Imagine you live in a village in which, 40 years ago, everyone was able to work the land and live off the proceeds of their labour, but now climatic conditions and changes in land-use patterns have reduced agricultural yields. As you worry about food security, you hear that a new mine has opened in the next village and is hiring. What would you do? For many people the answer is obvious: I would go to the next village in search of work.
The 2011 census noted continued high levels of urbanisation and urban expansion, with the greatest pressure being in Gauteng. Given this pressure, the National Planning Commission and the Gauteng government agreed to collaborate on urban innovation, including the establishment of a "partnership for urban innovation", to better understand urbanisation and develop innovative ways to respond to its challenges and opportunities.
For the purpose of the project, "urban innovation" is defined as "the generation and application of new ideas for the management of urban growth to support rising incomes, a better distribution of wealth, enhanced living standards, improved environmental quality and equitable service delivery".
The partnership’s primary goal is the active promotion of innovative responses to urbanisation. As a first phase, we have appointed 10 young researchers to identify and write up an innovative approach to dealing with urban pressures of their choice, and determine whether they can be replicated in SA’s context. Further phases will explore opportunities for expanded partnerships to test innovations, international exchanges and possible incentives.
Cities are the engines of any country’s economic development, propelled by their ability to attract people and resources. Yet cities face challenges and stresses that create speed bumps in their growth trajectories. There is a need to identify and implement innovative solutions to enable municipalities to accommodate urban growth in more efficient, inclusive and sustainable ways.
Large urban areas in particular offer the prospect for innovation-led development. This potential is, however, often constrained by bureaucratic approaches that incentivise compliance at the expense of innovation. An environment that supports innovation is one in which there is open learning, a dense network of trustful relationships, and space for risk-taking and creativity. The National Development Plan has provided new impetus for renewed engagement in the knowledge space to contribute towards our vision of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality.
Given that many of the challenges facing our urban spaces are wicked problems (difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise), we need to approach things differently and learn by engaging with others and by trying new things. A particularly wicked problem is our spatial patterns, which reinforce inequality by placing disproportionate burdens on the poor to access opportunities.
We are hosting an Urban Innovation Colloquium Thursday and Friday as the first knowledge-exchange opportunity of the partnership. There will be a keynote address by Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, international speakers Yoyo Riva (Argentina), Aline Cannataro (Brazil) and Lisa Zorn (Germany), as well as local experts such as Geci Karuri-Sebina of the South African Cities Network.
We want our cities to be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable in the long run. With the colloquium, we would like to raise awareness about potential alternative approaches to dealing with urban challenges, engage stakeholders on replication of ideas and encourage cities to consider piloting some of the initiatives showcased at the event in future.
This article is culled from daily press coverage from around the world. It is posted on the Urban Gateway by way of keeping all users informed about matters of interest. The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and in no way reflects the opinion of UN-Habitat