South Africa: The Smart Solution Is to Fix Our Ailing Cities

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As urban planners and designers, we too believe that spatial interventions can have a profound, positive impact on our country's future. But the project of mending our ailing existing cities is far more urgent than that of a new 'smart' city.

Dear President Ramaphosa,

We noted with great interest, in your recent SONA address your expression of a dream to create a new 'smart city', free of the weighty baggage of apartheid. As urban planners and designers, we too believe that spatial interventions can have a profound, positive impact on our country's future. However, we want to propose that the project of mending our ailing existing cities is far more urgent than that of a new 'smart' city. We have a number of reasons to pose this different approach.

First, the international track record of creating new cities is very poor. The reason is that the spatial economy of any country emerges incrementally over a long period of time in response to complex and changing economic and social forces. Wilful attempts to impose new settlements onto this landscape almost invariably fail - the lead activity becomes road provision and housing, not an economic activity. Economic activity seldom catches up. The...

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