SERP hosts a roundtable discussion on “Just Cities”

On 13 September 2017, the Socio-Economic Rights project at the Dullah Omar Institute based at the University of the Western Cape organised a Roundtable Discussion on Just Cities.

The roundtable discussion focused on challenges of South African cities to be “just cities” in that they use their constitutional and economic clout in ways that enhance the wellbeing of all city dwellers in an inclusive and developmental manner. South African city is an intense microcosm where high economic potential, rapid in-migration, urban poverty, environmental degradation and diversity are combined in a local state with constitutionally protected powers.  The challenge for South African cities is to be “just” cities in that they use their constitutional and economic clout in ways that enhance the wellbeing of all city dwellers in an inclusive and developmental manner. Access to public space and social justice are pillars for opportunities and democracy for city dwellers and the concept of equity adds the dimension of ‘needs’ and ‘outcomes.’

Cities are increasingly asserting their constitutional and economic power, driven by the need to address urban problems and afford opportunities. One of the most visible offshoots of South Africa’s system of multi-level government is the increasing role played by metropolitan and secondary cities. Cities are forced to be at the forefront of developing new strategies to deal with informality. It is our cities that have the greatest potential to enable poor and working-class people to advance economically and socially.  At the same time, the conduct of cities in addressing informality (i.e. upgrading informal settlements, evacuating dangerous buildings etc.) is increasingly put under the (legal) spotlight, driven by a spate of court judgments based on the right of access to housing and other socio-economic rights.

The roundtable discussion which was facilitated by Gladys Mirugi-Mukundi (Dullah Omar Institute) was tabled by three expert panelists namely, Dr. Margot Strauss (SERAJ, Faculty of Law, Stellenbosch University); Prof. Jaap De Visser (Dullah Omar Institute, University of the Western Cape) and Dr. Rike Sitas (African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town).

Dr. Margot presentation focused on Understanding housing, as if space and justice matter. Margot indicated that despite improvements in the state-subsidised housing programme, Human settlements in South Africa continue to be developed without the necessary preplanning requirements for township establishment and the requisite infrastructure and services that allows them to be functional and sustainable. In lived experiences of citizens is such that the human settlements remain fragmented and poor households dislocated in outlying areas.  Although the combination of spatial planning, human settlements and housing are intended to redress past imbalances and urban segregation Margot suggested that there is need for an alternative thought patterns apart from law and planning laws.

Prof. De Visser’s presentation on Just Cities and SPLUMA: business as usual? focused on Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA), Act 16 of 2013, which provides a framework for spatial planning and land use management. In accordance with this framework all spheres of government must prepare spatial development frameworks. Consistent with the requirements of SPLUMA, a national, and a provincial Spatial Development Framework for Human Settlements must be developed to ensure integration of services, infrastructure, and economic development.

Dr. Rike Sitas’s presentation focused on Realising Just Cities which is a joint project.  She suggested that in order to realise just cities, there is need for academics, researchers, activities, city officials, urban planners, legal practitioners and community members all in a ‘talking lab’ using a multi-dimensional approach and be complementary to each other on ‘what do we want; vision of a just city’

The roundtable discussion provided an opportunity for academics, community based organisations, non-governmental organisations, policy makers and stakeholders to discuss the challenges to realising ‘just cities.’ The presentations stimulated much discussion on how cities can overcome challenges of spatial justice, the need for greater understanding on SPLUMA and spatial justice; the role of the courts and jurisprudence in advancing spatial justice; practical examples of Just cities in the world. The participants found the presentations informative and thought-provoking.

For the programme click here.

For the presentations click here.

For the pictures click here.