The seventh World Urban Forum (WUF) held in Medellin, Colombia in April 2014 helped to showcase the social issues of urban development within a particularly full international urban agenda, which will culminate in 2016 with the third UN Conference on housing and sustainable urban development (Habitat III). The WUF took place in a city that has made 'social planning' the guiding principle of its urban development. This innovative vision has allowed Medellin, a city that is facing increasing territorial fragmentation, to escape from two dark decades in which it had become one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
The numerous actors present at the WUF shared a conviction that cities that are accessible to all and that promote social cohesion are a necessity to enable sustainable development over the coming decades in a context of growing urbanization. Indeed, projections of UN-Habitat show that cities will need to accommodate an additional 2.5 billion people by 2050, 90% of which will be in Asia and Africa. Given that this trend reflects the attractiveness of cities for people that aspire to find work and better living conditions, how can rapid population growth and social inclusion be reconciled? The example of Medellin, which has become internationally well known, shows that an ambitious social policy at the heart of an urban development strategy can enhance the attractiveness of a city. It also reflects the fact that urban fragmentation is not inevitable and can be, if not eliminated, at least reduced. Other cities are responding to this challenge and are also making social priorities the engine of their development strategies: Johannesburg is one example.
The regeneration of the city centre as an engine of urban development in Johannesburg
With 4.4 million inhabitants, Johannesburg is the economic heart of South Africa and a magnet for the sub-region. Historically, it is also one of the most unequal cities in the world in terms of income distribution. Spatial segregation, consolidated by apartheid, was accompanied from the 1960s onwards by a broader phenomenon of urban sprawl, based on the North American automobile dependency model. This was subsequently exacerbated by the development of new economic centres in the 1970s and the post-apartheid policy of the mass construction of social housing in low quality, single function estates in the remotest suburbs. Today, these large social housing districts, which are remote and isolated, exist alongside locked and secure gated communities, with no possible transition between the different areas. With the exception of the city centre, public areas are almost exclusively transit areas. Soweto, for example, exists as an island in the middle of the metropolis. Sprawl and spatial fragmentation of the city have led to the maintenance of the various forms of exclusion.
Since 1994, more than 2.7 million houses have been built, which is enough to provide homes for 15% of South African families. However, this policy has failed to take into account the growing demand for housing that is estimated to be in the region of 2.1 million homes. Moreover, half the population of the city lives in substandard housing, and nearly half of this group live in precarious neighbourhoods. Today, the most marginalized people have three options for accommodation: (i) the social home ownership programmes in the remote outskirts of the city, where land is available and inexpensive but entails very high transport costs (more than a third of their budget); (ii) informal housing in shantytowns or backyard townships; (iii) 'hijacked buildings', which are city centre buildings taken over by gang leaders who charge extortionate rents for very small living spaces that lack privacy and have disastrous sanitation and safety conditions.
Successive attempts by local authorities to regenerate the city centre have not always had the desired results, but they have enabled the launch of private initiatives such as those of housing operators, associations or private, that have supported city centre restructuring. One such example is the Affordable Housing Company (AFHCO), a private social housing operator that manages an estate of more than 4,000 apartments and commercial premises. Its first operations were carried out in 1996, at a time when the city centre was crime-ridden and many homeowners wanted to sell their properties at any price. AFHCO's innovative approach has enabled it to provide social housing on a large scale: this approach involves the progressive rehabilitation of abandoned office buildings while promoting the functional diversity of these rehabilitated areas. Indeed, AFCHO almost always provides ground floor shops in its buildings and promotes the rehabilitation of public facilities in restructured districts, either directly (construction and management of schools, nurseries and parks) or through interaction with the municipality.
AFD supported AFHCO by funding two communal housing projects that have been recently completed in the city centre (for more than 2,000 tenants). These social rental homes, which have shared bedrooms and sanitation facilities, are aimed at vulnerable low-skilled workers that are eligible for social housing (approximately 85% of the South African population). These people can thus access secure and good quality housing that is close to their place of work.
A comprehensive long-term strategy targeting inclusive access to the city
Beyond these initiatives, Johannesburg is building an ambitious long-term strategy known as the Growth and Development Strategy 2040. Its primary objective is the eradication of poverty through a better integration into the city of deprived populations (access to services, housing, employment, skills development, etc.). In addition, for the first time in the city's history, this strategy aims to meet the challenge of spatial transformation towards a more compact city, supported by an economy that is more competitive, inclusive and consumes less natural resources.
These objectives may seem ambitious given the severity of the population's vulnerability and the difficulty entailed in the restructuring effort. However, the two initiatives that define the strategy - the inner city roadmap (regeneration of the city centre) and the 'Corridors of Freedom' (densification around public transport corridors) - demonstrate that the city is willing and able to achieve these objectives. The initiatives indeed aim to concentrate city development (prioritizing municipal investment in transport, infrastructure, public facilities, public services and social housing) in a clearly defined zone that has the city centre at its heart and encompasses the townships of Soweto and Alexandra. These two townships are home to almost half the city's population and more than two-thirds of the poor.
Beyond the social priorities at its core, the value of Johannesburg's urban restructuration strategy is that it is part of a wider objective to reduce natural resource consumption and the carbon footprint of this high emissions city (estimated at 6.4t CO2/capita
The promotion of public transport (Bus Rapid Transit) and the urban nodes densification strategy along transport corridors aim to facilitate mobility for disadvantaged populations but also to limit travel by private cars or vans and therefore to reduce emissions. It is attached to a housing supply policy that includes social housing and activities that target the functional diversity of these urban nodes.
City centre regeneration projects, such as the AFHCO-led example, can also have a real impact on greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the distance between people's homes and their places of work, thus limiting travel. Such projects participate in the reconstruction of the city on the land it already occupies, rather than contributing to urban sprawl, especially because its various actions enhance functional diversity and make neighbourhoods more dynamic. Other associations and public operators, including JOSCHO, the city's social housing subsidiary, conduct similar actions at various scales.
The challenge of maintaining cities as places of opportunity
Today, the challenge facing the city of Johannesburg is to integrate and coordinate over a long time scale these different initiatives that are implemented in various distinct sites into an overall spatial transformation strategy. There is also a need to apply the overall objectives to the operational level of the district: the coherence of the various interventions will be crucial to ensure a real effect on the city scale. The difficulty here is to bring together major planned public investment, to target this investment so as not to dilute it, and to ensure that is has a leverage effect on private action. It is only under these conditions that the city will manage to 'patch up' some areas of its territory, through 'catalyst' districts that will trigger a dynamic to enable the city to switch to an optimized urban morphology. It is with this objective that AFD provides support to the city. To do so, its financing is backed by the organization of exchanges with French cities that have completed transformations of similar magnitude (contacts with local elected officials, public and private partners such as planning agencies, development corporations, public land management institutions, etc.).
A sustainable urban development strategy based on social priorities with climate co-benefits
Similarly to Medellin and Johannesburg, other emerging and developing cities are currently facing the challenge of carrying out a spatial transformation to relocate their inhabitants to the heart of a more sustainable city: Porto Novo, Antananarivo, Casablanca and Izmir are also pioneers of this path to a more environmentally-friendly development trajectory and the integration of vulnerable populations.
Many experiments show that densification and urban restructuring, combined with effective public transit projects and favourable policies for social housing, promote both social inclusion and urban development that produces less emissions and is more sustainable.
AFD is convinced that social priorities and climate issues must be combined as part of an integrated approach to urban development. Through the proliferation of the financing of projects that combine these two objectives (i.e. public transport that provides disadvantaged populations with access to employment areas, social housing that is integrated into an urban restructuration strategy, etc.), AFD wishes to capitalize on these experiences and to enrich the debate by showing that projects with a primarily social focus also produce climate co-benefits. Through its current support for Johannesburg, and tomorrow for other cities, AFD puts this principle into practice with spatial transformation projects that provide compactness and diversity.
Johannesburg : cibler les investissements en fonction des revenus des ménages