The president's smart city dream: 'We cannot copy China'

During his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa asked, "Has the time not arrived to build a new smart city founded on the technologies of the 4th Industrial Revolution?"

But is the president's dream realistic? And aren't there better ways to accommodate the increasing number of people flocking to South Africa's urban centres?

Read: How would President Ramaphosa's dream of a smart, brand-new city actually work?

On Weekend Breakfast, Africa Melane speaks to Professor Vanessa Watson from the Department of Architecture and Planning at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Although pleased that the president paid attention to the question of spatial planning during Sona, she disagrees with his proposal.

To argue that our cities are running out of land and therefore we need brand-new cities I think is quite frankly, wrong.

Professor Vanessa Watson, Department of Architecture and Planning - UCT

To build an entirely new city from scratch, is hugely expensive - think of the infrastructure, roads, public facilities...

Professor Vanessa Watson, Department of Architecture and Planning - UCT

Professor Watson says it's important to learn from the experience of other countries, where the private sector is usually required to invest and the result is a new development catering only for middle- and high-income groups.

This is no way to achieve spacial justice and integration, which the president mentioned.

Professor Vanessa Watson, Department of Architecture and Planning - UCT

President Ramaphosa looked to the new cities China has built during his speech, but Watson points out that South Africa's situation is very different.

Poverty rates (in China) have fallen dramatically in the last several decades and the government has built new cities with huge government subsidies... We cannot copy China... we have growing numbers of people living in poverty both in our cities and our rural areas.

Professor Vanessa Watson, Department of Architecture and Planning - UCT

What would achieve more, she proposes, is to develop the large tracts of unused government-owned land within existing cities.

Watson says in Cape Town, for example, this could accommodate the bulk of the existing housing backlog in mixed-use developments.

That would achieve spacial equity and integration.

Professor Vanessa Watson, Department of Architecture and Planning - UCT

Listen to the full discussion here:


This article first appeared on CapeTalk : The president's smart city dream: 'We cannot copy China'


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