functioning, efficient transport system; nothing here is integrated. The people who plan the transport must look at other factors as well, where do people live and shop. These taxis carry 70% of the population; they need to be more efficient."

Key discussions at the conference focused on transforming South Africa's cities to make public transport a viable alternative to private vehicles. There are a number of urban growth and development policies and strategies that underpin this interest: these are the National Development Plan 2030; the current Integrated Urban Development Framework process; the City Support Programme; the Neighbourhood Development Programme; the SACN State of the Cities Report 2011 and 2016 Strategy; and the Department of Economic Development’s social dialogues on the space economy, among others.

Mbuli said, "In order to address the legacy of apartheid it is imperative that cities are spatially transformed and restructured. Without a clear vision and plan for the transformation of our urban built environment, it will be very difficult for cities, and South Africa as a whole, to overcome the apartheid spatial legacy.

"While the key policies and strategies for space-economy transformation might be understood, the practicalities of their application in the context of South African cities needs to be interrogated. In Johannesburg the 2040 Growth and Development Strategy’s Corridors of Freedom spatial vision places space economy transformation at the heart of the development strategy for the current mayoral term. This creates an opportunity to interrogate the City of Johannesburg’s implementation plans and strategies to ensure that leading international practice is applied and lessons from other South African cities are taken into account."