Nomkhita Mona | How we can build growing city


How to Steal a City is the title of a book by Dr Crispian “Chippy” Olver.
The storyline is based on his account of corruption that was purported to have taken place in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality a few years ago.
A few pages into the book, it dawned on me that I did not actually wish to know how to steal a city.
What I really want to know is how to build a city.
Given that cities have been created since ancient times, there are countless theories on how one could approach such plans – each of these somewhat influenced by the priority of its author.
The UK-based The Guardian in 2015 published a guide to building a city from the ground up.
Aside from the essential town planning processes, the guide emphasised the importance of providing a reliable water supply, creating jobs, education and including the locals in the process.
Our city does not need to be built from scratch, yet these are still challenges we have not overcome. The effects of the region’s most recent drought are still being felt by some farmers and communities.
On top of that, our metro still has the highest unemployment rate of all eight metros in SA.
Another report, this one done by Ernst and Young in Australia, in 2016 examined how city builders can put the needs of its people at the core of their planning.
The study found that citizens remained in their chosen cities based on six factors: the affordability of their lifestyles, integration of services, access to essential services, safety, spaces that added to their experience of the city and opportunities that allowed them to live the lives they wanted.
These are among the areas that need to be addressed if we as a metro hope to keep our residents here – instead of them migrating to other provinces in search of opportunities.
Our communities must be at the core of the decisions made by those with the power to affect change and promote economic growth.
Finally, I came across two guides that overlap in their priorities: a guide to creating a “city of the future” by American business magazine Fast Company and advice on building a sustainable city from Professor Ian Williams, of the University of Southampton.
Both these articles consider not only how one would start a city, but how one could create it to be self-sustaining and to constantly grow over time.
The following points are considered crucial by both authors:
● Infrastructure: This includes a reliable and sustainable water supply, access to quality education and healthcare, housing and transportation systems;
● Investment: Williams highlights the need to establish long-term plans for sustainable growth, while Fast Company encourages government to invest in the development of their cities;
● People: Both authors agree that the people living in any given city must be a priority to those who build and run the city.
This stretches from ensuring their safety and bridging the economic divide, to providing inclusive opportunities and empowering citizens to thrive in the business community as entrepreneurs.
Williams also emphasises the need for strong leaders who are accountable to their people.
Despite these studies originating from different countries, they highlight needs that are relevant to most urban communities – including ours.
Nelson Mandela Bay is an existing, living metro – but it is not growing and our current situation is certainly not sustainable.
Our city is in crisis, and it will take each of us living and working here to turn it around.
The Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber has long since advocated for projects that encourage socio-economic progress.
However, this is no longer enough to ensure inclusive development.
To this end, we are stepping up and leading the charge to build the Bay.
We are hosting a series of talks throughout the year, under the title, How to Build a City.
Through these events, we will welcome prominent speakers from different sectors and backgrounds to have frank discussions around the state of our metro and how our joint efforts can turn the Bay into a thriving hub of opportunity.
The series’s goals include:
● Creating an enabling environment for businesses and communities to thrive;
● Restoring a sense of pride in the city;
● Promoting economic growth, by attracting new and repeat investments into the city; and
● Increasing the ease of doing business.
The event series start this month and last until the end of the year, with different issues under the spotlight at each event.
It is our hope that, like us, other stakeholders will join us in taking back our city and making a difference.
In the end, the aim of the events is economic growth that will empower our citizens, through increased job opportunities and better livelihoods.
As any development in the metro will affect them directly, we want these citizens to be actively involved in building a better city.
None of us can do it alone.

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