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Featured on the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, International, as part of Local Governments for Sustainability best practice case studies page.
Population: 3.2 million
Johannesburg key demographic facts:
Black Africans represent 73 percent of the population, followed by Whites at 16 percent.
22 percent of the population live in ‘informal’ dwellings.
37 percent of the population are unemployed, of which 91 percent are black.
24 percent of the residents are infected with HIV virus.
“A natural environment in which the remaining biodiversity, ecosystems and natural open space are conserved and sustainably utilised for recreation and scientific research, while scarce natural resources such as water and topsoil are more efficiently used, with increasing reliance on renewable resources....A built environment…with buildings and open spaces which are…designed using ecological principles (e.g. energy efficiency)...A human environment in which people’s work and residential environment is safe and healthy, the air and water is clean, noise is not invasive...”
Johannesburg is an African city in change. Apartheid may be over, but the disparities that existed during South Africa’s exiled years, do still exist. Estimates suggest that somewhere between 35 and 40 percent of Joburgers still live in poverty. It is no irony that the world’s largest gathering of leaders and sustainable development experts since the 1992 Rio Summit on Sustainable Development, was held in Johannesburg in 2002.
Realising the enormity of the challenge facing the residents of Johannesburg, the city authorities developed a strategy to accelerate its transition to a sustainable city. A crucial tenet of this strategy incorporated the principles of sustainable development: growth without environmental destruction - whilst also promoting the development of local capacity. Addressing the practical aspects of climate change was also a critical aspect of the strategy.
Key environmental challenges facing the city included:
Coal and wood burning in the informal dwelling areas is thought to account for 70 percent of air pollution
Industrial emissions raise levels of pollutants to 250 times the recommended level of in some areas of the city, particularly industrial regions
Vehicle emissions usage is growing substantially, on average 16.5% per year
Poor air quality poses an increasing threat to health, with an increasing number of residents suffering from respiratory diseases, this being further exacerbated by poor levels of immunity and lowered resistance to disease due to HIV etc.
There are also less visible impacts, such as the increasing of
an urban heat island effect, acid deposition and chemical corrosion of structures
Waste collection is inadequate and 12 landfills release methane
Most of the major waterways are heavily polluted, many with deadly bacteria such as E. coli.
The city authorities recognised that these issues were being driven by underlying trends such as poverty, urban growth and uncontrolled/regulated expansion of industry and transport.
In partnership with EcoCity Trust and in response to worldwide encouragement for city councils to adopt Local Agenda 21 (a key output of the Rio Summit) the Johannesburg EcoCity initiative was born.
Initiated in 1999 in the Midrand/Ivory Park region, 25 miles north of the central business district of Johannesburg, the region in many ways represented a microcosm of the Johannesburg conurbation - over 80 percent of the residents lived in informal dwellings, over 40 percent whom lacked access to basic services (including water, electricity, sanitation and waste). With the integration of Midrand into the City of Johannesburg in 2001, the scheme was quickly adopted as a city wide initiative.
The EcoCity initiative is based on the principles of poverty eradication through self reliance, capacity building, public participation and green transformation.
The beginning of the process saw the development of a State of the Environment Report (SoER) for the Midrand region, outlining the current and future environmental problems of the area, should the current development patterns prevail. Critically, from the beginning, residents were involved in defining objectives and strategies. Through community workshops, residents agreed common principles and initiatives. The community decided that the best way to drive the change was through small local businesses.
Community business cooperatives were established to create employment opportunities, contribute to sustainable development and support the Johannesburg EcoCity initiative. Examples of cooperatives included organic farming, water management, youth initiatives, green energy and energy conservation and recycling initiatives. Although on first appearance it would seem these initiatives were series of isolated sustainable development projects, they were in fact integrated into a far larger strategy.
The challenge however, was the mainstreaming of this pilot initiative across the city.
In Midrand, some notable successes, albeit small scale, have been achieved:
An eco-village has been constructed in an area dominated by informal housing. The houses were built using reclaimed bricks, and equipped with solar panels.
A project encouraging various energy efficiency measures in houses in the area was established, including insulating buildings, low energy light bulbs and solar water heaters.
The recycling buy back centre has created 50 jobs and reduced waste going to landfill
Organic farmers have stabilised a flood plain and rehabilitated wetland
A bicycle cooperative has provided 1200 bikes to school children and 200 to commuters.
Plans were also in the pipe line to build a zero energy community centre for residents.
All projects, in one way or another contribute to social or environmental progress, as well as economic development. It is integration of these projects however, into a longer term sustainable development strategy that is most impressive. Take for example, the eco-village. These issues need not have entered the planning discussions, but they did, and in many ways, this provides a positive indicator of the degree to which communities can, and possibly will in the future, accept sustainable development principles.
The challenge however, is to extend these principles across the city, into new developments and in the form of newly formed cooperatives dealing with local issues.
Critical to the future success of EcoCity is the involvement of local government in the process, providing financial stability. A local approach must also be taken in participation, as well as respecting local institutional arrangements.
So, whilst some of the major environmental issues of the city may not have been entirely eradicated, and Johannesburg may still be a city divided, small scale examples of what can be achieved gives hope to the future ambitions of the EcoCity initiative on a city wide scale. Addressing issues such as climate change and poverty need not require full scale revolution, even evolution on a grass roots level will take the city one step closer to its vision.
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© Article 13 - 2005