B.1 International imperatives

Since 2015, member states of the United Nations have been expected to frame their agendas and political policies for a period of 15 years according to “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Commonly referred to as the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, it is a “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”.14 Many of the goals are relevant to human settlements, but Goal 11 deals specifically with sustainable cities and communities: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”15

At the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) held in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016, a document known as the New Urban Agenda was adopted. The purpose of this agenda is to guide national and local policies on the growth and development of cities up to 2036. It shares “…a vision of cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements to foster prosperity and quality of life for all”.16


In The New Urban Agenda17, human settlements are envisaged that:

  • Fulfil their social function, including the social and ecological function of land, with a view to progressively achieving the full realization of the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, without discrimination, universal access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation, as well as equal access for all to public goods and quality services in areas such as food security and nutrition, health, education, infrastructure, mobility and transportation, energy, air quality and livelihoods;
  • Are participatory, promote civic engagement, engender a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants, prioritize safe, inclusive, accessible, green and quality public spaces that are friendly for families, enhance social and intergenerational interactions, cultural expressions and political participation, as appropriate, and foster social cohesion, inclusion and safety in peaceful and pluralistic societies, where the needs of all inhabitants are met, recognizing the specific needs of those in vulnerable situations;
  • Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by ensuring women’sfullandeffectiveparticipation and equal rights in all fields and in leadership at all levels of decision making, by ensuring decent work and equal pay for equal work, or work of equal value, for all women and by preventing and eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces;
  • Meet the challenges and opportunities of present and future sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, leveraging urbanization for structural transformation, high productivity, value-added activities and resource efficiency, harnessing local economies and taking note of the contribution of the informal economy while supporting a sustainable transition to the formal economy;
  • Fulfil their territorial functions across administrative boundaries and act as hubs and drivers for balanced, sustainable and integrated urban and territorial development at all levels;
  • Promote age- and gender-responsive planning and investment for sustainable, safe and accessible urban mobility for all and resource-efficient transport systems for passengers and freight, effectively linking people, places, goods, services and economic opportunities;
  • Adopt and implement disaster risk reduction and management, reduce vulnerability, build resilience and responsiveness to natural and human-made hazards and foster mitigation of and adaptation to climate change;
  • Protect, conserve, restore and promote their ecosystems, water, natural habitats and biodiversity, minimize their environmental impact and change to sustainable consumption and production patterns.


From an African perspective, a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent was developed by the African Union Commission. “Agenda 2063 – The Africa we want” outlines a number of aspirations. It includes an Africa where “[c]ities and other settlements are hubs of cultural and economic activities, with modernized infrastructure, and people have access to affordable and decent housing including housing finance together with all the basic necessities of life such as, water, sanitation, energy, public transport and ICT”.18

These international goals and agendas inform the actions taken to improve South African human settlements and complement the aims and objectives as described in the next section.


B.2 South African settlements – the policy environment

Various policies, strategies, frameworks, plans and other documents highlight the principles to be applied when developing human settlements and describe a range of qualities and characteristics that cities, towns and neighbourhoods should strive to display. Collectively, they describe various aims and objectives to be achieved and define a vision for human settlements in South Africa.

Key elements of selected documents are briefly highlighted below.

(i) National Development Plan 2030: Our Future – Make it Work

The National Development Plan 2030 (NDP) provides a long-term vision for the country and defines a desired destination, specifically aiming to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. In Chapter 8 it explicitly addresses the transformation of human settlements and the national space economy. The NDP foresees that planning will be “…guided by a set of normative principles to create spaces that are liveable, equitable, sustainable, resilient and efficient, and support economic opportunities and social cohesion”.19 It also expects there to be meaningful and measurable progress in creating more functionally integrated, balanced and vibrant urban settlements by 2030.20 It proposes a strategy that would “…address the apartheid geography and create the conditions for more humane – and environmentally sustainable – living and working environments”.21


“All new developments should enhance the ideal of creating vibrant, diverse, safe and valued places.”22

The NDP supports and promotes a range of actions and objectives, including densification, informal settlement upgrading on suitably located land, improving transport, inner-city regeneration and neighbourhood safety. It encourages the design of cities and towns for long-term resilience and flexibility, and gives attention to citizen vulnerability and safety in response to economic uncertainties and climate change.


The following overarching principles for spatial development are identified in the NDP:23

  • Spatial justice. The historic policy of confining particular groups to limited space, as in ghettoisation and segregation, and the unfair allocation of public resources between areas, must be reversed to ensure that the needs of the poor are addressed first rather than last.
  • Spatial sustainability. Sustainable patterns of consumption and production should be supported, and ways of living promoted that do not damage the natural environment.
  • Spatial resilience. Vulnerability to environmental degradation, resource scarcity and climatic shocks must be reduced. Ecological systems should be protected and replenished.
  • Spatial quality. The aesthetic and functional features of housing and the built environment need to be improved to create liveable, vibrant and valued places that allow for access and inclusion of people with disabilities.
  • Spatial efficiency. Productive activity and jobs should be supported, and burdens on business minimised. Efficient commuting patterns and circulation of goods and services should be encouraged, with regulatory procedures that do not impose unnecessary costs on development.


(ii) Integrated Urban Development Framework

The Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) is the South African government’s policy framework that intends to guide the future growth and management of urban areas. Its purpose is to steer urban growth towards a sustainable growth model of compact, connected and coordinated cities and towns so as to achieve the intended outcome of spatial transformation.

The IUDF aims to create a shared understanding across government and society regarding the creation of inclusive, resilient, resource-efficient and liveable urban settlements, given the unique conditions and challenges facing South Africa’s cities and towns.


“Prosperous and liveable cities are urban spaces where citizens feel safe from violence and crime, and can take full advantage of the economic, social and cultural opportunities offered by cities.”24

The IUDF discusses nine policy levers that should contribute to the restructuring of urban space and effect the transformation of human settlements. These levers are summarised below.25

  • Integrated urban planning and management
    Cities and towns that are well planned and efficient, and so capture the benefits of productivity and growth, invest in integrated social and economic development, and reduce pollution and carbon emissions, resulting in a sustainable quality of life for all citizens.
  • Integrated transport and mobility
    Cities and towns where goods and services are transported efficiently, and where people can walk, cycle and use different transport modes to access economic opportunities, education institutions, health facilities and places of recreation.
  • Integrated sustainable human settlements
    Cities and towns that are liveable, integrated and multi-functional, in which all settlements are well connected to essential and social services, as well as to areas of work opportunities.
  • Integrated urban infrastructure
    Cities and towns that have transitioned from traditional approaches to resource-efficient infrastructure systems that provide for both universal access and more inclusive economic growth.
  • Efficient land governance and management
    Cities and towns that grow through investments in land and property, and that provide income for municipalities, which allows for further investments in infrastructure and services, and results in inclusive, multi-functional urban spaces.
  • Inclusive economic development
    Cities and towns that are dynamic and efficient, foster entrepreneurialism and innovation, sustain livelihoods, enable inclusive economic growth, and generate the tax base needed to sustain and expand public services and amenities.
  • Empowered active communities
    Cities and towns that are stable, safe, just and tolerant, and that respect and embrace diversity, equality of opportunity and participation of all people, including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups and persons.
  • Effective urban governance
    Cities and towns that have the necessary institutional, fiscal and planning capabilities to manage multiple urban stakeholders and intergovernmental relations, in order to build inclusive, resilient and liveable urban spaces.


  • Sustainable finances
    Cities and towns that are supported by a fiscal framework that acknowledges the developmental potential and pressures of urban spaces, that manage their finances effectively and efficiently, and that are able to access the necessary resources and partnerships for inclusive urban growth.

The nine policy levers are supported by, and must be read in conjunction with, the following cross-cutting issues:

Rural-urban interdependency - recognising the need for a more comprehensive, integrated approach to urban development that responds to both the urban and the rural environments.

Urban resilience - disaster risk reduction and mitigation interventions in the planning and management of urban areas.

Urban safety - an essential ingredient for creating liveable and prosperous cities, particularly safety in public spaces.


A vision for urban areas according to the IUDF26

Liveable, safe, resource-efficient cities and towns that are socially integrated, economically inclusive and globally competitive, where residents actively participate in urban life.

Strategic goals outlined in the IUDF27

The following four strategic goals contribute to achieving the transformative vision of restructured urban spaces and compact, connected cities and towns:

  • Spatial integration – To forge new spatial forms in settlement, transport, social and economic areas.
  • Inclusion and access – To ensure people have access to social and economic services, opportunities and choice.
  • Growth – To harness urban dynamism for inclusive, sustainable economic growth and development.
  • Governance – To enhance the capacity of the state and its citizens to work together to achieve spatial and social integration.

(iii) Comprehensive Plan for the Development of Sustainable Human Settlements

The Comprehensive Plan for the Development of Sustainable Human Settlements, also known as Breaking New Ground (BNG), promotes a move away from a “…commoditised focus of housing delivery toward more responsive mechanisms which addresses the multi-dimensional needs of sustainable human settlements”.28 It advocates that, rather than focusing on the provision of basic shelter, more efficient and sustainable human settlements should be developed. It encourages higher densities, mixed land use, the integration of land use and public transport planning and a more compact urban form to support the creation of more diverse and responsive environments and reduced travelling distances.

BNG envisions that present and future inhabitants of human settlements should “…live in a safe and secure environment and have adequate access to economic opportunities, a mix of safe and secure housing and tenure types, reliable and affordable basic services, educational, entertainment and cultural activities and health, welfare and police services”.29



“Sustainable human settlements refer to well-managed entities in which economic growth and social development are in balance with the carrying capacity of the natural systems on which they depend for their existence and result in sustainable development, wealth creation, poverty alleviation and equity."30

(iv) National Climate Change Response White Paper

The National Climate Change Response White Paper outlines South Africa’s commitment to making a fair contribution to stabilising global greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere and to protecting the country and its people from the impacts of inevitable climate change.


The National Climate Change Response White Paper “…presents the vision for an effective climate change response and the long-term transition to a climate-resilient, equitable and internationally competitive lowercarbon economy and society – a vision premised on Government’s commitment to sustainable development and a better life for all”.31

Section 5 of the White Paper32 outlines responses to climate change challenges linked to specific sectors, including the human settlements sector. Proposed responses include the following:

  • Investigate how to leverage opportunities presented by urban densification to build climate-resilient urban infrastructure and promote behavioural change as part of urban planning and growth management.
  • In the implementation of low-cost housing, ensure access to affordable lower-carbon public transport systems, incorporate thermal efficiency into designs and use climate-resilient technologies.
  • Encourage and develop water sensitive urban design to capture water in the urban landscape and to minimise pollution, erosion and disturbance.
  • Ensure that land use zoning regulations are enforced and that urban land use planning considers the impacts of climate change and the need to sustain ecosystem services when considering settlements and infrastructure development proposals.


B.3 A vision for South African settlements

In the discussions so far, a range of key principles, aims and objectives were identified that are intended to guide the development of human settlements in South Africa. Various qualities have also emerged that need to characterise cities and towns to improve the living environments for all residents and create the transformed settlement landscape envisioned for the country. Against this background, the following could be regarded as a vision for human settlements:

Sustainable human settlements are liveable, vibrant, diverse, resilient and valued; they are socially integrated, economically inclusive places where residents feel safe and in which economic growth and social development are in balance with the carrying capacity of the natural systems on which they depend for their existence.


It is important to recognise that the country has many types of cities and towns, with different roles and requirements, and therefore the vision has to be interpreted in response to the context and pursued in a differentiated and locally relevant way.33


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The Neighbourhood Planning and Design Guide
Creating Sustainable Human Settlements

Developed by
Department of Human Settlements

Published by the South African Government
ISBN: 978-0-6399283-2-6
© 2019