Rethinking cities: Framing the future

HARARE - World thinkers, researchers, practitioners, policy makers and leaders in urban planning and management converged in Barcelona with an objective to rethink cities.

The World Bank in association with the City of Barcelona hosted the conference from October 08-10, under the theme “Rethinking cities: Framing the future”.

The conference took place against a myriad of challenges facing Zimbabwean cities.

 Our taps are always dry, refuse uncollected; roads are in a state of disrepair, owning a house is now a privilege to the most affluent of the society. The question is what should we rethink in our cities?

The writing is on the wall, we have to do some things differently.

We have to rethink our urban planning approaches. The rethinking process should inform the practice of urban planning.

Throughout history, cities have shaped the lives of humanity and will continue to do so.

Harare Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda was part of the speakers at the conference and he is clear on the challenges ahead for most cities in Zimbabwe.

The UNHABITAT State of African Cities Report 2010, notes that by 2030 50,71 percent of Zimbabweans will be living in cities.

Urbanisation is a reality, and what we can do is not to try to stop it but to adapt and reduce its ills on our societies.

Demand for urban services is on the increase. Urban services supply has to be more innovative to avoid shortages.

Rethinking cities for Zimbabwe points to three critical fundamentals of cities: providing basic services, inclusive housing and infrastructure provision.

Housing, infrastructure and basic services are the pillars for the growth and development of liveable and sustainable cities.

Providing basic services The disaggregation of our cities along wealth lines is an obvious phenomenon.

However, the provision of urban core services should not follow wealth patterns.

The majority of our urban residents are poor and to that effect city governments should prioritise delivering key urban services.

Water, sanitation, safety, decent housing, and transport form the core urban services.

Cities have to provide these services irrespective of the social and economic status of urban dwellers.

Standards of living are determined by access to water, sanitation, decent housing and transport.

In developed societies, cities have immensely transformed the lives of urban residents by focusing on the provision of reliable, accessible and affordable core urban services.

To provide these services, our cities have to raise sufficient revenue to fund present and future urban services demand.

In this regard, cities have to concentrate on services they have a comparative advantage on.

It therefore means contracting out some services to private players.

Contracting out should always be an option if a private playerprovides the same quality good at a cheaper price than before.

An immense effort by city governments in diversifying revenues will go a long way in the financing of urban services.

Inclusive housing Access to housing in most Zimbabwean cities is a difficult journey if not a nightmare for many.

Despite housing being declared and recognised as a fundamental human right, our city administrators have not made it a reality. Housing demand has tremendously outstripped supply.

The infamous Operation Murambatsvina showed the irregularities of the housing delivery system in our cities.

Uncoordinated land developers, land ownership by the state, and housing finance has protruded as the main impediments to the development of low income housing. In rethinking our cities, some critical thoughts like housing finance, broadening actors in the delivery of housing, land administration and the synchronisation of housing policy with economic and job creation policies are beneficial.

Land availability and its administration is a key factor in housing delivery.

To this end, it is prudent for city governments to have within their ranks “land banks”.

Policy and legislative changes are necessary to empower local authorities to own and acquire land for housing without difficulties as the present situation preclude.

City governments with land ownership can benefit from land-basedfinancing which is a methodology that brings additional revenues to town houses.

The development of innovative and cost effective building technology has proved to be a gateway to solve the inadequacy of housing finance.

Mobilisation of finances from home seekers through community savings groups has transformed millions of the homeless across the world.

Resuscitation of building societies needs no mention as we have seen their immense contribution to housing delivery.

Housing delivery should not and must not be a prerogative of city governments alone.

Elsewhere, integrated approaches including city governments, central governments, private sector, city society, community organisation, and international development organisations have recorded remarkable gains in housing.

Land developers are important players in the housing chain delivery.

The present scenario which is uncoordinated and unregulated has led to people losing millions of dollars to bogus land developers.

Over the years, an unregulated and undeveloped land developers market has resulted in unjustified and exorbitant prices of housing.

A housing policy should be integrated in the broader economic and job creation policies.

Input and output linkages of housing in the broader economic framework need further analysis and exploration.

The nexus between housing and the economy should be development oriented focusing on value addition, job creation etc.

Infrastructure Infrastructure drives city growth and development. It drives human interactions, mobility and standards of living. Infrastructure drives cities.

Cities that have invested in massive and the right infrastructure have recorded considerable reduction in prices of goods and services and considerable gains in living standards.

The infrastructure need in our cities is quite enormous. The infrastructure challenge is daunting but possible.

Maintaining the existing and building new infrastructure are pathways to city connectivity.

City governments, government, private players and development partners have to partner each other in infrastructure investments.

Prioritising infrastructure with the most multiple effects to people’s social and economic benefits is plausible to human and economic development.

Local community and large city wide infrastructure play a role in poverty reduction.

Redevelopment of infrastructure in poor people’s areas is a pathway to lifting the standards of living of the majority of urban dwellers.

Assignment of responsibilities in infrastructure development and maintenance is essential. Who does what, when, and how is a fundamental question.

The present infrastructure in our cities seems to be suffering from lack of accountability and responsibility.

Those who benefit and use the infrastructure have to pay for it, cities and the government have to administer the revenue, maintain and build infrastructure.

Cities have to balance between maintaining existing infrastructure and building new ones.

Investment in technical expertise by city governments in managing and maintaining infrastructure can reduce costs of expatriates.

Public-private partnerships can be a gate way though not a panacea.

Failure of these partnerships is usually obvious either when governments end up expropriating the private firm or vice versa.

Despite this, these partnerships have yielded considerable successes in other societies.

The common denominators in successful case studies are mutual respect, accountability, and integrity of the partnership.

The demand for services in cities is enormous. Urbanisation is a reality.

In the next two decades more people than ever recorded in Zimbabwean history will call cities their home.

We are presented with both opportunities and challenges. The more dynamic, innovative and inclusive our city governments are, the morewe will win the battle against the ills of urbanisation.

Rethinking cities: Framing the futureThe infamous Operation Murambatsvina showed the irregularities of the housing delivery system in our cities. - Davison Muchadenyika

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