Since our establishment in 2006, Urban LandMark has focussed on making urban land markets, and land planning and management systems, work better for poor people. Our activities have been geared towards changing policies and practice in Southern Africa to improve poor people's access to safe, well-located urban land, within a context of urbanisation and rapidly growing cities.
During this period, we have established credibility and impact in South Africa, as well as engaged with a number of countries in southern Africa, in five main thematic areas - urban land rights and security of tenure; facilitating the emergence of more functional urban land markets; assisting the state towards better land governance by improving land planning and land use management capacities; improving the understanding of the African experience with urban land markets, with a focus on southern African countries; and improving the knowledge of practising professionals and officials, as well as students training in the sector on urban land issues.
More recently, our main funder, DFID, has challenged us to consider addressing climate change as part of our core focus going forward (2011-2015) - in ways that would ensure continuity with our current work, and build on our positions, strengths and expertise, but at the same time moving into significant new areas relating to climate change in the context of urban thinking.
As reported in an earlier edition of our newsletter, Urban LandMark is therefore entering an organisational and strategic redesign phase. This includes prioritising the best and most relevant future programmes and actions to ensure clear, positive impacts for large numbers of vulnerable people - mainly in the South African context - but linked to global priorities in terms of the climate change agenda, and aligning such interventions with the larger offerings we have been developing over the last few years.
One of our first initiatives has been the completion of a concept paper which reviews the state of thinking around climate change and the issue of urban vulnerability and low carbon growth, in particular around the role urban areas can play in both mitigating climate change and acting as safe sites for poorer residents during extreme weather events.
This work has opened up many possible avenues of engagement which we believe would allow us to make useful contributions to the objective of addressing urban vulnerability / resilience and reducing carbon emissions. Our initial investigations have pointed towards the importance of:
- addressing urban growth patterns in South(ern) Africa (rapid urbanisation, sprawling cities, lack of urban management capacity, generally poor settlement planning, and the promotion of risk assessment, and readiness and prevention strategies)
- relooking at urban infrastructure improvement, especially in vulnerable areas, including water, sanitation, building technologies and transport
- improving slums and housing, deeply grounded in community processes of engagement to build (social, economic and physical) resilience in the face of new challenges.
Within these three broad areas, we see it as essential to address how poorer communities and people's lives can be improved while at the same time assisting in efforts to set South Africa's economic development onto a low-carbon growth path. This is based on our assessment that many proposed interventions for low carbon growth could - unwittingly - worsen poverty. We therefore believe our fundamental contribution to making a measurable impact on increasing the number of people who are better able to cope with climatic shocks would be to focus on greater resilience / reduced vulnerability together with low-carbon growth through interventions in South African urban areas.
At the same time, we realise that, at this initial stage, there might be significant gaps in our investigations around issues of climate change in the urban context. More particularly, we want to engage with experts in developing more concrete and directed interventions and actions within our proposed areas of focus - while, of course, also discussing whether these areas are truly the ones most relevant and pertinent to the South African, and in the longer term, the regional context. We therefore hosted a Round Table on Climate Change and Urban Issues on Tuesday 21 June 2011.
The Round Table was facilitated by Stef Raubenheimer, an international climate change policy facilitator and executive director of local NGO SouthSouthNorth, which works to reduce poverty through delivering community-based mitigation and adaptation projects. Local experts from a range of climate change disciplines gave in-depth and valuable input to Urban LandMark, and took us forward in our thinking on a number of issues. These included possible ares of work and collaboration with relevant stakeholders in terms of climate change issues pertinent in the local context, the impact that activities in these areas could have on increasing poorer urban residents' resilience to climate change shocks, and potential outcomes which could be achieved.
A representative from DFID Southern Africa also presented DFID's climate change strategy in a global, regional and South African context, describing its climate change objectives in an urban context.
We envisage consulting this and a wider group of experts and interested organisations on an ongoing basis as we move towards designing our 'climate-smart' Programme of Work for the coming years.