NEWSLETTER // June 2015
By Andrew Ngozo
Sustainable Cities fo a Sustainable South Africa
The world is experiencing a rapid rate of growth in urbanisation, with Africa and sub-Saharan Africa leading the way. By 2030, it is estimated that Africa will have 760-million urban residents. This figure will grow to 1.2-billion by the year 2050. The challenge that cities face in an effort to become sustainable is enormous!
In South Africa, 31% of the population can be found in six of its major cities. With more citizens trekking into cities every day, how sustainable are our cities to cope with this influx? – never mind the fact that it is this 31% that accounts for as much as 55% of South Africa’s annual gross domestic product (GDP). But are businesses equipped to cope with the demand that this creates?
Sustainability, as defined by the United Nations, is “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Therefore, a sustainable city is inhabited by people dedicated to the minimisation of required inputs of energy, water and food, and waste output in the form of heat, air pollution, carbon dioxide, methane, and water pollution.
A closer look at South African cities reveals that, of the country’s four big cities which participated in the African Green City Index, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban are ranked as above-average cities, while Pretoria is only average. The first three sit with Accra (Ghana), Casablanca (Morocco) and Tunis (Tunisia).
The Minister of National Planning, Trevor Manuel, recently noted that African governments need to prepare for growing urbanisation and should invest in infrastructure and human capital in order to facilitate sustainable growth on the continent. How can our cities get ready for this, and just what makes a city sustainable?
As people move into cities, the already overloaded energy supply takes even more strain. As a result, cities are compelled to turn to renewable energy resources to cope with the demand. South Africa has already seen an increased use of solar power and water and, by 2020; it will be part of global countries that use alternative energy such as photovoltaic cells, solar thermal power plants and different types of wind turbines.
The key to the success of the above sources of energy lies in an effective energy-efficient power distribution and transmission system. As the demand in respect of power supply increases, smart grids and smart grid technologies, such as smart meters, will need to be adopted so as to integrate the fluctuating levels of renewable energy sources. This will effectively prevent blackouts from becoming more widespread.
Sustainable cities require sustainable infrastructure across a broad spectrum. The infrastructures of today will define what the cities of tomorrow will look like. According to the Siemens Sustainable Cities Division, this will take more than just the construction of ‘green buildings’. A reliable water supply and the provision of sustainable health-care infrastructures for urban communities are necessary for the influx of people, not only in the cities but also for those who stay in smaller towns.
Challenges that cities may face in achieving these ends are numerous. How do cities supply safe water to densely populated areas? On the health-care front, the challenge is to make medical services more affordable and accessible to more citizens, while at the same time offering improved, individual patient care. It is here that state-of-the art diagnostic procedures and treatment methods with sustainable energy supplies can be utilised.
The Gauteng province has taken huge steps towards sustainability. As 20% of energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions emanate from urban traffic, the Gautrain Project, introduced in Johannesburg and Pretoria in 2010, is an eco-friendly, local public transport system that ensures not only maximum efficiency but is environment-friendly as well.
The rapid bus transport system, already in operation in Johannesburg, is set to be rolled out in Pretoria soon. Cape Town has, since 2007, had the integrated rapid bus system, which uses hybrid buses that consume 30% less fuel than conventional ones.
The Future Is in Sustainable Cities
Studies in urbanisation reveal that expansion will result in the birth of megacities. Combined, these will create mega-regions, which will collectively result in mega corridors. Mega-slums will be the outcome, as 70% of urbanised Africa will live in informal settlements.
Urbanisation will ultimately result in an Africa burgeoning with opportunity and in enabling infrastructure such as energy- and resource-efficient technologies.