In South Africa, a spate of megaprojects has been proposed by the Department of Human Settlements in order to boost the delivery of housing and to benefit from economies of scale. The growing national interest in massive housing developments coincides with the 2014 appointment of Lindiwe Sisulu as the minister of human settlements. She is a forceful politician with a sense of urgency. Megaprojects are her department’s main response to the collapse of the government’s programme of building houses: ‘The delivery of houses has dropped by 25% over the past five years … [this] is very serious especially against a backdrop of increasing urbanisation and promises made’ (Sisulu 2014). She sees the megaprojects as some kind of ‘Marshall Plan’ for housing.
Strangely, quite a different urban agenda that is based on longer-term considerations and a broader view of efficiency is being followed elsewhere in government. Its key objectives include urban compaction, integration and densification by encouraging new housing on well-located land within cities and improving public transport connections between neighbourhoods and jobs. Urban concentration also promotes human interaction and enhances productivity, which is vital for social cohesion and national economic competitiveness. Proponents of this approach are the National Treasury and the metropolitan municipalities.
In housing policies all over the world there is a tension between building on greenfield sites beyond the urban boundary, and filling in on brownfield sites to consolidate existing urban areas. The dilemma is acute in South African cities because their average population density rises with the distance from the centre. This is unusual and the situation has deteriorated in the last two decades (Wainer 2015). The question that arises is whether the housing issue is being tackled in a way that promotes urban efficiency and social justice (see Turok 2015 for a fuller exposition).
Read the full article at Econ 3×3.
Ivan Turok is the Acting Executive Director at the Human Sciences Research Council.
Photo: RDP houses in Soweto. via ign11.