Are we doomed?

Kieran Stepan – Strategy Coordinator Intern

Durban, South Africa

I have been in Durban, South Africa now for about 4 months, and I feel that it is becoming my second home and all the great people I have met are making up a new family. Each and every person teaching me something new about this beautiful place. One lesson has emerged as a common thread, woven through countless interactions, deep conversations and observations,

“Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”

This is a quote I’m sure everyone has heard before, often attributed to Winston Churchill, but never has it resonated so deeply with me until now. For Durban the tragedies and struggles of the past remain palpable on a daily basis, with Apartheid still fresh in the minds of citizens and built into the physical environment that surrounds them. Its history has shaped every aspect of the city and its people, making it what it is today.

A brief refresher

Apartheid was a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the National Party, governing from 1948 to 1994. This legislation classified people into four racial categories, “white”, “black”, “Indian”, and “coloured”. Non-white South Africans were taken from their homes and forced into segregated neighbourhoods. Racial discrimination was institutionalized, the government segregated everyone and everything; medical care, education, marriage, jobs, bathrooms, beaches, transportation and all public services, ensuring inferior services were provided to non-white people.

HIV Aids Art Installation at a historical hall, visited during the 52nd ISOCARP congress on “The Cities We Have Vs The Cities We Need”

Apartheid generated significant resistance and violence, with uprisings and protests resulting in the deaths of many, strict bans on any expression of opposition and the imprisonment of anti-apartheid leaders. As opposition grew the Apartheid government was beginning to fall, and in 1990 negotiations to end apartheid finally began, which concluded with democratic elections in 1994, won by the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela.

Segregation created deep lasting social, economic, and physical barriers in the city, these barriers can be seen in the built environment existing today and the settlement pattern of current residents. Many areas are physically separated, such as Warwick Junction, which is like an island in the inner city separated by rail lines with few over passes, almost completely disconnected from the rest of the city. Other areas maintain a level of lingering segregation, not outright forbidding certain people, but it’s clear that people are not integrated and there is a lack of inclusivity.

Area in the Inner City one block away from the pristine beach front promenade, you walk one street in and find yourself in a different world

It’s important to realize that the current government has not been in power for very long (it is actually younger than I am), but has come a long way in trying to right the wrongs of Apartheid and actively learn from the past. However, there is still a long journey ahead, contributing to this journey is the eThekwini Municipal Unit I have been based at, the Urban Renewal Unit, which is a part of the Economic Development and Planning Department.

The Plan

The Urban Renewal unit has undertaken the task of developing an Inner City Local Area Plan (LAP) with three high level precinct plans and an Inner City Regeneration Strategy and Implementation Plan. The purpose of the plan is to guide the future development of the inner city to become “Africa’s leading, most vibrant, liveable, walkable City Centre providing economic, residential, sporting and leisure opportunities for all”.

Durban beach front! Photo taken from the 20th floor of the Four Cities Hotel, not a stock photo I promise!

The plan has a number of goals, cross cutting themes, and spatial principles to drive regeneration in the inner city.

The Goals:

  • To accommodate 450,000 people when fully developed, with 40% of accommodation being a mix of affordable, Gap and social housing.
  • To create 250,000 jobs when fully developed, supporting more legal street trading.
  • Every resident lives within a 5 minute walk of facilities to supply their daily needs
  • Every resident has access to an efficient Integrated Rapid Public Transport Network with an inner city distribution system
  • To place Durban on the World Tourism Map and grow tourist spending in the Inner City
  • The city will be more energy efficient

The three cross cutting themes are; Learning from the past and the present; Economic drivers of regeneration; and Resilience and sustainability. These themes are combined with the four spatial principles: A Connected City; A Walkable City; An Integrated and Inclusive City (through land use intensity); and Releasing the City’s Potential. Combined these will help guide development in the Inner City to achieve its goals and realize a more equitable and prosperous future.

The LAP was presented at the 52nd International Society of City and Regional Planning Conference, where we sought out feedback from congress delegates

Throughout the development of the plan the Urban Renewal team has held over 80 meetings and workshops with the community, stakeholders, and other municipal departments. These engagements are crucial to understanding the challenges and opportunities in the city.

For example, the city currently battles with disconnectivity and poor walkability, most streets are one way, extremely wide, car oriented, and formal/informal traders take up the majority of the sidewalks. When developing the Plan the Urban Renewal team looks at these challenges and see the possible opportunities and alternatives.


Example of the wide street and street traders found throughout the Inner City

The wide streets, provide the perfect opportunity to have bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, super wide sidewalks to provide space for traders and pedestrians, and even green boulevards to bring more nature back into the city. The plan details reconfiguring existing streets, making new primary, secondary, and local linkages, making more two way streets improving automobile connectivity, and creating a new pedestrian priority network.

The plan touches on every aspect of the city and how it functions with strategies for accessible transportation, integrated and inclusive residential options, social facilities, infrastructure, urban realm upgrades, economic drivers, environmental management, and more.

In developing this plan the team has taken every measure to learn from, and celebrate the past of South Africa and Durban. As we come into the final editing stages of the Plan, it is clear that the future of the Inner City of Durban is going to be a bright one.

View of the Inner City from the top of the Economic Developement and Planning Department building



One thought on “Are we doomed?

  1. Jane

    Thanks for great article Kieran – Durban has a very ambitious plan! Am interested in learning more about their strategy to develop 250,000 more jobs….is there a timeline for this? Any oppy’s you can think of for IYIP involvement?

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