Building for the Future in South Africa’s Cities: City futures: certainty vs uncertainty: so what for now?

In a speech in Cape Town in June 1966, Robert Kennedy said: “There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”

The pace of change is accelerating. As the WEF Global Risks Report 2018 points out, the complex risks in the interconnected system that underpin our world are straining these systems and testing the absorptive capacity of institutions, communities and individuals.

Being prepared requires involves looking into the future, hence the many strategic plans, from national policies such as the National Development Plan (2030), to City Development Strategies, and international commitments like the Paris Climate Agreement (2050) and the African Union Agenda 2063, all aiming to help us get to a desired future state.

Infrastructure is a bridge to the future, physically and metaphorically. It must serve present and future needs with different timeframes: from the short-term horizons of financiers and developers in search of intervention and investment opportunities, current and future users, to the long-term horizons of the planners and engineers tasked creating and maintaining the infrastructure over the course of its working life.

Using scarce public resources to build infrastructure that becomes unfit for purpose over the passage of time is wrong. But knowing what future needs will be is simultaneously impossible to say with certainty. So how can we future proof our cities and avoid creating stranded infrastructure assets? We cannot postpone decisions and have to work with what is available.

This dialogue will begin with a panel discussion of future-thinkers and pragmatic actors who will set the scene by presenting the infrastructure challenge and opportunities in uncertain futures for South African cities.

As always, the Dialogue’s goal is to use shared information and facilitated discussion to achieve: an improved climate for policy and decision-making; strengthened cooperation within the infrastructure sector; and specifically, ideas that participants may be able to take forward or apply through their respective areas of responsibility and influence.

“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security” John Allen Paulos

The Infrastructure Dialogues are hosted jointly by the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the South African Cities Network, the National Business Initiative, the Planning Monitoring and Evaluation Department in the Presidency, and the Department of Economic Development, with the Engineering News as Media Sponsor. This will be the 46th Dialogue held since 2009.

15 February 2018, DBSA 13h30 for 14hoo

To view the full report from the dialogue, click here:20180215 ID_46th SA Future Cities_final

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