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Using futures studies to help plan sustainable human settlements in Cape Town

Using futures studies to help plan sustainable human settlements in Cape Town

By Hester Agnes Van den Berg

  • DEC 2019
  • Tags Futures Studies
21 minutes to read

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Cape Town: On the brink of a human settlement crisis?

Cape Town is one of South Africa’s most popular destinations, both as a place to visit and as a place to live and work. Renowned for its scenic beauty, varied leisure pursuits and high hospitality standards, the city is a jewel in South Africa’s crown. Yet, as one of the country’s fast-growing cities, Cape Town is also facing major spatial and infrastructure development challenges. These can largely be attributed to inadequate resources and planning in the face of a significant influx of people in recent years – from other parts of South Africa, Africa and the world. Traffic congestion, service delivery problems, a shortage of affordable accommodation, densely populated informal settlements, and unemployment and crime have all reached worrying levels.

Many believe there are simply too many people in Cape Town for the city to function efficiently and for the government to satisfy the growing need (especially among poor, marginalised communities) for housing, water, sanitation, waste removal, electricity, transport and other public services. Inadequate attention has evidently gone into determining how to accommodate rising numbers of people in a city whose geography and socioeconomic make-up do not permit unlimited expansion. This is putting increasing pressure on city planners and making life more difficult for business people, residents and even tourists.

For Cape Town’s inhabitants to enjoy a reasonable quality of life, sustainable human settlements are needed. This goes well beyond simply building enough houses to ensure that everyone has a roof over their head. A sustainable human settlement comprises a community of people in which economic growth and social development are in balance with each another; resources are used responsibly so that they will continue to deliver value to future generations; and everyone has an opportunity to participate in the economy, to be treated fairly and to prosper. Not surprisingly, achieving a sustainable society is a huge challenge as it calls for strong cooperation and leadership in the political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental spheres. It also demands a clear vision and long-term outlook.

A sustainable human settlement is a community of people in which economic growth and social development are in balance with each another; resources are used responsibly so that they will continue to deliver value to future generations; and everyone has an opportunity to participate in the economy, to be treated fairly and to prosper.

Some might claim that Cape Town is on the brink of a human settlement crisis. Plans tend to be of a short-term nature (typically covering five-year periods), economic opportunities are in short supply (particularly for those with limited education and skills), and existing resources and the environment as a whole are taking strain as a result of relentless urbanisation. Who is responsible and why things have been allowed to escalate to this point is the subject of much debate. For example, when the city was gripped by a severe drought in 2017 and unprecedented emergency measures had to be introduced to conserve water, should the government and its partners not have been better prepared? Was the decision to implement onerous water restrictions a case of ‘too little, too late’?

Clearly, it is time for the City of Cape Town and others with a vested interest in the city’s growth and development to take stock. New approaches are needed to throw light on the various dimensions of the human settlements problem so that realistic solutions can be crafted that will deliver sustainable results. While careful planning is a key component in this process, plans are of little value – however well informed ‒ if they do not enjoy the necessary support. South Africa has seen a succession of growth and development plans over the years, but many have not been successfully implemented. A contributing factor is a lack of political will. Another is that government departments and agencies tend to operate in silos, which weakens information-gathering and complicates problem-solving. In addition, there is insufficient collaboration between the public and private sectors, which impedes progress.

Futures Studies: Looking at the world in a different way

It is in the face of Cape Town’s human settlement challenges that Futures Studies methodologies have a vital role to play. Futures Studies aims to develop people’s long-range decision-making skills across many disciplines, thus helping to expand the range of potential solutions to identified problems.

A study was therefore undertaken to explore how effectively Futures Studies methodologies have been applied to date in the planning of sustainable human settlements in Cape Town; and to recommend how things should change in order to induce a more holistic response from government on the human settlements issue. The methodologies investigated were Environmental Scanning and Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) which includes scenario planning. The study comprised a literature review and a focus group discussion among a selection of Cape Town residents. They were asked questions about their experience of living in Cape Town, what they believed had contributed to conditions in the city and what should be done to ensure a better future for all.

The Futures Studies environment is a complex one, particularly as organisations are composites of many interconnected (human and non-human) systems, which need to be mutually reinforcing if organisational objectives are to be achieved. Strong leadership becomes especially important when past performance highlights the need for improvement but the future appears highly uncertain. A Futures Studies approach encourages a more creative and less linear approach to decision-making, the latter being more suited to stable and predictable conditions. Futures Studies methodologies are geared towards the formulation of plans that push boundaries and have been described as ‘altogether different’.

Environmental Scan and Causal Layered Analysis compared

An Environmental Scan involves the monitoring of an organisation’s internal and external environments for early signs of opportunities and threats that could influence its current and future plans. Such monitoring activity could reveal facts, trends, events and relationships – of a political, economic, social, technological or legal nature ‒ that would help management to chart the way forward. A strong emphasis is placed on the competitive environment. There are many sources of information for an Environmental Scan, including publications, focus groups, media reports, civic associations, and leaders inside and outside the organisation.

Many believe that there are simply too many people in Cape Town for the city to function efficiently and for the government to satisfy the growing need … for housing, water, sanitation, waste removal, electricity, transport and other public services.

Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) involves creating alternative futures (scenarios) by studying the present and the past. It does not predict a particular future. Sources of information for CLA include reported historical events, news commentaries, political developments, economic trends and technological advances. It conducts research at four different levels:

(1)   Evident/visible trends and problems in society, which do not necessarily have a clear connection or logic and can prompt anxiety among those who are exposed to them;

(2)   Social, economic, technological, political and historical information, which is typically found in editorial pieces in the media;

(3)   Discourses or expressed worldviews on issues such as family traditions and women’s rights, which are influenced by people’s social, cultural and ideological backgrounds; and

(4)   Emotive or unconscious responses to circumstances and problems, which often emanate from a deep psychological state.

CLA is sensitive to different people’s perceptions and is intended to expand and enrich the process of scenario planning. While facts are important, so are people’s perceptions because the latter can be useful in determining priorities. CLA also helps communities to understand the nature and scale of the problems confronting them, to suggest solutions and to hold their leaders accountable. In this way, there is a stronger likelihood of policies being well-informed and balanced.

Reclaiming Cape Town’s future through sustainable human settlements

A sustainable human settlement (which could be a village, town or segment of a large city) is one that will prevail comfortably into the future, supported by strong economic, social, institutional, spiritual and cultural foundations. For the purpose of this study, ‘human settlements’ cover Cape Town in its entirety (not just its many informal settlements), stretching from Somerset West in the east to Atlantis in the north.

When delving deeper into why the strong emphasis on the musical concept, most participants referred to the criticality of a shared vision between all parties for an independent record label to remain consistent …

Theme 1: Musical concepts are shared visions

Theme 1 refers to a shared vision between owner and artist, which is critical for musical concepts to be developed. Musical concepts are more than establishing a theme for a project; it is a prerequisite for strategic musical narratives that create label identity and improve business sustainability.

The interviews with the independent record label producers started with a discussion around musical concepts. It probed the creative process when artists and the label decided to embark on a project, and how the parties involved choose to interact with each other. Various participants mentioned that the musical concept is important for independent record label producers. In most cases, it related to what job they want the music to perform and whether they were planning to distribute the project commercially. In many cases, single releases and experimental projects are designed to be given away for free.

When delving deeper into why the strong emphasis on the musical concept, most participants referred to the criticality of a shared vision between all parties for an independent record label to remain consistent and sustainable over the long term. According to them, incongruence in this “shared vision” can lead to creative instability and even derail projects.

Theme 2: Virtual organising

This theme reaffirms the importance of virtual organising through digital technologies when performing the tasks of creating musical concepts, music production and customer interaction. The interaction of these elements integrates the asset configuration and customer interaction sections of the theoretical business model. This theme explains the key technologies together with the respondents’ rationale for using tools such as WhatsApp, Google Drive and WeTransfer.

Futures Studies aims to develop people’s long-range decision-making skills across many disciplines, thus helping to expand the range of potential solutions to identified problems.

The World Commission on Environment and Development describes sustainability as follows:

A process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological developments and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.

Therefore, in a nutshell, sustainable development is geared towards catering to the needs of society today without robbing future generations of their birth right. While sustainable development tends to be associated with the judicious use of resources and a reduction in waste, it is so much more. It is also about ensuring a good quality of life, promoting fairness and equity, encouraging participation and partnerships, recognising ecological constraints and caring for the environment as a whole.

If Cape Town is to create sustainable human settlements, much needs to be done to bring the city back from the brink and set it on a more balanced path, using a systematic Futures Studies approach. Tackling inequality will be particularly challenging. According to statistics compiled a few years ago:

  • Nearly 36% of households are living below the poverty line of less than R3 500 per month.
  • Nearly 24% of the population are unemployed, discouraged work seekers or economically inactive.
  • Nearly 9% of households have no access to on-site sanitation.
  • Just over 50% of the population have no access to the internet, which is particularly worrying given the strong youth profile of the city.
  • Cape Town is ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, well ahead of Johannesburg.

On a more positive note, however, the statistics show that:

  • 90% of households have flush toilets
  • 90% have access to refuse disposal services
  • 94% of households have lighting
  • 80% of households have electricity-powered cooking facilities.

Water remains a critical resource in the city. While various initiatives have been introduced to conserve or reclaim water, the city is likely to remain under serious pressure for the foreseeable future.

Strong leadership becomes especially important when past performance highlights the need for improvement but the future appears highly uncertain.

What the focus group participants said

The key discussion points can be summarised as follows:

  • Excessive traffic volumes: Travelling to and from, as well as in, the CBD is a major problem, with little provision having been made for additional traffic volumes as the city’s commercial and residential infrastructure has expanded. Land is also at a premium. A contributing factor to the traffic congestion is that many commuters are too nervous to use public transport. Certain suburbs have become economic hubs (e.g. Woodstock has become a magnet for jewellery designers and their clientele), which has also increased traffic volumes. However, the northern and southern suburbs are better connected than in years gone by.
  • Service delivery problems: The heavy influx of people into Cape Town, particularly in informal settlements, has added to the government’s service delivery burden. Services to remove waste, for example, are inadequate in a number of informal areas. Pollution (even on the beaches) is also on the rise.
  • Weak planning: Although the City of Cape Town has developed a number of plans over the years to overhaul infrastructure and develop new facilities in the interests of better spatial development, it does not have a good implementation record. Shortcomings in terms of road/traffic and water management and crime control are very pronounced. The absence of political will and corruption are often at the root of dubious expenditure. In addition, plans are at times conceived without sufficient consultation with affected parties and other stakeholders, leading to misguided projects.
  • Dashed hopes: Whereas many people move to Cape Town to fulfil a ‘dream’, their basic needs are often not met and they face an uncertain future. The manufacturing, clothing and woodwork industries are in serious decline in the face of more competitively priced Chinese imports, and job opportunities have dwindled. This is contributing to heightened poverty and crime. A lack of investment is exacerbating the situation, as is inaction or wasted expenditure on the part of government. Many poor people have taken to protesting about their economic marginalisation or have resorted to crime to make ends meet or to send a message that they feel entitled to what other people have. This has created an increasingly incendiary atmosphere in underdeveloped areas.

While the City of Cape Town and its development partners should never ignore the numbers, focusing on the human side of sustainable development provides much richer insights into what can and should be done to turn the desire for a better future into reality.

The focus group participants said that in order to achieve a more sustainable society, city planners, businesses and residents alike need to adhere to some core principles:

  • Corruption must not be tolerated.
  • VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) issues should take centre stage when priorities are determined and plans formulated.
  • Home ownership comes with responsibility (and should also be a source of pride).
  • Climate change needs to be acknowledged and properly managed.
  • An active citizenship needs to be developed.
  • Dreams can be realised if relevant stakeholders collaborate with one another.

Alternative future scenarios for Cape Town

On the basis of the input received from the focus group, four alternative future scenarios were devised for Cape Town in the year 2040:

  • Scenario 1: A city in serious decline. The City of Cape Town has done little to create sustainable human settlements and conditions have deteriorated markedly. With the City providing few public services, the private sector has had to step in and contribute some of the shortfall – but at high cost, which means that much of the population is excluded. Jobs have become increasingly scarce and life is hard for many people.
  • Scenario 2: A city full of promise. The City of Cape Town and other stakeholders have collaborated in creating more sustainable human settlements through effective spatial, infrastructure and housing developments. There is also much improved and more equitable service delivery, while meaningful steps have been taken to stamp out corruption and crime. There has been a high level of cooperation between the public and private sectors, both of which have displayed strong leadership in addressing the sustainability challenge.
  • Scenario 3: A city under authoritarian rule. The City of Cape Town has become highly authoritarian. It demands strict obedience from those over which it has control, using oppressive measures to exact compliance. The private sector makes practically no contribution to the running of the city, other than to pay rates and taxes. The divisions in society have deepened and the vision of a sustainable future has all but faded.
  • Scenario 4: A city engulfed by poverty. Most of the city ‒ from Somerset West to Atlantis ‒ has deteriorated into a huge slum, with informal dwellings dominating residential areas and commercial districts and service delivery being both erratic and of a poor standard. Crime levels have risen and most investors have fled. The virtual collapse of the city is largely attributable to a lack of interest and involvement from both the public and private sectors in planning and actively bringing about sustainable human settlements.

Clearly, Scenario 2 is the best of the four options. It paints a picture of a city buoyed by a clear and realistic vision, a sense of responsibility, ethical leadership, strong cooperation, a long-term planning horizon, and hope. While the City of Cape Town and its development partners should never ignore the numbers, focusing on the human side of sustainable development provides much richer insights into what can and should be done to turn the desire for a better future into reality.

    • This article is based on the research assignment of Hester Agnes Van der Berg – an MPhil in Futures Studies alumnus of USB. The title of her research assignment is: The application of Futures Studies methodologies in the planning of sustainable human settlements in Cape Town.
    • Her study leader was Prof André Roux, programme head of USB’s portfolio of Futures Studies programme. Prof Roux lectures in Management Economics and Africa Country Risk Analysis at USB.

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