How do you feel when you walk down the street where you live? Inspired? Welcomed? Safe? Or perhaps you feel gloomy and anxious? Maybe you haven’t even really thought about this. What about your business areas, schools, parks or pieces of open land?
It’s simple, really. The places where we live, work and socialise with our friends have the power to shape our lives. They affect us in more ways than we realise. They influence our mental health, our relationships, our safety, the success of our businesses – and even our ability to envision a brighter future.
The good news is that these places not only have the power to shape us. We, on the other hand, have the power to shape those places.
Local voices, local ownership
To build thriving places in a way that means they will still be thriving in a year, five years or ten years from now, we have to include the people who make use of those spaces in reimagining them. And why wouldn’t one? The more voices that make themselves heard, the greater the likelihood that the actions we take to shape those places for the better truly represent community needs.
As part of the unfolding Nedbank Proud of my Town (PoMT) programme, Ranyaka (an urban planning social enterprise) is hosting a series of Reimagine events in the communities that form part of PoMT. The purpose is to encourage local community members and stakeholders to reimagine the places they call home.
The first three Reimagine events took place in Umlazi township in Durban in November 2021. Over 470 participants made their voices heard at the Umlazi events, two of which were held at MegaCity Mall and the third, at the Mangosuthu University of Technology. The next set of Reimagine days took place in Mamelodi township, Tshwane in February 2022, where 128 community members shared their ideas on co-creating a thriving Mamelodi.
“It’s about so much more than an information gathering exercise. We firmly believe that the active participation of community members and local stakeholders will help us to improve the planning of projects, encourage innovation, grow networks, communicate the importance of local ownership, invite local investment and promote a sense of local pride and cohesion,” says urban planner and Ranyaka team member, Johan Olivier.
At these Reimagine events, the public and local stakeholders were invited to visit the interactive pop-up exhibitions where each ‘station’ poses a question and participants had the opportunity to get creative in sharing their ideas.
Each Reimagine event focuses on a very specific area within that community and a map of the area forms part of the display. Questions include, for example:
How does this area make you feel?
I’d enjoy being here more if…
Show us how you would reimagine this street
How do we make a change?
How can you make a difference?
Participants who are already working to transform their communities and would like to strengthen their networks or individuals looking to become involved, have the opportunity to sign up as ‘Changemakers’. Whether a community member is interested in entrepreneurship, Early Childhood Development, sport, art, culture, stronger schools, food gardens, community safety or other elements of building a thriving place, there is an opportunity for all to get involved and play their part.
At the same time, local businesses and potential investors have the opportunity to indicate their particular area of interest and get involved in the Proud of my Town programme in their communities.
The people have spoken
Whilst public responses vary, certain issues and themes emerge strongly across the board.
Some of the major challenges highlighted by Mamelodi residents include:
Road infrastructure: 35% of the comments centred around the poor condition of public roads. Many roads have been destroyed by sidewalk car washes and heavy rain, making the roads virtually impossible to use on a daily basis.
Safety: About 60% of participants raised concerns about safety in the community. Several participants expressed a need for more visible policing. Respondents indicated that there has been an increase in house burglaries and mugging due to the growing incidence of drug use (users who steal to enable them to buy drugs).
Access to information: Young participants indicated that they need more place where they can access information on opportunities that exist within Tshwane.
The three main themes identified by participants at the event held at MegaCity Mall are:
Safety: Some 57% of the survey respondents identified safety as the highest issue that needs to be addressed in the community. Community members proposed ideas such as additional street lights, lighting in passageways and more police patrols in the evenings.
Infrastructure: 48% of the respondents would like to see the development of more infrastructure in the community. This includes youth recreational centres, improved clinics as well as hospitals, sport facilities, parks, entertainment areas, rehabilitation facilities, markets, housing, libraries, schools, entrepreneurship hubs and roads.
Employment opportunities: The need for job opportunities for young people has been identified as one of the key issues that can make Umlazi a better place. 28% respondents highlighted that employment opportunities could help to reduce crime through reducing unemployment and ‘taking young people off the streets’.
Active citizenry extends well beyond raising your voice. To transform our communities, we need all hands on deck. For this reason, the PoMT initiative not only activates communities, but also supports great citizen-led initiatives that are already in place. Participants at the Reimagine events held in Mamelodi and Umlazi had the opportunity to indicate which programmes within the PoMT model interest them the most and how they would like to get involved.
Here are the results at a glance:
Mamelodi: Main areas of interest
Mamelodi: How would respondents like to get involved?
Umlazi: Main areas of interest
Umlazi: How would respondents like to get involved?
The feedback from Reimagine events is taken into consideration in the planning of projects in the PoMT communities. Local stakeholders form an integral part of the planning process.
If you live in Mamelodi, Umlazi or any of the other towns that form part of the Proud of my Town network, please join the local Proud of my Town Facebook group for regular updates on the programme in your community. Find your community here and click on your community name to access the link to the local Facebook page.
For more information about Proud of my Town in general, visit www.ranyaka.co.za/proud-of-my-town
“The activity of community design is based on the principle that the environment works better if the people affected by its changes are actively involved in its creation and management instead of being treated as passive consumers.”
– Henry Sanoff in Community Participation Methods in Design and Planning
Umlazi and Mamelodi are two of a total of 21 communities across South Africa where Ranyaka is implementing the Nedbank Proud of my Town (PoMT) initiative. Public participation and the intentional inclusion of ideas from the community members who live and work in these towns is, and always has been, key to the PoMT model. The approach aligns with international best practice guidelines for sustainable community transformation, active citizenry and asset-based community development. For more information, email email@example.com for programmes relating to Mamelodi or firstname.lastname@example.org for programmes relating to Umlazi.
Images: Geoff Redman & Londi Msimang