One of the defining characteristics of public spaces in South Africa is that they are, or are perceived to be, unsafe. In the most recent National Victims of Crime Survey, more than a third (nearly 37%) of respondents reported that they are prevented from going to open spaces or parks due to fear of crime. Street robbery was reported to be the third most feared crime in the country, after burglary and house robbery.
Yet, it is widely acknowledged that quality public spaces have enormous value in any urban environment, providing a diverse range of social, economic, environmental and health benefits for residents. In South African cities, public spaces should also enable interaction of people from various social and cultural backgrounds. As the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) puts it, “these spaces should be seen as shared centres of community life and generators of social inclusion and cohesion.”
The IUDF draws attention to multiple shortcomings that contribute to many public spaces in the country being perceived as crime hotpots: poor planning, design and management, neglect in terms of maintenance, and inadequate enforcement of by-laws. Typically, in the face of so many other competing needs and pressures, investment in public spaces, both in terms of quantity and quality, tends to be neglected or at least underestimated. In consequence, public spaces end up becoming unsafe, empty places that do not create benefits for urban residents, but fear, because they attract criminals and criminal behaviour. In that way, they cannot realise the core objectives of the urban agenda.
This Infrastructure Dialogue looks at how public spaces in South Africa can be made safer and more inclusive, in order to realise their full value. In particular, it will explore questions of the appropriate balance needed between different types of interventions – relating to the provision, design and maintenance of infrastructure in public spaces, to effective, integrated management and coordination of service provision, to security-focused responses, including the role technology and surveillance can or should play, to social activation measures as part of place-making initiatives. The Dialogue will not only discuss the “how” or “what can be done” but also the necessary intergovernmental approaches for future work. It is critical for activities entailed in the creation of safer spaces to go hand in hand with the requisite intergovernmental and cross-departmental relations. At the local level, the mainstreaming of safety thinking within, e.g. planning, road safety and precinct management functions is critical. At the national level, how to structure partnerships with municipalities, towards integrated, preventive and public participatory approaches in place making, is an important consideration.
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 41st Dialogue held since 2009.