African Cities are not declared dead!

Aamena Desai is a senior urban designer in Arup's Cities team in Johannesburg. We chat about key African projects Arup is involved in, how Covid-19 is impacting projects and clients, lessons from African cities from international projects, technologies that will move cities forward, rapid urbanisation, her worst Covid-19 nightmare, African cities' biggest challenge, positive outlooks and her vision for future cities.

Key Takeaways

Key African projects Arup is involved in

  • Help cities improve urban resilience in the long term with the effects of Climate Change and especially now in short term with shock and uncertainty of Covid-19.
  • Focus on addressing new factors like public health and economic resilience.
  • Rapidly urbanising regions, especially in East Africa.
  • How cities can peruse inclusive development where basic services of cities don’t exist.

Is this the end of rapid urbanisation?

  • Perhaps for the short term. Major drivers of urbabisation is still there: people seeking opportunities, the difficulties of rural life, lifting out of poverty and moving into consumption patterns.

Covid-19 impact on projects and clients

  • Uncertainty from clients and a reluctance to invest in new projects or accelerate current projects in conventional sectors.
  • Private clients on adaptive reuse: Some clients are looking at how to use existing assets in different ways.
  • Public clients are broadening the idea of resilience.

Lessons from international projects

  • Cities across the world are responding in creative ways. African cities are in a good position as we have faced many uncertain events in the past.
  • We can learn from the experiences of other cities by drawing form innovation using technologies and data to improve city service delivery and quality of life.

Technologies that will move cities forward

  • Data collection can assist city planning in the future to create adaptive and resilient cities to these shocks. The ability to collect accurate data and draw out lesson for urban planning and design.
  • Opportunities for novel tech solutions e.g freight transport to reduce points of human contact. Tech can also improve public health & safety.
  • Arup Asia office developed an App used in airports to initially measure footfall, it has now been coupled with thermal image scanning. This reduces the need for a staff member to take passenger temperature.
  • Opportunities exist on using existing technologies in new ways.

Aamena’s vision for future cities.

  • Cities must work on and find innovative expressions of city density.
  • Find ways to design interventions, tools and mechanisms to improve access to open space and improve ventilation that in turn can improve public health.

Biggest challenge for African cities

  • African cities must find more innovative ways of ‘city making’ that responds to accelerated urbanisation.
  • Technology and the digital economy can play a big role.

Positive outlooks for future city stakeholders

  • Before we declare that cities are dead, let’s take a step back and look at how we can improve sustainability over the long term instead of making short term decisions. Stakeholders can reduce risk by phasing projects differently and applying adaptive design principals can secure projects that they’ve invested in.

About Aamena and Arup
Aamena is a senior urban designer in Arup’s Cities team in Johannesburg.  She grew up in Durban and studied and worked in design studios in Cape Town, before joining Arup in 2015.  She has worked on multi-disciplinary Arup projects across Africa, centered on improving urban quality of life in developing world cities. She completed her Masters in Urban Design from the University of Cape Town in 2014, and graduated in Architecture in 2006, from UKZN.
Aamena’s work has evolved from technical design in its early stages to include, more strategic planning, research focusing on the future of cities, and urban design strategies, that consider the spatial, economic, governance, and institutional structures of cities towards delivering impactful and implementable urban infrastructure projects.

Arup’s first office opened in South Africa in 1954 by Jack Zunz and Michael Lewis. Since then, we have continued to showcase our expertise in design, planning, and execution in the built environment across Africa; whilst upholding our commitment to developing sustainable communities. Our African Cities research ties in with on-the-ground urbanisation projects, enabling us to offer total design solutions. These include integrated building design, transport, and logistics planning; large infrastructure; property solutions; and energy strategies.

Our South African teams work closely with other Arup teams worldwide, giving clients access to the full range of our global skills and experience. We deliver global knowledge, locally.

Johannesburg

Shaping the city: Since Arup opened its Johannesburg office doors in 1954, our consulting engineering teams have shaped the iconic Jo’burg skyline with projects like the Telkom Tower. We’ve contributed to the growth of our region through our conceptual design, master planning and project management of large buildings, infrastructure, and transport projects.

Innovative design: We remain at the forefront of innovation, using the latest software and technology such as virtual reality coordination on Twinsaver’s state of the art manufacturing plant. Our market-leading parametric capability enabled projects like the twisting PwC Tower and the geometrically intricate façade of The MARC in Sandton.

Trusted advisor: Our teams have been instrumental in developing policies that provide the framework for property development around public transport interchanges including the Tshwane precinct and becoming the Independent Certifier for Gautrain, South Africa's first rapid rail system.”

Web: https://www.arup.com/offices/south-africa/johannesburg

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