For city dwellers, especially in Africa, the most important factors affecting urban efficiency relate to movement, or the time and cost involved in getting around the urban space.

Joburg Executive Mayor Parks TauJoburg Executive Mayor Parks Tau at the ‘Designing Smarter Cities’ session at WEF Africa 2015. (Photo:, and efficient ways of improving mobility, are key to the makeup of a “smart” city, Joburg Executive Mayor Parks Tau told delegates at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in Cape Town on Thursday, 4 June.

Speaking during a special session on “Designing Smarter Cities”, Mayor Tau said that “smart” was “much bigger than just technology. It is part of a bigger picture to align public sector priorities with private sector incentives in a bid to optimise how space is used to grow a city’s economy.

“Smart is about understanding cities as complex, interlinked systems that can be made to work better. A typical example would be moving from a city which is running out of landfill space with energy constraints to one that redirects waste flow in order to extract energy, such as methane or biogas, from it.”

Among the many variables that contribute to urban efficiency, he said, “the ones that are probably most topical for city dwellers relate to movement, which includes time and cost of moving goods, as well as people, across the urban system.”

Another variable for city governments was the relationship between the cost of providing services and the revenue generated from the consumption of these services.

“In both these variables, the discipline and practice of urban planning and the physical environment have a direct contribution. This challenge can of course be breached by an effective public transport system and logistics infrastructure.”

A more effective intervention, he said, was urban planning, insofar as this locates people and services relative to each other in order to minimise commuting time and distance.

He added that while this might seem a straightforward response, it was fraught with difficulties, including the apartheid spatial form in South African cities, the dominance of the car in North American cities, and Nimbyism (“not in my back yard” resistance to development) in middle income societies.

“In the context of African cities, and South African cities in particular, mobility and spatial patterns have a direct impact on how efficient cities are as living spaces and – sometimes more importantly – as livelihood generators for those at the bottom of the pyramid.”