As we are getting closed to the summer it is time to sum-up our latest activities and flag up what will be coming up. The SAPER team has been extremely busy in collecting data in South Africa. By the end of the month we will have collected up to 80 interviews with a range of urban planning practitioners across South Africa. Coding is on its way and we are looking forward to start writing up our results. While impact activities are also starting shaping up, the team will soon re-unite in the UK for its first writing retreat. More updates and news to come soon then!
Seminar "Think Planning – Think Global Planning Challenges in the Commonwealth" – organised in partnership with the RTPI and the Commonwealth Association of Planners
SAPER partnered with the RTPI and CAP to organise a seminar looking at the challenges faced by planning in the Commonwealth context. We will soon publish a briefing note out of this seminar, with CAP. I cannot resist meanwhile to publish what Louisa Ward, currently one of our students on our MSc Urban and Regional Planning, wrote on Linkedin to describe what she learnt and gained from the presentations and discussions. The seminar was introduced by the RTPI president, John Acres and included presentations from Clive Harridge, Hector Pearson, Philip Clarke, Riette Oosthuizen, Louise Brook-Smith, Cliff Hague and me (Lauren Andres).
In October this year the South African Advisory Group met to discuss various aspects of the SAPER project with our current SA PI Ruth. The Group comprises Peter Robinson, Frederick Kusambiza, Anthony Barnes, Godfrey Musvoto, Aurobindo Ogra, Seana Nkhahle and Mark Oranje
After an introduction to the project, our main aims and objectives, and the progress made to date, the Advisory Group spent the morning debating the strengths and weaknesses of South African planning education in South Africa’s higher education institutions, and discussing how the SAPER project might address these and other concerns that have been raised. The Advisory Group members are leaders in various South African planning fields (practice, academia, local government, and accreditation) and we are pleased to have this rich set of expertise on board.
Some of the points that were raised during the meeting included the following:
· There is a need to more fully recognise that apartheid planning has had an exclusionary and lasting impact on planning practice and planning education in South Africa and that this needs to be addressed. It is crucial that dialogue continues, particularly regarding planning education in the country and the need to train planners to be sensitive to inequality, segregation and socio-spatial challenges as well as the diversity of language, religion and culture in the country.
· There is currently a mismatch between educational institutions and practice and there is a need for the two parties to interact in a more meaningful way. Employers and new employees struggle with expectations and the practical knowledge that the graduate has or has not gained. There is also the need to bring practice into conversation with academics to ensure that a richer more applicable education is provided.
· There is a need to ensure students of planning also have the opportunity to specialise in various niche subjects (such as SMART cities and urban health – for example) over and above their basic planning qualification. This would ensure that the graduate is more employable and is provided with domain expertise and a niche qualification (specialisation) appropriate for a South African/African context.
· South African students have limited options in terms of courses offered within their planning degrees. A different approach may be required that allows for dual specialisation and focal specialisation.
· There is a gap between theory taught and the link to social aspects of planning. The practice of planning itself versus planning for people is something that needs to be addressed.
· There is a need for planning curricula to pay equal attention to academic skills (e.g. theory), technical skills (e.g. GIS and other tools), and soft skills (e.g. report writing, negotiation, and presentation skills). These are all needed for a good curriculum and for planners that are trained to work within a practical planning context.
· Wider skills are also needed such as an understanding of financial modelling and analysis as well as skills related to technology and systems management.
· Social aspects of planning are crucial in the training of planners within South Africa. Planning for and with people is vital and skills are needed in areas such as asset-based planning, trade-offs, wants vs needs etc. Social planning skills are lacking amongst new graduates.
The Advisory Group also provided useful contacts and links to resources that will assist the SAPER project’s aims, and were helpful in providing us with advice on the way forward with our next set of data collection activities and data analysis.
Ruth has been offered a Research Associate post at the University of Cambridge from next year and will be leaving the University of the Free State at the end of January 2018. Stuart will therefore take over the role of Principal Investigator and Ruth will move to the position of Co-Investigator. She will still be involved with the SAPER project and will attend various conferences and assist with the drafting of journal articles and other publications where appropriate. Ruth would like to thank everyone for their support while she has been in the PI role and thank you to Stuart for stepping in at this point. We are confident that the SAPER project will go from strength to strength.
This year has been an eventful one and we would like to thank you all for your support throughout 2017. Here is a summary of project activities this year:
Lorena will visit South Africa from the beginning of February to the end of May. She will work with Mischka and Rouve interviewing planners, academics and students across the country. This data will supplement the information we gathered through the questionnaires in 2017. UK data collection (specially our surveys to UK planning academics and practitioners will run during this period as well). Ruth and Stuart will also host a session on Planning and Geography in South African Higher Education at the Society of South African Geographer’s Bi-annual conference in Bloemfontein next year. We will present papers at various international conferences including the 2018 AAG in New Orleans (Lauren will attend and present preliminary results from the UK data collection), SAPI congress in October and the RGS/IBG gathering in August. Members of the UK and South African teams will also gather in Birmingham in March and June for team meetings and a writing retreat. The Teaching App will also be rolled out further both at UFS and the University of Birmingham while we hope to have the online platform on CAP website up and running by the end of 2018.
Ruth Massey / Lauren Andres
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 SAPER blog is written by different members of the SAPER project team.