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Why Steyn City is not the answer for Joburg

Mar 13 2015 12:58
Matthew le Cordeur

Children will be able to play without any fears at Steyn City, due to high tech security systems as well as a large deployment of security personnel. (Photo: Steyn City)

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Cape Town – The benefits of developing a multi-billion rand estate won't be sufficient in addressing socio-economic issues facing millions of people living in a fragment and ruptured society, scholars and researchers said in reaction to the launch of Steyn City in Johannesburg.

The estate, which was developed with former president Nelson Mandela’s blessing, is set to go on market on Saturday with freehold stands starting at over R2m and fully designed houses going for R17m.

Former SA Planning Institute (Sapi) president Yusuf Patel told Fin24 that while the investment was excellent for the city, he was concerned about its impact on the spatial fabric of the city.

Ignoring the corridors of freedom

Speaking in his personal capacity, Patel said he was concerned that policies around Johannesburg’s “corridors of freedom” and its urban core were being ignored in favour of large private projects, which didn’t engage with the bigger picture of solving the city’s fragmented past.

“When these sorts of developments take place in isolation from the bigger special plans of the city, then they do become … a bit of a challenge,” said Patel, who is the former deputy director-general in the department of co-operative governance.

Patel said that Johannesburg was focused on spatial transformation. He quoted mayor Mpho Parks Tau as saying that the city had drawn up policies to “re-stitch the spatial fabric” of the city and aimed to get more development in the urban core, while overcoming spatial inequalities of the past.

“We know the city is committed to that, but for whatever reason they have approved this development,” he said. “We need to understand what the base has been upon which such a development has been approved.

“There is the issue … that it attracts investment… and the developers have probably committed to developing a lot of the infrastructure.”

Listen to the full interview with Patel:

How is Steyn City re-stitching the city?

“It does become a challenge when we can’t see how such developments are integrated in the much broader spatial fabric of the city and how is it trying to contribute to re-stitching the city.

“These developments just cater for a high-income category individuals [and] they do tend to create isolated places of residence,” he said. “It is going counter to the kind of character we’re trying to establish and the kind of city we’re trying to establish.

“We’re trying to build a more integrated and inclusive city, [so] it does become a challenge when these sorts of developments are done in isolation and when they don’t integrate different income groups.

“There are … societal costs attached to creating these developments. Even though the developers are creating and contributing to some of the infrastructure, at the end of the day there are certain socio-economic costs attached to it, in terms of spatial fragmentation."

Definitive spatial master plan needed

With that level of investment, he asked if we could have created the development in a more integrated way... perhaps closer to the urban core?

“What kind of cities do we want to live in going forward? Do we want to live in cities that are going to perpetuate this kind of fragmentation or do we want to live in cities that are more integrated, where there is more public space and … an overall better city life for everyone?

“If Gauteng as a province doesn’t come up with a definitive spatial master plan for the city and how we want to see our cities work and function, I think you’re going to tend to get these sort of isolated developments that are linked to specific land opportunities … that makes sense for private developers.

“The logic of what gets installed in that space tends to be driven entirely by the private developers’ logic, rather than a more integrated logic that looks at the city-making concept that ensures that whatever is being developed will work within a more organised spatial restructuring that the city’s after.

Patel questioned how developments like Steyn City and Modderfontein would link up into the corridors of freedom to enable a city with a better flow and public transportation, mobility and connectivity. 

A visual tour of Steyn City:
(Hover your cursor or finger over the photo to see left and right arrows, then click to see over 100 photos)

Affordable housing is needed more than luxury estates

Patel said the issues around Steyn City affected the biggest challenge facing Johannesburg, affordable housing.

Affordable housing, he said, was not only a social issue, but economically it had huge potential for the city. “You can start to create all sorts of interesting mixed-development opportunities and catalysing local economic development in a much more interesting way.

“If these development are only catering for the high-end market, you tend you see the shops there … begins to cater to a particular segment.

“We know the biggest need in South Africa is around affordable housing.

“With many people in communities living in informal housing [with] inadequate shelter and with that sort of need in place, how does a development like this accommodate affordable housing?

Persistent inequality contributes to high levels of crime

International research tended to show that persistent inequality contributed to high levels of crime and violence, according to Gareth Newham, head of governance, crime and justice division at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

“For example, a recent HSRC seminar highlighted that ‘internationally, persistent inequality, rather than poverty per se, is increasingly regarded as a major correlate of various social ills’ (Kaufmann D, Kraay A, & M., 2010; Wilkinson R & Pickett K, 2010),” he said via email.

“In South Africa, this is particularly the case in respect of social unrest and violent crime. For example, the escalating service delivery protests (particularly in urban informal settlements) have been attributed to, among other things, stark socio-economic inequalities between different sections of the population and between different geographical areas (Alexander, 2010)."

Commenting on a claim that Steyn City had created over 11 000 jobs in the low-income community of Diepsloot and Cosmo City, ISS crime hub manager Lizette Lancaster said that in order to make any claims that urban developments such as Steyn City resulted in an overall positive impact on the poor, it would be necessary to undertake a thorough socio-economic impact assessment.

“Typically developments that are not specifically aiming at uplifting the poor, seldom do,” she said via email.

Watch the official tour of Steyn City:

Low levels of social cohesion

“Diepsloot probably has some of the lowest levels of social cohesion in the country,” said Lancaster.

"[That is] because this township was formed through very rapid urbanisation by people from different parts of the country and Africa.”

“It means that cultural strangers ended up as neighbours,” she said. “Therefore, traditional forms of neighbourhood organisation found in the older townships do not exist at the level required to curb many forms of social disorder.

“Increasing feelings of social and economic marginalisation could have negative consequences over time, unless there are overall improvements in services such as early-childhood development, education, employment and other forms of social assistance and government service delivery.  

Daily exposure to inequality

“In essence, Steyn City may have some benefits for some members of the poorer communities, but this development may also contribute to marginalised communities’ daily exposure to inequality (seeing how those with greater access to material wealth live),” she said.

“Moreover, if the jobs are menial then, while there may be temporary positive benefits to those individuals who  receive opportunities to work or gain skills, these individuals still need to go home to their shacks and RDP houses.

“Here, they will continue to face challenges such as poor sanitation, drinking water and electricity,” said Lancaster.  “In addition, there will be no prospect for their families to improve their overall material conditions so as to move to a better serviced area.

“However, their proximity and awareness of excessive inequality may be heightened along with the feelings of helplessness and anger that this can cause."

Steyn City as model for others to follow is questionable

The head of the Steyn City’s skills centre, Bafana Mokwena, said at the media launch that their strategy to uplift low-income communities should be created as a model for others to follow around Africa.

Lancaster responded to this claim, saying that “given its location, Steyn City would make for a good case study on the impact of urban development in areas of structural inequality.  

“Until we see the methodologies and results of independent impact studies on the surrounding poorer communities, we could not  assume that there are overall benefits for these communities or make comment as to whether this is a worthwhile model for other African contexts. The research to date seems to suggest otherwise.”

Lancaster said that recent research from Mexico demonstrated that job creation alone would not necessarily reduce crime and social instability unless it was accompanied at the very least by improved education and a decrease in inequality.

“Temporary menial labour may benefit households in the short term and may lead to some degree of up-skilling,” she said.

“However, as such jobs do not guarantee permanent employment, instability can occur if the jobs end and people find themselves once again unemployed.”

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