By the year 2025, Masdar City, otherwise known as the world’s most sustainable city, will open its doors to citizens. The $19 billion dollar city, developed by Abu Dhabi, the Mubadala Development Company and the British architectural firm Foster and Partners will be, with its proposed zero carbon emissions, easily the most sustainable city in the world, topping Copenhagen in Denmark, Curitiba in Brazil and San Francisco in the USA.
But how does South Africa measure up the to the standards set by the Masdar City plans and the top sustainable cities in the world?
According to the African Green City Index, by the Economist Intelligence Unit sponsored by Siemens, South Africa boasts several of the most sustainable cities in all of Africa. Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg all score “above average” overall in an assessment of environmental performance in categories including energy and CO2, land use, transport, waste, water and sanitation. Many of these areas were aided by global events and the demands that millions of tourists would bring.
Each city holds key areas that have been rapidly improved in recent years, like waste management in Cape Town and CO2 emissions in Johannesburg. Or, they are implementing projects to improve areas in which progress is needed, like the buyback programs for waste management in Durban. The index states that government structures are the key to the success of each South African city, ensuring that local leadership must make policies and change for the betterment of each municipality.
So why then are some cities below others on the index or do some not even hit the mark? Perhaps it is due to more pressing matters on the outskirts? But should a country not unite to solve social problems across the board instead of provincially ramping up each large city?
Shannon Royden-Turner, an urban infrastructure planner in Cape Town, believes that the country is “not yet driven by a real systemic understanding of what sustainability is,” and doesn’t have a clear understanding of how to fix it.
“The way that people see and understand sustainability is all still driven by numbers. In playing those numbers you have to exclude social systems, otherwise you can’t achieve them. In the haste to achieve these goals you have to keep it simple. And social and environmental systems are complex and process driven rather than goal orientated.”
Instead of cities working with each other across South Africa, city-specific problems must first be dealt with. All areas must be integrated to solve the “bigger picture” problem of sustainability in cities.
“Everyone is trying to grapple with it, how do we do multidisciplinary work? We have to look at cities in a much more integrated way, because at the moment there’s a waste department, water department and energy department, but energy goes through all of them! But we still just see it in very linear, neatly packaged things,” said Turner.
This Supernews Sustainability Series aims to identify the shortfalls of South African cities, and look at how they can be addressed to create a more sustainable country. Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban all rank above average, with Pretoria as the lowest ranking for the country, but none reach the well above average goal that all countries should aspire to. How do we reach it? Is it with better leadership, or finding “best practice” around the world and adapting it to work here? We’ll be dissecting each city’s issues, initiatives and programs, to bring you the answers.