NATIONAL NEWS - To state the obvious, Covid-19 has laid bare the inequality in South African society that is so starkly reflected in the spatial make-up of our towns and cities.
In the suburbs groups were out exercising between 06:00 and 09:00, working remotely, home-schooling their children, getting deliveries of (non) essential goods, and visiting malls with masks and hand sanitisers while social-distancing.
In the rest of the city, people were waiting in long lines for public transport, social grants, and food parcels. Overcrowded houses, backyard rooms, informal settlements, and blocks of flats left no possibility for social distancing.
South African cities post Covid-19 will be no different from those we live in today. For some, there will be lifestyle changes: the convenience of on-line meetings and not spending hours in traffic as well as internet shopping and delivery at your front door will surely remain.
For the majority of citizens, the lack of connectivity and job losses would exacerbate already difficult living conditions in impoverished environments. Talk of dedensification in poor, overcrowded neighbourhoods, to allow for social distancing, will inevitably lead to further urban sprawl, one of the main contributors to inequality and segregation.
If the dramatic transition to democracy could not change the inequality in our cities, the virus will only deepen it.
For spatial planning to contribute to the post-Covid environment by stimulating the economy and improving the lives of the poor, it will have to move beyond words, by-laws, and plans.
With the complicated Spluma (Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act) compliance requirements and by-laws, as well as environmental legislation, and unrealistic engineering and social facility standards, spatial planning is currently a hindrance to development: big and small, private and public. Municipalities, which are at the forefront of addressing these issues, are direly ill-equipped and unprepared.
It is time to simplify planning and make it real.
Dr Marinda Schoonraad is a professional planner and urban designer in private practice and conducts her business under the name and style of Metroplan in Pretoria. In her 29 years of planning related experience, Dr Schoonraad was employed as a municipal planner by the then City Council of Pretoria, and as a lecturer by the University of Pretoria. Her post-graduate studies were concluded at the University of the Witwatersrand and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. This article was first published in the SA Association of Consulting Professional Planners newsletter.
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