Exploring the Relationship Between Land Use Right Restrictions and Wealth Inequality.

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Coex, Seoul

Abstract
In order for a city to express its “soul” through built form, a framework must exist where real people, with real passions and real desires, are able to give direction to urban space and structure. The reality however in most cities throughout the world is that it is not the passion and energy of committed individuals (be they Architects, developers or investors) that drive the shape and form of the city. We observe rather that increasingly form is given to buildings and the spaces they frame by an anonymous set of bureaucratic procedures, codes and planning controls.
We live in a time where much of the world is emerging into greater and greater freedom. This culture of freedom permeated the US hippy movement of the sixties, South Africa’s “Freedom Struggle” of the eighties and the Arab Spring in the earlier parts of this decade. In spite of news headlines that speak of a minority reactionary backlash, the general tendency is towards freedom to choose one’s religion, sexual orientation and vocation.
It seems contradictory therefore that during this time of widespread personal freedom, we have witnessed a global tendency toward increasing state control over what individuals may and may not build on land that they own. The work of Architects, more than ever, is an almost impossible task of navigating land use rights, permits and compliances. The physical act of building too is constrained by state imposed controls instigated by career bureaucrats and “technical experts” under the guise of “Health and Safety”. While the sustained attack on the Architect’s freedom to guide the building process is to be understood as part of a global tendency toward bloated self-serving civil service, desperate to claim increasing power as an end in itself, we argue here that this should not be allowed to continue on its current trajectory without exposure to the spotlight of academic scrutiny.
While this paper will contextualise itself within the global tendency away from freedom in the built environment, it will focus specifically on impact of land use rights and building controls on wealth inequality in South Africa. The paper explores the possibility of establishing a methodology that can reliably measure whether the building and land use controls currently in place represent a “nett cost” or a “nett benefit” to economy, the environment and to the community and especially to wealth inequality.
Keywords: Wealth Inequality, Freedom, Building Codes, Local Government, African City, Land Use rights, Planning Control
1. Introduction
It has become widely understood that wealth inequality is a significant threat to stability and sustainability. Even in advanced economies like the US the reality is that the 10% that make up the wealthiest part of the population own 76% of the country’s assets. The French economist Thomas Piketty argues that “extremely high levels” of wealth inequality are “incompatible with the meritocratic values and principles of social justice fundamental to modern democratic societies” and that “the risk of a drift towards oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism.” Piketty, T, and Ganser, L. J. (2014)
The basic premise of Piketty’s argument is those whose livelihoods depend on labour (blue and white collar) tend over time to have to work harder and harder to maintain their status quo. By contrast those that own assets tend to become wealthier and wealthier. More significantly to the architects reading this paper is that we know from an analysis of Piketty’s data by Matthew Rognile, an American scholar, that in fact the growth in wealth among those who own assets can largely be ascribed to real estate assets and not to equities. Rognlie, M. (2016)
Since at very least the time of Marx and Engels, scholars and politicians have discussed, formulated and proposed a broad range of solutions to wealth inequality and motivated their work as an attempt to respond to a threat to global order. Most recently Thomas Picketty has proposed a progressive wealth tax as an essential component to any economy aiming for stability. Piketty, T, and Ganser, L. J. (2014)
Picketty’s “wealth tax” falls into the category of strategies that the state can employ through coercing the citizenry into doing what they would otherwise not choose to do. It is understood that scholars and politicians would resort to proposing coercion in the absence of any other seemingly workable macro solutions. This paper will therefore begin to explore the possible effectiveness of “micro” solutions born out of industry specific knowledge gained through years of professional practice. It will explore the detail as it applies to the real estate and construction sectors and to the Architect’s profession. This paper will not seek to add complexity to existing strategies to address wealth inequality. It will not propose new legislation or regulations that serve to further coerce or constrain private individuals. This paper explores rather the potential impact of simplifying the approach toward land use rights and building controls with the aim of initiating a discussion around the relationship between land use right restrictions and wealth inequality.
Corresponding Author: Tim Hewitt-Coleman
PO Box 12956
Centrahil
Port Elizabeth
6006
Phone: +27 415822753
Email: tim@noharchitects.co.za
2. Defining land use controls
In Port Elizabeth, where I have lived and practiced as an architect for the last twenty five years, owning a piece of land does not necessarily mean that you are free to use this land as you please. While you are free to sell the land or generate and income through rental, the manner in which you use the building and the manner in which permanent changes and improvements are made are restricted by a range of land use right restrictions and building controls. While controls and restrictions may vary, the following schedule of controls and restrictions would apply to a sample site in Port Elizabeth.
table
 In addition to these controls more specific by-laws are developed from time to time to limit specific uses including keeping animals, accommodating paying guests or accommodating students.
3. How do land use right restrictions impact on wealth inequality?
It may not be immediately obvious that restrictions on land use rights as expressed in zoning schemes, building regulations and other “compliance measures” are not in the public interest. When they are discussed at all, they are defended as necessary devices to avoid urban chaos and mayhem. The scientific evidence however for this supposed chaos and mayhem is very thin. We have reviewed the National Environmental Management Act, National Heritage Resources Management Act, National Building Regulations Act, Port Elizabeth Zoning Scheme, The Nelson Mandela Bay Guest House Policy and the South African National Department of Transport Parking Standards. Not one of these documents quote any case study or any scholarly work that predicts the chaos and urban mayhem that would emerge should these restrictions on personal freedom not be imposed.What is clear and beyond discussion or dispute is that land use controls have the very powerful effect of entrenching the status quo. Any attempt to change the status quo is met with complicated compliance hurdles that need to be overcome. So while being defended as necessary devises to maintain urban order, land use right restrictions serve to maintain and the status quo of the built form making it difficult for new entrants in to the market. Since, as it can be seen from Rognlie’s work, much wealth accumulation actually arises from the ownership of real estate Rognlie, M. (2016), any attempt to maintain an urban form status quo, must simultaneously be understood to be an attempt to maintain (if inadvertently) a wealth inequality status qou.
Those individuals attempting for the first time to build wealth through real estate are confronted with a set of building regulations that are very difficult to comply with when working in such a way as to best mobilise sweat equity. Building materials that are freely available, such as those required for wattle and daub wall construction or round pole roof construction for example, are not permitted by the national building regulations. While South Africa has a rich and varied pre-colonial architectural tradition, Frescura, F. (1981) traditional building skills have also been lost (partly as a result of the imposition of building regulations making the application of these
traditional skills illegal). The net effect of the imposition of building controls historically in South Africa has been to outlaw traditional building methods, bringing to an abrupt end the evolution of building materials and methods that comes with societies that urbanise organically outside of the context of colonialism. This evolution of building technique from rural to urban circumstance is evident throughout Europe, India and China but largely absent in societies that have been colonised. While this may appear to be a subject of importance perhaps only to architectural historians, the loss of a tradition of building to meet a families’ housing needs, has had a significant impact on wealth creation over passing generations. Those new entrants into the market, who do manage to acquire a structure compliant with the National Building Regulations, find themselves limited in a number of ways. They very often may not build on the full extent of their site (limited by coverage and bulk factors). Their attempts to increase their wealth by adding value to the property are limited by these controls. They are very often limited in the uses they may put their property to. Their ability to grow their wealth by adding revenue generating actives to their land is severely curtailed. The height to which they are able to build is very often limited, once again limiting the value that could have been added and thus the wealth growth opportunities.
Because of a pattern of restriction on land use rights over the years, the understanding that changing the status quo is very complicated and time consuming has become common among landowners. The impact of this “common knowledge” is to dissuade land owners from ever attempting to build wealth through expanding their own properties. This results in either spending on non-investment grade consumer items or in allocating resources toward poorly performing listed assets or derivatives thereof marketed by the financial planning industry. The available research on the impact of land use rights on wealth inequality is sparse or only indirectly relevant. The research however on the impact of the tendency of land use rights to dissuade landowners from consider changing the status quo is completely absent from scholarly literature. This is not surprising as it is of course very difficult to develop a methodology to quantify that which did not happen or that would have happened. Taleb, N. N. (2007). So while the points above illustrate the mechanisms that serve to limit the ability of new entrants and small land owners to fully exploit the wealth generation potential of their land, wealth inequality does not arise out of this phenomenon only by virtue of it being very complicated to close the wealth gap from the bottom up but also because those investors in the economy that already have significant wealth are able to negotiate the hurdles of land use right restrictions to release value and thus increase their wealth. In the case of land and land use rights it is certainly a pattern of the rich get richer, not only because the rich are able to purchase real estate in greater quantities, but because “the rich” are able to afford, the lawyers, town planners, environmental consultants, architects, engineers and heritage practitioners required to unlock the value in investment land. This is evidenced by the fact that by far the significant majority of new retail space, new office space and new industrial space in cities like Port Elizabeth results not from the small private land owners transforming their properties to meet these needs, but results rather from the work of big capital acquiring land and (at great expense) changing its rights to accommodate significant new investment.
4. What can be done?
In South Africa, as in many other parts of the world, land use rights and building controls are entrenched at many levels of government. To remove or modify them will prove to be a very complicated task requiring significant resources and determination. But before there can be any hope of progress in this regard, the important work that needs to be done is to develop a comprehensive “cost benefit analysis” of the barrage of land use right and building controls that are current and applicable. This paper postulates the hypothesis that land use right restrictions and building controls in their current form serve to not only perpetuate wealth inequality in South Africa, but in fact aid in the increasing the gap between the rich and the poor.
5. Disruption
The economy of Port Elizabeth, South Africa and the world, has been characterised since its establishment by a series of “disruptions”. A disruption can best be described as an innovation that creates new markets and radical transforms and industry or even an entire economy. Seba, T. (2014). Perhaps the first major disruption the Port Elizabeth region experienced was the introduction of an agricultural economy introduced by Nguni speaking
people migrating slowly from the north along the east coast of Africa. Beef, dairy and crop growing technologies combined with a whole range of implements possible with iron smelting technology, completely overwhelmed the pre-existing hunter gatherer economic model. Mostert, N. (1992) Evidence suggests that hunter gatherer economy that had existed for tens of thousands of years was completely disrupted and replaced with in a relative “blink of an eye”. Since that disruption there have been continuous waves of disruption characterised by among others, shipping and navigation, gun powder, telecommunications (since the telegraph), railways, the internal combustion engine, Air transportation, the internet and smart phones. Disruptions are very difficult to predict. Taleb, N. N. (2007) This fact is true even for the most well-resourced corporations in the world including those corporations who are highly specialised in the sector of the economy in which the disruption is about to occur. In 1985 AT and T famously predicted that the US demand for mobile phones would be no more than 900 000 by 2000. The actual figure was in fact will over 100 million. Seba, T. (2014) Governments have an even worse record at anticipating disruptions than do corporations. When we return to our focus on land use rights, we see that in places like Port Elizabeth where we find that restrictions on land use rights, have the potential to significantly impair and slow a region’s ability to take up new demand that may emanate from a future disruption.
This is especially significant in economies, like South Africa, that are attempting to transform existing and entrenched patterns of wealth distribution. This is true because one of the few things that we do know about disruptions is that they generally tend to not favour those already entrenched in the sector or the economy. AT and T was not the major beneficiary of the disruption caused by mobile phones in the US, the existing taxi industry was not the major beneficiary of disruption caused by Uber and horse breeders were not the major beneficiary of the disruption caused by the steam engines.
Transformation in patterns of wealth distribution is of course complicated and all encompassing, but where transformation touches land use rights, it is clear that we need to act firstly to remove land use right restrictions that are standing in the way of current and future disruptions. Presenly, technologies like Air B and B are disrupting the short stay rental economy, but the Local Authority has on its books a “Guest House Policy” that would cause law abiding citizens to think twice before taking advantage of the sometimes significant revenue streams that would be accessed by making use of the simple, free disruptive technology.
Uber and its competitors have begun to disrupt the pattern of private motor vehicle ownership. One of the consequences is a dramatic reduction in demand for parking space at for example shopping centres or theatres. Henao, A. (2017) We know that government takes a long time to react. It takes a lot of effort to remove a regulation or a statute, the real fear therefore is that in spite of a disruption enabling a much greater percentage of the investment on each retail site being invested in retail space, that this will not happen very soon because of the length of time it takes for processes to pass through government. It is because of our poor track record in anticipating disruptions and governments poor record in in reacting quickly that we argue that the options under consideration must include the complete removal of land use right restrictions and building controls.
It is anticipated that there will be significant resistance and intransigence toward any campaigning for the removal of land use right restrictions and building controls. It is also anticipated that it will not be enough to popularise and analyse studies that point to the many success stories of cities with little or no planning.
A possible route to consider is that of the court system, where the attempt would be to show that land use right restrictions and building controls are an infringement on personal freedom that cannot be justified by any scientific evidence of harm that would be caused if this personal freedom were not infringed upon. While this route remains a possibility, what is required to precede such action, is a clear and defensible methodology to illustrate the beneficial economic impact of the removal or relaxation of land use restrictions and building controls. The route therefore proposed to test the hypothesis put forward in this paper, is the development of a computer model that is able to test the impact of relaxing or removing land use right restrictions and building
controls in the context of a functioning urban economy. It is proposed that we use data from the city of Port Elizabeth in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality to develop and test this model.
This type of modelling has been used with varying success for years to model demand for public and private transport. Sophisticated modelling packages have been able to test impact of various road building projects on trip times and other quantifiable measurable that enable policy makers and public executives to make decisions regarding the allocation of funds to public works projects. What we propose is the development of similar city wide modelling software that is able to deliver clear physical, spatial and economic measurables resulting from the manipulation of land use right restrictions. The economic measurables we propose though should include, overall economic impact, impact on job creation, impact on wealth creation, impact on wealth inequality. Because of the number of variable involved it is anticipated that the computing power required of a model of this nature would be significant. The timing of this proposed model may therefore be especially appropriate given the continued rapid grown in computing power with machines now rapidly nearing human intelligence in some complex fields and already outstripping human performance in a number of less complex tasks.
6. Conclusion
Understanding land use rights and their impact on the potential of land to express its full development potential, is a highly technical field. Many architects through years of practice and working up against these land use right restrictions have become acutely aware of the impact that these controls have. In South Africa there exists a group of professionals that call themselves “Town Planners”. These professionals, in the South African context, are experts in the processes involved in changing land use rights from one form into another. Due to the amount of time that Town Planners spend dealing with the technical aspects relating to land use rights, they are well placed to articulate themselves on the subject. The fact however that the town planning profession relies for its income on Land Use rights existing (in as complex a form as possible), makes it less likely that voices will emerge from this profession that will honestly and critically reflect on the negative impact that land use right controls may have on society.
This being the case, Architects, as a group of professionals seem the most likely group to take up the cause of activism in this regard. This paper therefore reaches out to Architects to criticise and guide the activism and research that may be triggered by ideas contained herein. Feedback from this paper will guide the next step to be taken either by the author of this paper or by other individuals that may emerge as a result of the discourse that flows from it.
References

 

Frescura, F. (1981). Rural shelter in Southern Africa. Ravan press,

Henao, A. (2017) “Impacts of Ridesourcing-Lyft and Uber-on Transportation Including VMT, Mode Replacement, Parking, and Travel Behavior.”

May, J, and Juby G. (1998) “Poverty and inequality in South Africa.” Indicator South Africa 15

Mostert, N. (1992) “Frontiers: the epic of South Africa’s creation and the tragedy of the Xhosa people.” Taleb, N. N. (2007). The Black Swan: The impact of the highly improbable (Vol. 2). Random house.
Piketty, T, and L. J. Ganser. (2014) “Capital in the twenty-first century.”

Rognlie, M. (2016) “Deciphering the fall and rise in the net capital share: accumulation or scarcity?.” Brookings papers on economic activity 2015.

Seba, T. (2014) “Clean disruption of energy and transportation.” Milton Keynes

More return in rural infrastructure

(This piece first appeared in The Herald on 23 January 2017)

I try at the beginning of each year, during my break from office life, to pull off at least one lasting “capital infrastructure” project at home or at the farm. I do this because I’ve seen that a change of work routine is much more refreshing to me than “vegging out” on the couch. For the last few years I have been focusing on farm projects rather than home projects. A few hundred metres of fence, replacing the rusted roof on the old cottage or installing solar panels for off grid electricity. I insist to be “hands on” with these projects, so I spend the time physically working, lifting, hauling and digging.

Fauna
Cattle can give us milk and meat from grass, but they need water and fences.

It’s a kind of a therapy I suppose. This year I spent time running the heavy duty electrical cables that bring the municipal electrical supply from the roadside to the cottage. You make ask, “What do you need and electrical supply for when your previous project was installing your solar panels for off grid power?” A good question; and one with a very unfortunate answer. The panels were stolen (twice in fact) causing me painful financial loss and even more painful self-flagellation for allowing this to happen. But I don’t want to talk about going off grid today; I don’t want to talk about crime today. I rather want to talk about what goes through my head as I haul cable, as I dig trenches or as I cool down under the tree by the dam.

I’ve spent a good part of my professional life working on capital projects that provide infrastructure to those of use trapped in poverty. I am really grateful that we live in a country where we are able to attempt to provide infrastructure that addresses basic needs.  I am grateful that our system is able to build RDP houses, roads, electrical supply and sanitation. I am glad that the less tangible “infrastructure” of birth registration, identity documents and title deeds is in place and working reasonably well.  My concern is that while this infrastructure makes the urban poor a little more comfortable (and maybe relieves the middle class of a little guilt) it does not make the poor any less poor. The infrastructure does not offer any real improvement of the prospects of the urban poor of entering the economy which doggedly continues to exclude them.

I know it’s completely different, but what I see in my holiday farm infrastructure projects, is that every little investment of time and cash dramatically increases my potential to support revenue generating projects. When I install fences, I am able to keep cattle that will give me beef and milk. When I install electricity, I can brood my day-old chicks that will become free-range drumsticks and chicken fillets. When I install pipes to pump water from the spring I can irrigate my Pecan Nut trees in the dry months and generate revenue from a nut harvest. When I spend time and cash on replacing the windows on doors on the derelict farmstall, I can generate revenue by selling, pecan pie with fresh cream, free-range eggs and chicken soup. What I have come to see is that investment in basic rural infrastructure has the ability to give a much greater “bang for the buck”, especially if we measure that “bang” in terms of its ability to continue to provide regular revenue. This is especially true if we consider that the infrastructure that is currently being provided for the urban poor has all kinds of revenue generating potential, if only it were installed in a rural location where it could unlock the ability to enter the agricultural economy, if even on a micro scale. I’m talking about giving individual title to well located, small acreages with basic water supply, basic fencing and electricity. Just the essentials to allow people that would otherwise be stuck in poverty to at very least provide some of their own food, but with very little extra effort be able to produce a modest surplus. It’s not rocket science, especially when we live in a confusing reality where millions of us are unemployed yet millions of us eat chicken everyday imported from the Brazil and the USA. Perhaps it’s time that we get out of the mind-set where we believe that the only route out of poverty is 12 years of formal schooling and a 4 year degree. The truth is that many “unemployable” urban dwellers actually possess motivation and skillset that can be geared into real income and wellbeing in a reimagined agricultural economy on the periphery of our towns and cities. Let’s give thought to providing infrastructure in locations where our people can be productive in the agricultural economy. We must give this thought because our metro and every other municipality in our province includes much more rural land than urban land. We must give this more thought because our democratic process  is skewed  in such a way as to allow urban dwellers to direct public spending, through the IDP process, to the urban areas where they currently live and effectively away from any future possible improved rural existence perhaps just 10 or 20 km  away. We must give this thought because it is foolish delusion to think the city is separate from its rural hinterland, or that “they” are not separate from” us”, or that you are separate from me.

THC 20170118

Drop the Mindless Controls

(This piece first appeared in The Herald on 14 August 2015)
I took a drive out to the countryside this morning. The rolling green pasture and forest  to the west of Port Elizabeth is an incredibly beautiful an peaceful place and today I had good reason to drive out this way, rather than through Walmer, to my office in Central.  You see, as I write this, Walmer is completely closed down by large groups of angry people disrupting traffic with burning barricades. To make matters worse, thieves and thugs are taking advantage of the opportunity to carry out smash and grab attacks on motorists stuck in the traffic jam.  It’s not pretty.
Photo: Litha Hewitt-Coleman

My drive out toward Colleen Glen takes me past the Georgiou Hotel. Some of you may have seen it. It’s a sprawling , gaudy complex along Kragga Kamma road. You can’t miss it with its vulgar fleet of white stretch limos parked outside enticing the aspirational classes to indulge in some expensive massage or just generally pretend to be The Kardashians for a few hours. No I don’t really like kitsch and pretentious places that much. They are not to my taste. But the fact is that the Georgiou’s, whom I have not yet met, have gotten off their backsides and invested big money in the region. They have created jobs. They are attracting visitors to our city and generally contributing to the economy. Those of you have been following the story of the Georgious (front page of The Herald on 13 August 2015) would know though that our “system” has just ordered this massive investment demolished.

I am not able to find fault with the judge who ruled in this matter. I am not able to find fault with the municipal officials or with the neighbours who may or may not have objected. All of the individuals who have worked to crush this initiative have just been “doing their job”. All of these people have been working within the framework of the legislation laid down by our constitutional empowered and democratically elected parliament. But I do find fault with the system that we have designed that is fully capable of standing in the way of ordinary citizens creating jobs and building the economy with their own money on their own land.
It is clear to me that the angry people who have today shut down Walmer are angry and frustrated because “the system” is not working for them. The sad truth is that the economy does not value them highly enough to employ them gainfully. Yes, the angry residents of Gqebera will express specific grievances against the housing delivery process or against the lack of free electricity, but these are the details that obscure the sad reality that these angry people are too poor to look after themselves.
I am not arguing for a second that we will solve all our cities problems by allowing the Georgious to continue running their controversial Hotel, but I am very concerned that a minefield of mindless land use controls are stifling billions of rands worth of property development.  I am not arguing that, by removing these, we will create the kind of economy that will absorb the poor and desperate of Walmer Township. In fact, I don’t know of what plethora of mindless controls may be destroying jobs and slowing the economy in other industries.  But I do know about property and I do know about land and I can tell you right now that our legislators have it in their power to make all the changes needed to unblock this part of our struggling economy. Will it be a complicated knot for our legislators to unravel? Absolutely! But we are living in a country where the super duper complicated knot of Apartheid was undone. Our leaders in 1994 had a strong, unwavering political will do undo that knot. In fact the political will to disband the Scorpions after the 2007 Polokwane conference was so strong and unwavering that it took only a matter of months for legislators to draft and approve legislation that very quickly made the Scorpions an curious relic of our democracy’s short history.
But please, let’s not descend into political or ideological debate about this matter. I am not arguing against the system we currently have that defends the poor from the homelessness, hunger and disease that results from poverty. I am saying that the state must do its bit. My appeal rather is that, at the highest levels of leadership in this country, we need to prioritise the removal of any and all unnecessary controls and restrictions on economic activity. Sure, we need to have laws that ensure that the environment (including people in it) is protected from harm. But that’s it! Any other control on the economy is a luxury we just can afford right now. Any other control on the economy is an insult to the poor and desperate people of Walmer Township and others trapped in poverty across the length and breadth of this beautiful country.

Who will champion PE’s ICC?

(this piece first appeared my regularish column in the The Herald on 9 September 2014)
I was fortunate to, last month, spend a week in Durban. I was one of four thousand five hundred delegates from around the world that attended the 25th World Architecture Congress. It really was a great event with great speakers, great exhibitions and great and inspiring debates in the corridors and coffee bars that make conferences like these worthwhile.  Yes, my mind was on the papers and presentations, but maybe, even more than this my mind was on the city of Durban and the International Convention Centre, where this fantastic event was being hosted.
As I was shuttled from the distant airport or as I booked into my beachfront hotel or enjoyed a steak for supper, I was asking myself: “What does Durban offer the conference goer that Port Elizabeth does not?”  I was asking myself “What gave the people of Durban the confidence to build the International Convention Centre, where we in Port Elizabeth have failed to build ours?”
Because many of us remember how, before the World Cup came around, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality was all set to build our own International Convention Centre on our own beachfront. All the studies had been done by the world’s leading thinkers on these matters and showed that there is probably no other investment our city could make that could attract such a significant amount of new visitors to our region as an International Convention Centre. And not just any old visitors, but big spending business people, who, wherever they go around the world, seem to burn money before, during and after the conference on hotel accommodation, restaurant meals shopping and touring. The amount of new jobs, new opportunities, new rates and new taxes that was predicted would have been generated by this project is actually quite staggering.
It is all so sad therefore, that at the precise moment when our city seemed poised to push the big “GO” button on our own very own ICC, that  Sepp Blatter announced to the world in 2006 that South Africa would be hosting the Fifa 2010 World Cup. From that day on everyone went crazy. Any plan, any idea, any vision and any project that did not, in some way, support the World Cup was shelved and forgotten. So with the passage of time, people now forget that the plan for our ICC was not shelved because it was a bad idea,it was shelved because the World Cup got in the way.
Back to the streets of Durban and my Hotel on the beachfront. Yes, Durban’s beachfront is nice, but not nearly as nice as Port Elizabeth’s. The Durban beachfront is actually decidedly down market and positively shabby. It seems that the whole “upmarket” part of what was the beachfront has upped and moved off to the North Coast, to Umhlanga, to Belito and to Salt Rock. I don t know the places that well, but I do know that PE’s beachfront still contains its upmarket restaurants, hotels and apartments. It does this gracefully, while still accommodating ordinary people that are unable to spend large amounts of money. PE has cleaner beaches, our sand has a better colour and the skies are crisper. Port Elizabeth has a better beachfront. Fullstop!
In the evenings after the lectures, exhibitions and talks, my wife and I would visit Durban’s Florida Street. It’s a restaurant zone about 10 minutes taxi drive from the ICC. It’s nice, with a good range of restaurants, bars, antique shops and art galleries. To be honest though, our own Stanley Street is better. Stanley Street offers a wider range and has a much better “street vibe” and is distinct by being nestled in a uniquely preserved heritage precinct that is Central and Richmond Hill.
So, I come to ask myself : “What it is that is standing in the way of Port Elizabeth becoming a world class conference destination?” We really do have an offer that can out-compete Durban.  We have all the key ingredients to make ourselves into a conference city, that can be better than Durban and, importantly, we have the rare opportunity to locate an ICC on the beachfront. Imagine being able to step out of the conference and see the waves, smell the sea and check out the talent along a public promenade back to your beachfront hotel or your fancy restaurant. Colleagues, our city has it all. All except an International Convention Centre. Yes, I know our friends at the Boardwalk Casino have tried to convince us that what they have built at their new hotel is the same thing. While we must all understand that the casino bosses were well motivated to convince that gaming board that what they were building would save the city from building an ICC, the truth is that their conference venue is nice and it’s better than what they had before, but just does not do the trick. It just does not have the scale required to attract the kind of conferences envisaged by the city prior to 2006.
But all is not gloomy, because we are very fortunate to have in our city many very highly paid and skilled public leaders. They can be found in our Development Corporations, Development Agencies, National Departments, Provincial Departments and Municipal Directorates. (Remember, an ICC is a public investment, requiring taxpayer’s money.) So my challenge to the clever and powerful people of this city is: Which one of these individuals in these powerful institutions will step up to the plate?
This project needs a champion.
Who will it be?

The Crisis in South African Cities within the context of the entrenched dysfunctional relationship between Urbanists in the Public, Private and Academic Sectors

(This Paper was first presented on 5 August 2014 at the International Union of Architects – World Congress in Durban. – It was presented at the “Parallel Academic Sessions” after a lengthy process of abstract approvals and double blind reviews.)

Close to half of South Africans now live in towns and cities. There is no evidence of the slowing of this trend. The 2011 Census shows us that rural provinces like the Eastern Cape have a declining population while urban centres like Gauteng show massive growth in population at rates very difficult to plan or develop for.
The growth pressure on South African cities in the last 20 years has of course been the engine driving change in the country, because where there is growth there is a drive for transformation. This has necessitated a profound “re-visioning “and re-imagining of what were old colonial and apartheid cities. This urbanization pressure has created the perfect opportunity for change. Nowhere else on the globe since the rebuilding of Europe after World War 2 has there been a need for urban spatial transformation as here, in post-apartheid South Africa.  There are great obstacles to change including our limited resources, our old paradigms and our vested interests. Not surprisingly the process of spatial and physical transformation has been a flawed process.  No matter how you look at the current reality in South African cities, twenty years into democracy, all can still, without exception, be described using the terms “Town” and “Township”. (Those of you from outside the country are reminded of Apartheid spatial planning’s dictate that black residents be located outside of “town” in dormitory “townships”.)

All of our cities are currently characterised by:
• Inner City areas facing decline, degradation, increased vacancies and deflated rentals.
• Middle class suburbs remain crime affected and under siege from roaming criminal gangs.
• Government subsidised housing is very poorly located, very poorly serviced and of very poor quality.
• A lack of spatial integration (denying, particularly the poor and new urban immigrant’s access to critical urban resources and the urban economy).
In spite good policy documents, South African cities have continued to become massive sprawling, polluting, fossil fuel dependent, urban regions that experience high levels of crime because of shortcomings in the urban economy and the weak social infra-structure. These cities are in many ways monuments to inefficiency, social dislocation and environmental degradation.
To this day, our cities remain memorials to apartheid’s most visible and viscous social engineering projects; divided between rich and poor, black and white and well serviced and poorly serviced. But what is perhaps worse, is that far from turning around this inherited pattern, the forces acting on our model of development since 1994 have rather perpetuated and reinforced the failed pattern.
As we speak, this pattern is playing itself out in the city that has been home to my family and to my architectural career. The Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan area will, in the coming months see massive new sprawling developments beyond Motherwell to the east and outside Sherwood to the west of the metro. The process is now well underway to obtain approval for a new R6 Billion “mixed residential” development beyond Motherwell, along the road to Addo and construction has already commenced on massive new regional shopping centre to the west along the N2.
Curiously this crisis in South African Cities continues at a time when there are skills and resources available in the public, private and academic sectors to address these challenges and in fact to transform our cities into vibrant models of  balance, harmony and sustainability.
It is therefore the position of this paper that the most significant obstacle to meaningful urban transformation in South Africa lies not in a shortage of academic “know how”, not in a shortage on public sector investment, not in a shortage of private sector mobilisation but rather in the entrenched dysfunctional relationship between these three sectors.
Each of these sectors operates increasingly as a “silo”, separate from each other with no mechanisms available for true collaboration. The public sector has become driven by a number of imperatives that require it to “procure” the “services” offered by the private sector in a standardised mechanism designed to “procure” other “goods and services”. The obvious fact that public and private sectors can best serve the urban crisis by contributing the best from their ranks to collaborate in providing, vision, leadership and direction is of no concern to the faceless authors of our public sector’s “supply chain management” procedure. The unavoidable nett result of this strategy is a contested, completely unproductive standoff between the public sector “urban silo” and the private sector “urban silo”.  No vision emerges from this standoff; no leadership emerges from this standoff.  Only “safe”, “compliant”, “cost effective” implementation.
In a similar way urbanists in the “academic silo” come under increasing pressure to focus not on the South African urban crisis, but rather on “purer” academic pursuits. A youngster with a Phd that deals with some arcane branch of architectural theory is much more likely to assume a professorship in Architecture than a practitioner with 20 years’ experience in city building. This trend seems unstoppable with a momentum developed from very high up in the South Africa’s higher education community.  Architects who teach are now actively discouraged from participating in private practice. Those from private practice, who give of their time to the university and share their experience generally, do so as volunteers. Academics offering to serve the public sector are treated the same as their private sector counterparts, as a commodity to be bought through a “procurement system” with the same resultant frustration.
While in architectural practices everywhere we find that the energies of the brightest minds are committed to pure commercial pursuits. Top Architects, in top firms dedicate a disproportionate amount of their time on bids, tenders and RFP’s. When the projects are moving, architects at the top of their game commit most of their valuable time and energy in “managing risk”, resolving conflict and ensuring cash flow. Very little time here for reading, studying, engaging or developing the perspective that we know is required to see the bigger urban picture.
In this way the silos grow more and more isolated and positions within them become more and more entrenched. Urbanists of otherwise impeccable credentials begin to withdraw into cynicism and isolation. Great ideas are shelved. Big visions parked. Energy diverted.
Is there any solution? Is there any alternative to these dysfunctional relationships? Is there any way out of this urban crisis? Of course there is. These challenges were made by people like you and I and they can be overcome by people like you and I.

In light of the above, we put it to this conference that the following are now accepted as “common cause” by the three “sectors”; academic, public sector and private.
• Firstly, progress in addressing the crisis in South African cities is significantly dependent on the effective collaboration between “Urbanists” located in the public, private and academic sectors.
• Secondly, effective collaboration is substantially obstructed by current public “Supply Chain Management” procedures.
• Thirdly, effective collaboration is significantly obstructed by current Higher Education human resource management practices.
• Fourthly, the burden of Research and Development required to address the Urban Crisis is not shared in any helpful way by the Architects located in the private sector.
If the above can be taken as consensus, then this paper then makes the following propositions which it calls on the conference to debate:
Proposition Number 1
This paper argues that Architects in private practice have a meaningful role to play in developing vision and solutions to many of the challenges that face our rapidly growing cities. It is further argued that practicing architects are, as a by-product of their professional practice, daily exposed to up to date, complex data that informs and frames the questions and challenges that make up the urban crisis.
The limiting challenge however is that a formalised structure to support and facilitate the assimilation, processing and sharing of this data does not exist to the same extent as this exists in South Africa’s Universities. Universities all have a long established, structured set of incentives that promote research and debate.
Architects in South Africa are organised, primarily though the South African Institute of Architects. A number of programmes are run by this voluntary association to ensure the “Continuing Professional Development” of its members. In its turn, the regulating authority, South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP) determines what is deemed to be an adequate amount of “Continuing Professional Development” in any given 5 year cycle. Within this environment, very little emphasis is placed on ensuring that research outputs of the profession are captured in any meaningful way.
The proposition put forward in this paper is therefore that:
The South African Institute of Architects is best placed of all institutions to formulate a systematic research process that captures the collective wisdom emanating from the work of practicing architects in the rebuilding of South Africa’s cities and that it will be failing in its mandate toward “Architects and Architecture” if it does not develop programmes to address this challenge.
Proposition Number 2
This paper points to the uncontested fact that University Architecture departments through the country have displayed a “drift” away from professional emphasis toward a greater academic emphasis. This is evidenced by the growing proportion of junior and senior teaching staff at Architecture departments with little or no professional exposure or credibility. This weakness arises from the fact that Architecture departments are located within universities where they experience significant pressure to conform to “uniform standards” which align the seniority of teaching posts with equivalent academic achievement. There exists no framework at any South African University to equate professional achievement with appropriate post-graduate qualifications meaningful to selection panels considering applications for teaching posts in Architecture departments around the country. While the South African Council for the Architectural Profession is mandated to accredit schools of architecture, no part of its directives to schools of architecture include the need for teaching staff to have has any contact or exposure to the profession of architecture.
The proposition therefore put forward in the paper is that:
The South African Institute of Architects is best placed to ensure that The South African Council for the Architectural Profession, develops expands its guidelines for the accreditation schools of Architecture to include minimum levels of professional experience for various categories of teaching positions.
Proposition no 3
While some architectural services procured by the public sector are of a routine and basic nature, others call for the Architect to provide significant leadership and vision. No evidence or research has been presented by the public sector at any conference or in any publication to suggest that leadership and vision can best be obtained from private sector architects using the current supply chain mechanisms uniformly adopted by Local, Provincial and National government departments. In fact, the documented evidence of Architects failing to provide adequate leadership in public sector projects grows as procurement process dictated by National Treasury become more uniformly employed.
This “supply chain” practice continues in spite of a number of workable examples where leadership and vision is procured by the public sector using free, fair and transparent processes. These examples include the long list of Director’s General, Municipal Managers, Chief Financial Officers and CEO’s of development agencies who are all procured in interview and shortlisting procedures without the need to submit a competitive financial offer.
The proposition therefore put forward in the paper is that:
There is no institution better placed than the South African Institute of Architects to commit to a comprehensive research project to test the hypothesis put forward in this paper that:
“Current South African public sector supply chain management processes, do not match the best Architectural skill and talent with the tasks that most require these skill and talents.”

Conclusion
This paper calls on this conference to debate the above three propositions with a view to accepting, rejecting or refining the position. The intention is then that this paper, in its refined form, becomes a call to action for South African Institute of Architects, to step into a leadership position in the task of ensuring that the energies of South Africa’s architects are best directed to the growing Urban Challenge facing this country and this continent

Look after what we have got.

(I wrote this Column for the 9 April 2014 edition of Port Elizabeth’s daily newspaper, “THE HERALD”)
It was a windy, wet Wednesday. The sound of the angry sea crashing over the rocks was not even audible over the noise of the lone excavator as it crushed and smashed the last remains of what was the Seaview Hotel. Like a deranged beast, like an angry elephant, swinging left and right with its devastating mechanical trunk. The once gracious and manicured Minhetti was no more.
My son sat in the car, dry from the rain, as I stood by the gate, by the sign “Dangerous – Demolition in Progress”. I was not sad nor sentimental, not angry nor frustrated. I did not really even like the Seaview Hotel all that much the once or twice that I had been there. But I was filled with and uneasiness that stirred somewhere deep inside my innards. Over the course of my short life I have not yet been able to figure out what these deep feelings of uneasiness mean, or even whether they are of any significance. I have learned though, that it is normally I sign that I should step back and ponder. So here I sit, this morning, pondering over a fine Cappuccino in an average mall café.
I ponder over how we commit large amounts of energy into showing how frustrated “we” are that “they” demolished “our” hotel, or made potholes in “our” roads. Or how “they” built Greenacres, killing “our” beloved, historical Main Street. We know that it is too late, but still we commit the energy to raise our voice. Like the English complaining about the weather. Is this not a form of insanity? (Knowing nothing can come of our whinging, yet whinging anyhow!) But then I ask myself: ”If it is too late to save the Seaview Hotel, then what is it not too late for?”
I am sure each and every one of us has a best building or favourite neighbourhood, about which we are sentimental. But not each of us has a newspaper column in which to talk about it!
I do.
So, without any shame, I tell you: “Now is the time to take action to save Central, Port Elizabeth.” Framed by Govan Mbeki Avenue, the Baakens Valley, Rink Street and Russell Road, Central is home to the most extraordinary collection of rich and poor, young and old, sinner and saint. All framed in beautiful avenues, delightful squares, quaint lanes and irreplaceable buildings. How long will those of us that find meaning in Central wait before we find the energy to stand up, make a noise and take action? Will we wait for the last heritage cottage to be burned by damp and freezing vagrants? Will we wait for the last antique shop to flee to Walmer? Will we wait for the last coffee shop to tire of hastily hosing vagrant urine of its veranda every morning before the first customers arrive? Will we wait for the last office dweller to driven to Newton Park by the grime, dirt and continuous harassment by street people, drug dealers and petty thieves? When the last housewife, loses her last child in the hip high grass in any number of once perfect parks and playgrounds? Will it be after the bulldozers come, to clear the land, to flatten the monuments? Will it be then that we say “But how could “they” do this to “us”? How can “they” rob “us” of this enduring example of how city living can be tolerable, bearable and even enriching. How can “they” rob “us” of this model of authentic living that was our only contribution to the country’s emerging thinking on the future of the city?
I am sorry my friends, but I must offer to you that we are all delusional. Sadly we have come under the spell of a compelling lie, a myth that there exists such a thing as an “us” and a “them”. We can understand why the politically powerful may find it useful to perpetuate this myth, but it serves no purpose when we are needing to get things done. Right now, the thing that I am motivating, needs to get done, is that we save Central. If you are with me, then let us agree on one action we can take right now, as you put down this newspaper. Go find out more about the excellent initiative underway right now to establish a Special Rating Area (SRA) for Central (basically you pay a bit more rates to get better cleansing, security maintenance etc.)  It’s a “no brainer. SRA’s have been set up all over South Africa and the world.  Jo’burg’s got them. Richmond Hill has just set up an SRA, proving it can be done in our region.
If you do not live, work or invest in Central, all is not lost. Make a point of having a coffee in Parliament Street once a week. Make a point of buying an antique in Lawrence Street once a month, make a point of taking your kids to the Donkin Reserve once a term, make a point on attending a church service once a year in any one of the most beautiful Gothic revival churches. The point I make is, that our energy can be much better spent by expending it before the demolition than after the demolition.
Now that you are clear about what needs to be done: get out and do it! (Please)

How green is your building?

 People often make vague references to how “green’ their building is. The Green Building Council of South Africa has a very comprehensive system of “star ratings” which definitively rate a building’s greenness. You may want to pressurize your employers to make sure their premises are green, We have worked through the Green Building Council’s thick manual and come up with this short list of questions you can ask your boss about the building in which you work:
Management
Is there a building users guide explaining all aspects of how the building is best used to achieve green objectives? If not, when will there be one available?
Has an a air tightness test been carried out showing leakage rate of less than 15 cub m/hr/sqm at relative pressure of 50 Pa?
Indoor Environmental Quality
Is 95% (or more) of the usable area is naturally ventilated in accordance with SANS 10400-O (minimum 5% openable area)?
Are external views are available to 60% (or more)  of the usable area, by direct line of sight?
Does 60% or more of the usable area have a Daylight Factor of not less than 2% at desk height level under a uniform design sky?
Energy
Does the building comply with SANS 204: 2008 (Energy Efficiency in Buildings)?
Transport
Is there reliable public transport within 1000 m?
Are any four of the following within 400 m of public entrance of building:
·         bank/atm
·         convenience store/ supermarket
·         medical facilities
·         post office
·         restaurant
·         Gym
·         Library
·         School.
Does your building accommodate cyclists with showers and bicycle racks?
Water
Are 50% (or more) of the toilets in the building flushed with harvested rainwater?
Is 50% of more of landscape irrigation achieved with harvested rain water?