URBAN design and architecture are the focus of an exhibition at the Bus Factory in Newtown about South Africa’s informal sectors. Titled South African Informal City (SAIC), the month-long exhibition ends on 11 December.
It is an initiative of the Architects’ Collective, in partnership with the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), the Neighbourhood Development Programme of the National Treasury, South African Cities Network and the National Research Foundation (NRF) chair in development planning and modelling.
“The concept behind the SAIC exhibition is to examine the challenges and opportunities presented by the informal sector for both private and public development, with a primary focus on people and the skills and inputs they are able to offer,” says Karen Eicker, a director at Architects’ Collective.
It focuses specifically on pioneering projects throughout the country, in centres that are at the heart of urban migration. Johannesburg is a prime example of such a centre, according to Eicker. These cities are magnetic as they offer promises of a better life, but this in turn means that they are under relentless pressure to provide shelter and social amenities.
The exhibition comprises 20 projects in five categories, with the focus on ground-breaking initiatives countrywide, especially in places where urban migration is high. The five categories are: inner city informality, in-situ upgrading, catalytic projects, un-built projects and backyard interventions.
“Work [includes] proposed and realised catalytic interventions in informal settlements, and incremental upgrading and process work that provides opportunities for communities,” she says.
Included is a collection of photographs that was commissioned for the book Working Warwick, which is on loan from the Durban Art Gallery for the duration of the SAIC exhibition. These photos were taken by Dennis Gilbert and are a record of life in Warwick Junction, a huge inner city transport hub in Durban that incorporates traders both formal and informal, and hawkers.
“The selection inspires interest in the possibility of integrating street traders into urban plans in a way that adds to the vibrancy and attraction of cities,” she says.
SAIC aims to celebrate and showcase the research and design work happening in South Africa, some of which is unique to the country and some of which shares concerns with other developing cities.
It will provide a platform for this research to become part of academic, professional and public knowledge, she says. Overall, SAIC aims to show that informality is here to stay and that it needs to be incorporated into city development.
The relevance of the exhibition meant that it was earmarked as one of the technical site visits of the local government programme for the United Nations 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17), happening in Durban.
“It is now widely acknowledged that the informal sector in cities worldwide is growing at a rate that makes the eradication of informal settlements unviable,” Eicker says.
“It is therefore imperative to integrate these developments, and the opportunities they afford, into the planning and implementation of cities in a sustainable manner – to improve the quality of life for people living in difficult circumstances and to create opportunities for education and self-employment through improved infrastructure and movement systems, and community engagement and empowerment.”
COP 17 began on 28 November, and will conclude on 9 December. The international conference focuses on finding solutions to global warming and climate change. On 9 December, Eicker will lead a site visit of the exhibition for all those interested in the initiative. The tour will begin at 11am and enable visitors to join the debate about the role of the informal sector in climate change.
The exhibition is open to the public all day, until it closes on 11 December. For more information about the exhibition, visit the informal city website.
The Bus Factory is at 3 President Street in Newtown, and is the home of the JDA.