Urbanisation and The Hidden Implications of City Developments

Posted by MDA Projects on Monday, July 24, 2017 with No comments
Urbanisation is a widespread global trend with unmistakable local impact. According to KPMG, “it is estimated that by 2050, more than 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, representing a growth of 95% globally and 257% for sub-Saharan Africa”. This rising influx of people to city centres will continue to place enormous pressure on infrastructure, which will necessitate further growth and development.

Beyond building structures

Buffered by mountains and sea, Cape Town is popularly known as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. However, this buffer effect poses significant development challenges, which are further impacted by:

  • Countrywide service delivery problems
  • Energy shortages (electricity inconsistency)
  • Water shortages (extreme shortages in the Western Cape)
  • Limited natural resources
  • Limited human resources
  • Limited financial resources
  • An increasingly overburdened infrastructure (owing to the continuous emigration of people from other provinces to the Western Cape)
  • Severe traffic congestion
  • Lack of affordable housing in Cape Town’s central business district (CBD)
Taking all of this into account, a single fact emerges: Sustainable development that looks beyond building structures to ensure successful urbanisation within a fully functioning CBD is key.

Improving a bullet train on the move

Much like a heart, the CBD has arteries. If these arteries are constrained the heart is at risk. In other words, Cape Town needs responsible development that cleanly does its job with minimal disruption to the city. This includes heeding past solutions where structures already exist.

For instance, some would argue the unfinished Foreshore Freeway viaduct should be demolished to make way for extravagant engineering and architectural marvels with sprawling public parks. While visually appealing to some, under the lengthy construction phase that comes with all mega projects, traffic flow will undoubtedly be drastically impeded. Why not simply complete viaducts as they were originally intended? This would allow for increased capacity without placing unnecessary pressure on an already overburdened infrastructure.

Mega projects cost money and who pays?

More development to meet the rising demands of a growing population is inevitable, but this also means further spending. Mega projects cost money, lots of money. With municipal rates and grants from the National Treasury being the only source of income for the city, where will the funding come from?

City developments need to be carefully and realistically thought through from concept and construction to the operational phase, while taking into account the potential drag on taxpayers, both local and national. The pitfalls of ignoring the potential drag on taxpayers are well documented. 

National government needs to provide flexible opportunities for an ever-changing South African built environment to encourage private sector development. This will help to minimise public spend and generate a greater rates income for local government.

Important lessons from The Boston Big Dig

Unofficially known as The Big Dig, supporters of the Central Artery Tunnel Project (CA/T) project in Boston, Massachusetts enthuse that; “it was never a highway project but rather an exercise in urban beautification”. Were that the case, the project delivered.

However, the reality is that the Big Dig was fundamentally a highway project that was non-viable from the start. There were major design issues, construction problems, elaborate and unnecessary systems and inadequate cost controls among others.

All of these factors resulted in a failure to safeguard taxpayer money. Costs soared nearly ten times from $2.6bn to $15bn ($24bn after interest on debt). Projects in other parts of the state suffered. In fact, although the project was completed in 2007 the people of Massachusetts are still paying for it.

Is there an upside to urbanisation?

According to PWC, UK urbanisation presents substantial opportunities with the potential for cities “to act as powerful and inclusive development tools”. In Cape Town alone there are more jobs (255 000) than there are residences (55 000). That said, city living is aspirational and usually accessible predominantly to high income earners only. Nonetheless, the potential to mix low income with high income earners is a distinct and realistic possibility. It also presents an ideal opportunity to address Cape Town city’s legacy of inequality embedded in the last century.

It could be argued that more people working and living in the city means more cars and further congestion. On the contrary, safe, reasonably inexpensive and reliable, and successful mega public transit projects such as the My CiTi Bus system have helped to improve CBD accessibility and reduce traffic congestion. Unquestionably, successful urbanisation requires innovative sustainable development to build a more integrated environment that creates value for the city. However, this can only happen with considered and insightful planning and careful construction development project management.