Last week I spent a week in South Africa with the intent of digging deeper into demographic changes in South Africa. It was an amazing and eclectic visit to say the least. It involved a mix of former ANC activists, stunning mountain tops, and some delicious food I perhaps should not have eaten. Chris Luebkeman the director of our Foresight & Innovation group at Arup London led the Drivers of Change workshop with the Department of Transport and Public Works in Cape Town. Chris seemed curious but doubtful that our DHL shipment of all the Drivers of Change card sets would arrive in time for the workshop.
Later on that afternoon, after the no-show of our cards, Yasir, the chief director of the Transport Dept., introduced Chris, and then Chris launched into the Drivers of Change presentation. It was interesting to see what key issues came up during the course of the afternoon. I joined the STEEP group working on “social” drivers of change. Social exclusion and poverty/unemployment took up the top two spots as key drivers of change in South Africa.
That evening Yasir, the chief director at the Dept. of Transport took us out for dinner at a local Italian eatery on the waterfront. Chris and I were beat but held it together for the enjoyable dinner.
I had two meetings scheduled. One with the University of Cape Town’s professor of urban planning Vanessa Watson, and the second with former advocate and consultant Mirjam Van Donk. The first meeting was at UCT, where Vanessa Watson walked me through some of the challenges South Africa is facing in terms of urban planning. There is most definitely an ongoing tension between modernization and the push to urbanization and traditional African culture. We discussed the prevalence of mobility in African culture and how formalized housing did not work as a result of that, because it did not take into consideration the ebb and flow between urban and rural areas. Building for South African’s African many black cultures needs to incorporate informal characteristics within the larger formal plan. We moved onto the proliferation of mobile phones, a quite “modern” technology, but part of why it has taken off is because of its support of the social network that black Africans strongly embrace.
Mirjam picked me up on campus and we headed to the Cecil Rhodes Memorial overlooking a wonderful view of the city. Over lunch we discussed Mirjam’s thesis on the need for a broader conceptualization of HIV/Aids in Sub-Saharan Africa. I told her about the previous day’s workshop results, and Mirjam delved a little further into the work that she has done and is currently doing. The theme of implementable ideas came up a second time. It seems that a lot of time has been spent on analysis and that people now want action. This is usually a good sign. I think. Mirjam promised to send me some more documents and then dropped me off at the local Arup office.
Sitting at my temporary desk in the Arup office I couldn’t help but wonder at the amazing view of the mountains. It is absolutely stunning.