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Good city governance and good planning is about preparedness: preparing the city and its citizens to deal with the future better.

This is not easy; we cannot predict the future however hard we try.

There are signposts, though. We can learn from the past and the efforts of others.

Often used examples of cities that have succeeded in the recent past are Curatiba, Barcelona and Bogota.

These cities have a can-do attitude, their success breeds more success, they have become respected. They do not overcome all their challenges, but through their success, they certainly prepare their citizens better for whatever the future may bring.

Droves of politicians and officials from Cape Town have visited these cities over a number of years, with the majority of visits made by transport officials.

But have our representatives learned anything? Did they see the right thing? What do these cities do differently?

The cities that succeed today are those where both human and financial resources are managed with discipline over time, often by successive governments, to support an agreed plan and linked programmes and projects.

Their mayors have strong visions of a desired future and lead the planning process. They are also competent persuaders, sweeping in the contributions of the private sector and the different parts of the community. They persuade local and international resources to focus on the plan.

Planning in these cities has tended to have a strong focus on the needs of ordinary citizens and an understanding of the important role that public facilities play in development. Government takes on the role of providing public infrastructure, services and facilities and strives to do so in a manner that grows opportunities for the private sector.

The ingredients of success are therefore: an agreed plan focused on the future, in which the city gears first its own resources and later those of others towards the plan; passionate leadership who drive the plan relentlessly; and a bias to the needs of ordinary citizens.

Cape Town, in its history, has never had a coherent development plan and strategy of the kind described above.

Ironically, the closest the city got to this kind of planning was the concerted implementation of spatial and social separation of people under apartheid. Despite the devastating and lasting impact of apartheid policies, the truth is that these policies were relentlessly driven, across sectors, over a period of time. In relation to the aims of apartheid, it's planning and management framework was successful.

Perhaps the reason that Cape Town has failed to learn from these successful cities is the shattering impact of apartheid planning. The way it dispossessed people, both of their assets and the opportunity to engage with the city.

Strong planning was not necessarily wrong, what was wrong was the scant regard for the needs of ordinary citizens.

It could also be that our visits to these cities have been focused too specifically on particular aspects rather than their approach to planning as a whole. In other words, we have looked at their achievements within a specific sector and tried to emulate their success locally while failing to realise that these were achieved within a bigger context of integrated planning and resource allocation.

In the 1980s and 90s, planners in Cape Town (under the leadership of Peter de Tolly and including Amanda Younge, Jane Prinsloo and the late Kim van Deventer) campaigned strongly for integrated planning in Cape Town. The argument was for one city, with one plan. This was in contrast to different services within the Council each having their own plan or the Council and organisations and businesses in the city each following their own agenda.

Much of this work found its way into discussion groups, policy documents and new legislation of the democratic transition. It is now a legal requirement that all municipalities frame an Integrated Development Plan (IDP), indicating how and where they will allocate resources to manage their jurisdictions to ensure human development, growth and sustainability.

Despite the leading role that some city officials played in formulating the legislation, the city has failed dismally to strategically plan for the future.

Year after year, and under different political dispensations, the City's IDP has essentially remained a folder of independently framed sector documents, reflecting different positions within the organisation. These are then packaged under catch-all vision statements and themes. Actual resource allocation largely reflects past budget allocations, increased somewhat each year rather than a strategic approach to what is needed.

Within this context, the frustration of citizens has deepened and the need for politicians to show that change is occurring has grown. The common response -practiced by the various political parties who have been in control at different points - has been the introduction of Mayoral or lead projects.

Every year or two, a new lead project is found. Following the formation of the Unicity in 2000, under the DA coalition with the New National Party, it was the municipal police, the extension to the Civic Centre and the "SAP" computer system. There was also a bid to complete the Foreshore Freeways. After the mid-term ANC take-over, it became the N2 Gateway housing project. Now it is World Cup 2010, or more specifically Cape Town's 2010 stadium.

Not all of these projects are without merit, and some success has been achieved. Yet, they fail to overcome critical challenges. Why is this so?

Firstly, a single project - unless it fundamentally affects the lives of all - cannot transform the city. The needs of the city vary too much.

Secondly, and related, is that as these projects are the only show in town, they become the focus of a vast array of (legitimate) expectations. They become overburdened and are strangled. When failure looms, the project is dropped and a new one is chosen.

We stumble along, entangled in a hit-parade culture.

What can be done?

Firstly, the city needs a plan or strategy.

To succeed, this strategy needs to recognise that any settlement has at least four different investment needs. It has to provide in the basic needs of citizens; it has to maintain its assets and functions; it has to provide for crisis and disaster and fix past mistakes; and it has to invest productively, making the city better for the future.

Successful cities deal with all four of these investment needs at the same time. This makes for balanced development, allowing for both individual and public needs to be met and for the mistakes of the past to be fixed while preparing for the future.

The proportion of resources to be allocated to each dimension need to be determined through policy, informed, in turn, by an understanding of city and citizen needs. City needs are critical. Unlike citizen needs, city needs relate to the collective needs of the city, and often includes things that are not politically popular. Major infrastructure maintenance - the kind of service that is not very visible or takes time to manifest if neglected - is a prime example.

With these principles guiding the way that resources are allocated, each of the city's functional departments should develop a programme of service delivery, integrated with each other. These programmes should always consider opportunities for private and community sector participation. For example, if one department builds a hall, it would make sense to place it near the transport interchange facilitated by another, and ensure that those responsible for maintenance explore community sector management arrangements for the hall at the same time.

Secondly, the strategy needs to take space seriously. In Cape Town's case, enabling the provision of basic needs, fixing mistakes of the past and making the city more productive, go hand in hand with space. The majority of citizens and the poor specifically remain trapped in space, spending inordinate amounts of time and money to travel to opportunity.

The City's work on a new spatial plan for the City, Planning for Future Cape Town: An Argument for the Long-term Spatial Development of Cape Town illustrates how these challenges can be tackled head-on. It also boldly shows how the private sector can join in restructuring the city. The idea to move the airport in future to Atlantis will create huge potential for private sector led investment into the current airport site, while also assisting development in Atlantis. So do ideas to connect Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain to the sea, and to develop the disused Athlone Power Station into a centre of cultural activity.

Thirdly, external resources need to be built around the strategy. There is no way in which the Council can fund citizen needs even if it doubles rates. It needs a plan that creates alternative income streams, and every initiative needs to show opportunity for external investment and growth. Again, the work on a new spatial plan shows what is possible but it needs to be developed into more than a spatial plan. Other sectors need to contribute to it so that it all hangs together as an "integrated" plan.

Finally, we need leadership to "live" a plan, a plan which inspires, a plan which unites, a plan which takes seriously preparing Cape Town for the future. This means sticking to the plan, and campaigning for both local and international resources to make it happen.

Stephen Boshoff, an urban planner, is a senior consultant at Organisation Development Africa and previous Executive Director of Strategy and Development at the City of Cape Town
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