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Built Environment (Lessons from the Pandemic Series)

Kayla Hanna Brown is Project Manager for Built Environment at South African Cities Network. We explore the impacts of the pandemic on the built environment, how different Cities responded, fast tracking spatial transformation, technology and innovation, and main lessons taken from 2020.

Discussion highlights

This episode is brought to you in partnership with South African Cities Network.
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Reflection on the state of cities report of 2016

  • Evidence suggests things have largely stayed the same (at best).
  • Exciting advances and progressive policies, plans, frameworks, and legislation.
  • Integrated Urban Development framework.
  • SPLUMA (Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act).
  • BEPPs (Built Environment Performance Plans).
  • The above instruments are meant to direct planning in a targeted and strategic fashion to reconfigure the spatial inequalities of the past.
  • Implementation is a key factor. This requires a capable state.

What the pandemic has meant for City practitioners in the built environment

  • A difficult time for practitioners working in a highly complex environment with an often unforgiving institutional culture.
  • The focus has been on the emotional well-being of practitioners, Kayla explains: [Listen at 04:40]
  • Exciting to see how quickly action can take place, there have been many ‘wins ‘for the government.

What the pandemic brought to the fore

  • Built environment highlighted and exposed gaps in our society.
  • Built environment determines how safe one can be during a pandemic.
  • Pandemic has shown the stark inequalities in society, Kayla explains: [Listen at 07:20]
  • We cannot keep waiting for a crisis top respond to the very basic rights that people have.

De-densification and the implications on the spatial agenda of densification

  • Kayla explains densification vs overcrowding and the current state in South Africa [Listen at 08:50]

How to fast track spatial transformation

  • It’s about reconfiguring the very essence of a city, a mammoth task.
  • Requires leadership, participation from every government department, every sphere in government working together, and every sector in society.

Technology and innovation in the built environment sector

  • Technology cannot solve all our problems but people can. We need to get the basics right.
  • Kayla mentions GovChat, a technology enterprise that facilitates engagement between citisens and their elected officials.
  • We need to bridge the digital divide now more than ever. Kayla explains: [Listen at 12:50]

How different Cities responded to the built environment crises

  • The most interesting cases are in the provision of homeless shelters.
  • Tshwane and eThekwini showcased holistic approaches.
  • International cases of pedestrianisation (e.g. central Paris).

Immediate market impacts and shifts experienced from 2020

  • When the pandemic hit people said cities will become obsolete. We can see that is not the case.
  • We are moving to hybrid typologies.
  • We might see inner-city spaces become more dynamic and vibrant.
  • There will be implications for transport.
  • We might see centers at the neighborhood scale, like the ‘15 minute city’ concept.
  • Smaller cities and towns can experience growth.

How can trust in physical spaces be regained?

  • We haven’t lost our trust and in many ways there is more trust. Kayla explains: [Listen at 19:00].

Main lessons taken from 2020

  • We’ve shown it is possible to change and that cities can respond, despite being complex and often slow to react.
  • More than ever we are operating in an extremely constrained financial context.
  • The government cannot do everything, we need an all of society approach.
  • We need to understand what partnership means.
  • As the government, we should ask how best we can enable others. To do that we need to listen.
  • We need to stop for a moment, to breathe, to reflect because we cannot respond with immediate reactions in a common state of crisis.

About the Future Cities Africa and South African Cities Network Partnership

2020 has fundamentally changed the context in which South African municipalities govern and provide services. Future Cities Africa has partnered with South African Cities Network on a series of 4 episodes that look at how cities have fared during the pandemic and what fundamental lessons have been learned.  We cover: Economic recovery, Climate Change, Governance & Municipal Finance, and Built Environment.

Ask about partnering with us?

About Kayla Hanna Brown

“I am an architect by training with a Masters in Architecture from the University of Cape Town. I am also a Chevening Scholar and studied an MSc at University College London in Building and Urban Design in Development. I have work experience in architectural design, lecturing, community participation, stakeholder management, research and urban design.

My interest in architecture and urban research is rooted in a South African post-apartheid context and identifies the need for the radical transformation of our urban environment. I am currently working as a project manager for the South African Cities Network where I conduct research into the issues and dynamics affecting municipalities and their goals of achieving built environment integration.”

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About The South African Cities Network (SACN)
The South African Cities Network (SACN) is an established network of South African cities and partners that encourages the exchange of information, experience and best practices on urban development and city management. Since 2002 the SACN’s objectives are to:

  • Promote good governance and management in South African cities
  • Analyse strategic challenges facing South African cities
  • Collect, collate, analyse, assess, disseminate and apply the experience of large city government in a South African context
  • Encourage shared learning partnerships among spheres of government in order to enhance good governance of South African cities.


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