Sunday, 10 September 2017

Sustainable City Strategies





How do cities achieve strategic sustainability goals and change?

Cities are complex and involve many stakeholders so achieving change can be difficult, slow and require a wide range of mechanisms. It is not sufficient to have a high-level strategy; real change requires strategic targets to be integrated and driven by policies and programs and publicity and incentives to change behavior are often also required.

However, how do we know required change is being achieved? For this, effective monitoring and evaluation are required to understand what works, and what does not. This should track indicators that are linked to strategic targets and ideally be available in databases that are publically available and easy to access.

Interesting work in this area is the public open database developed by Charlottesville in the USA. This has 72 datasets which can be used to track performance in relation to strategic goals. This can be accessed here.

BEST 2013


The Built Environment Sustainability Tool is being updated. BEST provides a way of assessing the sustainability of neighborhoods. It can also be used to identify, test and compare interventions which can be used to improve the sustainability performance.

The tool is now being updated and includes some minor changes to criteria and provides for more detailed assessments. The BEST 2013 version is available for download from here. If you would like to use the BEST 2013 or BEST 2016 (new version) please contact us.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Mapping Diversity and Segration

New maps from Statistics South Africa show racial diversity and segregation in South African cities. These indicate that while some areas have become more integrated, others remain highly segregated.

Map of Johannesburg
Map of Pretoria

Patterns picked up in the maps include:

  • Central business districts (CBDs) have a high percentage of black African residents. 
  • Suburbs around CBDs generally have a high percentage of white residents. 
  • Townships, to the periphery of cities, have high percentages of black African residents. 
  •  More integrated neighborhoods appear to be suburbs near CBDs.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Human Habitat Creation

Habitats are defined as the natural environment in which an organism lives, or the physical environment that surrounds (influences and is utilized by) a species population.

This was the subject of an Institute of Landscape Architects of South Africa (ILASA) Seminar on 11 May 2016 and number of interesting presentations were made by John Masson, Siegwalt Kusel and Ben Breedlove.


My contribution was titled 'Human Habitat Creation' and addressed the following questions:

  • What is a sustainable human habit?
  • What are the specific requirements for a sustainable human habitat? 
  • How can sustainable human habitats be achieved?
  • Can a structured process be developed to enable this to happen at a neighbourhood level?

The presentations led to a very interesting discussion on how  methodologies used by Landscape Architects and Habitat Designers to design habitats can be applied at a wider built environment scale.  Copies of the presentation on gauge site soon.

Friday, 15 April 2016

What Africa will look like in 100 years

Interesting article in the Daily Telegraph on ''What Africa will look like in 100 years''. It makes the following assertions:


  • By 2100, it will be home to 4.4 billion people - four times its current population.
  • By 2050, more than half of Africa’s 2.2bn people will live in its rapidly expanding cities. That’s the equivalent of the population of China.



Given the implications of this huge growth, it suggests that current development trajectories are not promising and may not be able to  "deliver on the aspirations of broad-based human development and prosperity for all". 

Solutions recommended include;

  • infrastructure that improves  education,health and security and economic prospects
  • sustainable governance systems
  • embracing new urban paradigms,
  • better data, better decisions and
  • diversified economies

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Know your city

Interesting presentation by Slum Dwellers International at a side event at the Habitat III Urban Dialogues conference on how communities are capturing data on their neighbourhoods and homes using a tool call ‘Know Your City. The tool can be used to capture a wide range of aspects of a neighbourhood including access to schools, clinics, the availability of electricity, sanitation and water, types of transport available and existing land tenure and organisational capacity.


The tool has been used for neighbourhoods in a number of African countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and South Africa and has provided a useful basis for planning and discussions with local municipalities.


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Monday, 28 March 2016

Cities as Engines for Economic Inclusion

Cities in developing countries are often portrayed as a source of problems such as high levels of unemployment, crime, poor services, overcrowding, pollution and ill-health. However, for the people who move to them, cities are seen as a means to a better life; a place to get work, start a business, and get an education. If designed and managed in a different way, can cities in developing countries enhance and direct this positive energy to build economic growth? Can the right characteristics and configuration be developed in urban areas to support positive development and avoid marginalisation? Is it possible for cities to be engines of economic inclusion, rather than the source of problems?



A recent study of Medellin in Columbia indicates that this is possible. It shows how the city has transformed its reputation as a city associated with crime and drug trafficking to a rapidly growing vibrant and inclusive economy. The study attributes this transformation to the following characteristics;

  • Cities do not make poor people. Cities attract poor and vulnerable individuals looking for a better future. Therefore, they must be accepted and integrated into the city's dynamics in order to foster their individual and collective potential. As shown by the 8.9% reduction in poverty between 2008 and 2013, according to Colombia’s department of statistics.
  • Architecture must never be a barrier to human interaction. The best way to reduce inequality is to promote connections and face-to-face engagement between individuals, without regards to their socioeconomic condition.
  • Public and accessible urban services reduce inequality. Allowing individuals across the board to enjoy a city, its surroundings and services are the best ways to make them active citizens.
  • Education drives change. Placing libraries and other cultural assets alongside public transport systems played a central role in selling the new brand the city wanted to create for itself, placing it squarely in the collective mindset.
  • Using technology as a means and not as the end itself. Medellin understood that whatever technological upgrades were needed, its success would rest with the function it fulfills and not in the scientific advancement it represents.
  • Last, but not least, placing culture high on the list of priorities helps to unleash a citizen's potential. Culture plays a major role in a city's transformation due to its ability to bringing people together, to move forward from traditional socioeconomic paradigms, and to share a vision and common values.

These characteristics are reflected in criteria in the BEST and SBAT tools which aim to support positive, inclusive development in urban areas and buildings. The tools identify infrastructure prerequisites required for inclusive sustainable development and measure the extent to which these are integrated in buildings and urban areas.

The tools have a very strong emphasis on the local area and on the nature of services, products and interaction that can be accessed within easy walking distance of a building. Thre is also a strong emphasis on local services such as access to education and health facilities as well as economic opportunities and productive technology. The tools are available to inform urban development and building projects and are particularly suitable for developing country contexts.