Birmingham was the surprise jewel on my extended UK exploration which lasted three weeks. To many outsiders the city does not evoke the same passions as say, London or Edinburgh - mainly because of its industrial history and reputation. Yet, if I should describe Birmingham I would say that she might not be the "prettiest" but she sure has more personality and attraction than most. It was a place of openness and welcome opposites. It is both unpretentious yet sophisticated, quirky but serious, happy and sometimes reserved.
The city appears to be so comfortable with it's multiculturalism and diversity that you are transported from one experience to the next all by an extended network of cobblestone walkways and streets. A glimpse of Korea, India or the Caribbean can all be witnessed within a week although you are always aware of the city's British foundations. The obsession with tea, grande public spaces, museums, general politeness and the orderliness of everyday tasks were apparent from the start.
This ambiance extended to the University of Birmingham were we sat down and worked together as Brazilians, South Africans, French and Brits. The campus feels modern and advanced and the flurry of people and activity provides great energy in which to work in. I've also realized the importance of spending real time with colleagues and how often richness and details can be lost if we rely solely on Skype and the internet to communicate.
The time spent together was very important and I think all will agree that thoughts were streamlined, good discussions were made and the SAPER project is on the right track.
All and all it was very rewarding.
Thank you, team Birmingham for being amazing hosts.
Prof Verna Nel and Chief Executive Officer of SACPLAN, Martin Lewis* attended the second Urban African Planning Conference held in Lisbon, Portugal on 7 and 8 September 2017. It was hosted by the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning (IGOT), University of Lisbon and the International Planning History Society. They presented two papers; first on the Standards and Competencies process undertaken by SACPLAN and the second about the resilience of the urban and regional planning profession over the last century. Both papers were well received and their presentations can be found under the ‘Resources’ section of this website. Verna and Martin also chaired a successful parallel session at the conference. There were several South African delegates representing seven planning schools, alongside others from different African countries and European nations. *Martin Lewis is also a doctoral candidate at the University of the Free State.
‘Summer’ being already over, it is time for a short update about our activities since June.
The UK team has been working closely with the SA team towards the data collection. 212 questionnaires were collected amongst South African planners. Main areas of queries included the education level and formation, the relevance of training and relationship to professional performance and the professional stage, degree and careers’ expectations and accomplishment. Both teams have since been working on analysing the rich and fascinating data we received.
Lauren and Lorena presented at the 2017 RGS-IBG Conference in London in the special session “The ’battle of the maps’ – (re)imagining geographies of knowledge production” organized by Prof. Ashley Gunter (University of South Africa) and Prof. Parvati Raghuram (Open University). Their paper dealt with (re)considering and (re)imagining urban planning curriculum in South African Higher Education.
Key points of the paper included questioning the geographies of South African urban planning knowledge and how this involves rethinking how the object of study is constituted, address the issue of gained and missing skills and hence rethink education systems. It also involved looking at the decolonization of the urban planning knowledge looking at the decolonization of individual’s positioning and the gaps in international education. Issue of race in the profession resting on the perception of race bias in the field, specially from the white population was also noted as a significant area of query. Finally, as to go beyond knowledge production, the issues of the education versus the reality and the everyday of the planning profession and the future of the urban planning discipline in relation to the importance of politics and power relationships were highlighted.
Next key steps include pursuing our data analysis and collection, working on papers while starting to plan ahead Lorena’s forthcoming 4 months of data collection in South Africa and the visit of the South African team in October.
The UK team hosted its first two advisory groups at the end of June. This post flags up some of the key areas discussed by our team of practitioners and academics (Jacob Bonehill, Andrew Close, Cliff Hague, Clive Harridge, Lucy Natarajan, Pat Noxolo, Riette Oosthuizen, Johanna Waters and Paul Watson).
Apartheid legacy and structural issues
Planners are known to have been ‘disproportionally active’ in reinforcing apartheid exclusionary rules. There is a need to recognise the legacy of apartheid and the resulting planned townscape that was left for current planners to address: highly controlled and planned urban environments but also vast portions of land that were not administered or planned at all. Despite apartheid’s legacy, South Africa has already evolved though and here are many structural issues that stem from diverse particular socio-spatial organisations and the existence of different social groups, languages and land ownership that need to be constantly challenged and understood for planners. Furthermore, there is a lack of spatial set-ups for engagement resulting in people living in segregated ways. Those are all issues SAPER will look at and reflect upon the implications for planning education.
Informality, inequalities and planning education
South African cities, similarly to many Global South countries, show different formal/informal arrangements that cannot be understood simply from a western perspective. Some of the ways informality shapes everyday lives illustrate what people can accomplish with very limited resource, no matter how scarce they might be. Informality is a key aspect of this, as it is, often, the only way to access services and spaces that are not formally available. This means that planners need to consider places and processes of informality and their dynamic character, otherwise they risk to exclude groups contingent on it.
Now, the way planners have to deal with informality goes beyond the South African and Global South context and is something to address even in a country like the UK. In line with this, there is a need for planning education in the UK to rethink how inequality is addressed. Even though planners tend to not relate themselves as professionals tacking inequalities and dealing with informality, it is a growing issue in the country, with the gradual withdraw from the State and neoliberalisation of planning. A project such as SAPER can contribute to addressing those key questions and reflect upon the commonalities that are to be discussed contextually, in a way that UK planning schools can also act on the issues raised by the project.
Formats of planning Higher Education
Planning education in South Africa is structured upon intense and full-time curriculums, with two years MSc programmes, within a high-end model that is not being pursued in the UK anymore due to its high economic costs. Students stay longer in the classroom for more years, while in the UK education time is much shorter and allows work experience outside of the University. The latter relates to a model where a balance is sought with what should be learned in the university and how much are skills that will be acquired in practice. The different models underscore the need to understand the different arenas from which students come to study planning, their gender, race, social background, success and then employability rates. Additionally it is important to understand how universities deal with the different skills that are brought to the courses which, in the case of South Africa, also include a complex language landscape. Furthermore, the lack of a welfare system in place that would enable those born in poorer households to pursue a university education in South Africa complexifies even further the discussion. Again, all those parameters will be included within SAPER analysis.
Educational mobility and whether the current model of internationalisation serves to further colonise the education is another crucial area for further discussion. Internationalisation follows a cycle where institutional capital becomes economic capital. Students, in South Africa and the wider Global South, are often already a self-selected elitist group in their home countries. Once they finish their international experience, they tend to return to metropolitan centres, dominating local market job and reproducing a cycle of privilege that excludes a large portion of local population. What interests will they represent, if the knowledge to which they are exposed is overall Euro-American centred?
The question that remains is what knowledge is being produced from the interaction between students from the Global South and from the wider North in institutions located in the North. Is it possible to develop educational interchanges that help planners value their local knowledges? This is a subject that would interest not only UK and SA, but all commonwealth countries. Typically, many of the members of Commonwealth Association of Planners are small countries with very few planners, and many times, no planning education in place, forcing planners to seek education abroad. In this regard, a comprehensive study of the South-North interactions in planning minding the colonial character of current global educational patterns is essential and SAPER sits within this ambition.
Decolonisation needs to be a broad concept
Despite the current importance of the discussion of decolonising the curriculum that crosses the borders of SA and UK, with the #RhodesMustFall and the #WhyIsMyCurriculumSoWhite movements (among others) that have been gaining momentum in academia, there is a need to go beyond the university framework to understand how coloniality is being embodied globally. Nevertheless, a decolonial debate is also dependent on investment: how much are people invested in and committed to change? Academia altogether holds a colonial dimension, with most production stemming from Euro-American universities. That affects the training, heavily based on such a literature. Nevertheless, it is not enough to only look at planning, as the regimes under which it is practised are many times inappropriate, not only because of the numerous challenges faced locally, but also because the legalist framework is not adequate to addressing them. This triggers reflections about the decolonisation of other social, economic and political institutions, and essentially the State.
It’s been now 5 months since the SAPER project started so it’s the right time for a quick update from the UK side of the project. The team visited South Africa in April, our questionnaire targeting South African planning practitioners is being circulated this week, our first steering group is approaching and so is our first conference presentation at the RGS-IBG in August. In addition, the LinkedIn SAPER group has now brought together 426 planning practitioners.
The first round of preliminary discussions with academics and practitioners, combined with extensive readings and our visit to South Africa, revealed that calls for decolonising the curriculum in theory and practice is resonating in current debates while being a very sensitive issue in South Africa. Urban planning in the country faces key challenges including: dealing with the heritage of apartheid and very diverse and segregated cities; a severe shortage of urban planners in the public sector and few opportunities in the private sector; different planning systems operating simultaneously; intense political and economic issues; and of course a vital role for the planning accreditation body SACPLAN.
There is therefore a real need to investigate the social and economic value of planning education in South Africa and its challenges; it is also crucial to assess the current needs of South African planning practitioners (skills and training) and the relevancy with the urban planning HE curriculum. Beyond this, it is apparent that, in the UK, we, as academics, need to reflect upon our practice, particularly when teaching international students, and hence try to maximise knowledge transfer opportunities. Each student’s national background is different. However, lessons can be learnt from the differences and similarities identified out of those distinct contexts and avenues for ideas-sharing can be developed. For that purpose, the project is moving forward quickly in developing an online platform for ideas-sharing between UK and SA students which will be included in existing modules from next academic year. This innovative teaching tool is receiving significant interest from other institutions (e.g. Brazil and Jordan) with whom we are exploring possible collaborations.
We look forward to further developing our reflections and sharing ideas and updates soon.
Lauren Andres (UK PI)
The fortress city
Our visit to Cape Town and Bloemfontein in April 2017 was my first time in sub-Saharan Africa. It was a fascinating trip and we were made very welcome by our South African collaborators. I was left, however, with an acute sense of dislocation, driven in part by this being my first experience of a country in the Global South. A lot of UK academics are now heading to ODA (‘official development assistance’) countries, driven by a shift in funding streams. This means that many scholars who are not development experts are finding themselves confronted for the first time by the complex challenges of the Global South.
Because of its unique history, South Africa is a fascinating case study of extreme wealth coexisting with dire poverty. On our first morning, we walked around the beautiful V&A waterfront development in Cape Town and the UK team found themselves making comparisons to similar schemes around the world – including, of course, Birmingham’s BrindleyPlace.
The comparison that struck me more, however, was from my visit to Los Angeles in 2013. In City of Quartz (1990), Mike Davis used LA to examine acute segregation within cities (rich, poor, black, white). I’d found LA to be a very uncomfortable place to visit – islands of loveliness surrounded by seas of poverty. Of course, those pleasant parts of LA came at a price – gating, pricing and other mechanisms of restricting entry. In that early work by Davis, LA was very much the archetypal fortress city, showing the future of a planet where the gaps between rich and poor were growing, not shrinking.
My crude impression of South Africa from our very brief visit, was that cities like Cape Town and Bloemfontein are an even more extreme version of Davis’ LA. It was never going to be a quick process undoing the legacy of apartheid but more than two decades on, separation is an inescapable reality of everyday life. Visiting some of the townships and seeing the vast numbers of people living in shacks a short distance from Table Mountain and the CBD was shocking. One of the most striking images for me was the razorwire fencing surrounding the University of the Free State campus at Bloemfontein. For sure, UK university campuses have security measures, but the symbolism of “everything past this line is a threat” was striking.
Now of course this securitisation of space is so shocking to outsiders because it operates at such a small scale – wealth and poverty in close proximity. Visit Calais, however, and you see the 15-foot high razorwire fences around the Channel tunnel, designed to keep the desperately poor from sub-Saharan Africa out of the UK. Life back home is just as dependent on fortification to keep out the global poor, it’s just that on a day-to-day basis we don’t actually see the bars on our cage.
Note - this reflective piece is part of a series of blog posts written further to the visit of the UK Team to South Africa in April
Contrasts and opportunities
It is common knowledge that the post-apartheid period in South Africa led to a succession of large-scale regeneration projects buoyed by increasingly confident investors and developers. On the one hand, walking through Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront development, for example, replete with its bars, restaurants and cafes serves as a powerful reminder of the benefits of regeneration and placemaking: it is space that contains vitality, movement, and a range of different sights, sounds and smells. At the same time, though, this space bears many of the hallmark features of other large-scale urban regeneration projects. Clearly, as with other cities across the world, the design and overall ambience of the waterfront area reflect official attempts to control contemporary risks of crime and disorder, and enhance the quality of life of certain urban dwellers. In this sense, the area is also imbued with a particular set of socio-cultural values that support economic gain, consumerism and tourism.
Cape Town also continues to attract large numbers of people looking to benefit from the recent redevelopment initiatives and projects like the V&A Waterfront create much-needed employment opportunities for those looking to move to the city. Hence “informal” dwellings appear in townships like Khayelitsha and Langa; these settlements accommodate people migrating to Cape Town from the Eastern Cape and from other parts of Africa. The contrast between the regenerated V&A Waterfront and the townships is very stark. After visiting some of these settlements, you can not only begin to appreciate some of the housing, education, employment and other land use challenges facing planners, but also the many different social, cultural, structural, and legal contexts in which “informality” plays out across the townships.
Amid a climate of political corruption in South Africa, there have been recent well-documented displays of public outcry over the slow pace of change since the end of apartheid. Clearly, many challenges lie ahead. But there is hope. Visiting “unplanned” Langa, for example, allowed me to appreciate the kind of alternative practices and “different” modes of governance that, in their different ways, give the area so much of its life, colour and vitality. This point resonates with wider debates, of course. Perhaps most fundamentally, visiting the informal settlements reminded me that further and urgent lessons can be learned from exploring the kind of experimental and resilient modes of urban governance that have emerged in different parts of the world in response to a range of economic, social and environmental challenges.
Spatial planning, as many theorists and practitioners would attest, can also play an important role in helping to address some of these challenges. Planning education also has a role here, of course, and future planners will have to find ways to wrestles with the issues of urbanisation, informal settlements, poverty, spatial and environmental justice. The recent adoption of Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (Act 16 of 2013) (adopted in 2015) presents an excellent opportunity to learn the lessons of the past, and help create integrated spheres of governance that deliver better land use decisions and manage the different changes facing society.
Our Linkedin account SAPER project gathering a range of planning practitioners is up and running. Please connect if you'd like to join our future discussions!
We look forward to sharing with you!
Two new researchers have now joined the team, Rouvé Bingle and Mischka Jacobus, both prospective PhD students. Rouvé and Mischka will assist the South African team all along the project.
Rouvé holds an undergraduate degree in Agriculture (University of Stellenbosch), an Honours degree in Spatial Planning and a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning (both from the University of the Free State. Her main areas of interest include food systems planning,food and nutrition security and urban agriculture. She is further interested in the topics of urban greening, environmental justice, environmental racism and place making. Most recently she worked as a National Research Foundation research assistants at the University of the Free State.
Mischka holds an undergraduate degree in Geography and Environmental Management, an Honours degree in Spatial Planning and a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning. Her interests lie in alternative land use management systems for low income areas, geographic information systems (GIS), economic planning and environmental management. She was former research assistant in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of the Free State and has undertaken various research projects where she held the responsibility of data management and analysis.
The UK Team is very pleased to announce that Dr. Lorena Melgaço has now joined the team as research fellow.
Lorena is an architect and urban planner trained in Brazil, Germany and France. She was previously a research assistant at the University of Plymouth. Her fields of interest include bottom-bottom spatial practices, in other words the understanding of forms of local agency within a global structure and their relation to the production of space as well as the temporary uses of spaces and the interaction between space, communities and technology in urban and rural spaces. Lorena is also interested in planning perspectives from the Global South and in ways this challenges traditional urban planning theories.
Lorena will be based in Birmingham (UK) but will spend a significant amount of time in South Africa.
Lauren Andres, 7 February 2017