Blog Archives - MCA Planners

Leading Change: Delivering the New Urban Agenda

“Leading Change: Delivering the New Urban Agenda through Urban and Territorial Planning” is a companion to the International Guidelines on Urban and Territorial Planning.

The first paragraph of Chapter 1 (No time to lose) sums up the intent and focus:

“Traditional urban planning has to change, and change quickly. Cities and human settlements are being refashioned by economic and demographic growth, migration, climatic risks, disruptive technologies and social fragmentation. Aspiration and opportunity are intertwined with destitution and disaster in a world that is interconnected as never before.  Governments globally now acknowledge the need for action. A set of International Guidelines on Urban Territorial Planning (IG-UTP) have been created by UN-Habitat. This book explains the implications of those guidelines for four stakeholder groups: national governments, local authorities, planning professionals and their associations, and civil society organisations (CSOs) and their associations. It challenges each of these groups to rethink their assumptions and practices, because the facts about urbanisation and UTP have changed.”

MCA assisted SALGA in the development and design of “Leading Change” and supported Christine Platt and a team of international and South African authors.  For SALGA, this was  fulfillment of their commitment to support UN HABITAT in providing a framework for the implementation of the New Urban Agenda. The Department of Human Settlements made the publication and launch at the WUF possible.  In line with this, the book was launched at the World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur on 12th February 2018.

You can download the book in PDF format here Leading Change Web Version 01022018

How to strengthen your implementation strategy

There is a common complaint in South Africa, “We are great at planning, policy and legislation, but poor on implementation”.  I’m not sure this is true. If we develop plans, policies and legislation that cannot be implemented, then does this not make it a poor plan or policy?

In any event, our constitutional democracy has created three independent spheres of government – national, provincial and local. These all have areas of exclusive competence (direct mandates) as well as some instances of shared competencies (shared or overlapping mandates). “Building a Capable State”, by Ian Palmer, Sue Parnell and Nishendra Moodley provides a historical perspective on how and why our constitution emerged at it did. It is worth a read.

This system, for all its benefits, has also created a huge challenge when it comes aligning planning, budgeting and implementation. The reason for this is that sector functions (such as water, energy and transport) are split across the three spheres of government (and in some instances various state owned companies and other entities). This split is designed to fit with mandates, but in reality makes it extremely difficult to ensure aligned and targeted action within any one sector.

Understanding which spheres or entities are responsible for which parts of a sector or system is crucial when developing implementation strategies (and indeed for any planning or policy). To help chart and unpack this, and in the interests of strengthening planning, MCA (thanks to work undertaken by Rebecca Cameron) has started developing institutional maps for key sectors. These are available in the attached PDF (Insitutions and Stakeholders).

We invite you to download and share these (but please do reference the source). These are a work in progress, so if you come across aspects which are incorrect, have changed or otherwise need clarity, please let us know by sending at email to

Taking the time to build trust and relationships as a critical part of the planning process

While technical skill and evidenced-based decision making are crucial to all planning work, the perceived soft skills of listening and relationship building are essential elements of a successful outcome. In my experience these skills are not acknowledged nor valued highly enough, and neither is the time needed for them built into budgets and methodology in a meaningful way. While public participation is usually factored in with a few workshops, this is never enough, and it serves more to tick off a requirement rather than to explore real issues and concerns in a manner that results in trusted relationships and buy-in by the stakeholders. And, even with a perfectly logical, innovative plan, if the stakeholders don’t buy in, nothing will be implemented successfully. From my experience, here are eight tips for building trust:

  1.  Really listen to what you are being told. Be open to the possibilities of where the conversation might lead to.
  2. Make space for all members of a group to have a chance to talk, otherwise the loudest person in the group will dominate and direct the conversation. Often this means scheduling individual interviews with people so that they can talk privately with you or your team. Once they have had this opportunity, they often return to the group with a more confident voice.
  3. Remember that while people may seem to be in agreement, sometimes the implications of the project on the ground haven’t been fully explored, so you may believe you have buy-in but it doesn’t actually exist.
  4. You can’t rush things. Allow people time to digest ideas and come back to you when they are ready. Don’t impose unrealistic deadlines just because you have a strict schedule. Of course deadlines are important, but make sure they are realistic.
  5. Manage expectations by being honest about what is possible.
  6. Realise that you may need to explain something in a number of ways over a matter of days or weeks. Even if you think you are very clear, what you are trying to convey might not be clear to everyone in the room.
  7. You might by unaware of personal relationships and feelings between stakeholders that are getting in the way of the process. Once stakeholders feel confident in the relationship with you, they may begin to start talking honestly about what is concerning them. This may relate to historical relationships or family grievances. You just don’t know, so refer to point 1 and listen.
  8. Communicate with the stakeholders. Keep them in the loop by letting them know where you are in the process and what is happening. They are the ones who have to live with the outcome of the project, so give them the information that they need to make important decisions.

Planning & Development in KwaZulu-Natal

The Legacy of the Provincial Planning Commission

At the end of 2010 the KwaZulu-Natal Planning and Development Commission’s term of office ended.

To highlight the work of the Commission from the 1950s to 2010, the Commission put together a book, and asked MCA to do a literature review of the research done during this period. We then wrote a chapter on the planning, research and development covered by the period which provided an overview of the research themes and approaches.

With hindsight, it is interesting to see the shifting research focuses, from an interest in managing natural resources during the years 1953-1985; to a time period from 1986-1995 that was more focused on social change, urbanization and new approaches to planning; and to a third period from 1996- 2008 which included research on new approached to planning as well as topics such as HIV/Aids and gender issues.

Urban View: Artist’s Eye on the City

People are drawn to city living because of the incredible creativity that happens when people with diverse backgrounds and interests end up living and working together. One such creative force is Cape Town-based ceramic artist Andile Dyalvane, who is known for creating pieces based on the traditional meat platters and milk pails of his Eastern Cape childhood; he uses scarification as a linear design element, and his work connects him to his rural roots. Now, however, he lives in Cape Town and works in a vast, light-filled studio in Woodstock with views across the city to Table Bay. While still working with traditional forms, his inspiration increasingly comes from the urban environment that he sees every day – the cranes in the docks, the buildings lining Albert Road, and pedestrians as they go about their daily business. These urban scenes are finding their way into his work, and he draws cityscapes, architectural silhouettes and human scenes. Andile is working on an exhibition later in the year, so look out for his ‘View from the Studio’ collection for an inspired glimpse of Woodstock’s city spirit.;; 021 447 2627; 073 505 7147.

Connecting to Nature

We always feel restored and rejuvenated after spending time in nature; and we believe that good city planning has to incorporate and support natural systems within the urban fabric. And now there’s research to prove something that we all know instinctively, that access to nature is critical to human wellbeing – take a look at this article by Oliver Burkeman here.

in The Guardian in which he states that research shows that if one can’t get into a natural environment, even looking at photographs of it has physiological and psychological benefits. Views out of a window or even having pot plants on your desk and natural daylight flooding your office have similar benefits. He reports that patients in hospitals with a view of the outdoors get discharged earlier than those with no views, and call centre workers are 6-12 percent more productive if they have a view of vegetation. One line of thought credits these benefits to ‘Biophilia’, which was put forward by E.O. Wilson as ‘the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. Life around us exceeds in complexity and beauty anything else humanity is ever likely to encounter (E.O. Wilson, 1984. Biophilia: The Human Bond with Other Species. Cambridge: Harvard University Press).

Research, Rewards & Recognition

MCA embarked on a fantastic research journey in 2011 when we joined forces with the Sustainability Institute to produce two of the four UN Habitat Quick Guides on Urban Patterns for a Green Economy (see project details on our Projects page). As always in our line of work, the deadlines were tough and the task seemed daunting yet extremely interesting and pertinent to our beliefs and ethos as planners.

After numerous hours spent researching the current perspectives around our respective topics and many workshops, Skype calls and Dropbox updates amongst ourselves, the UN Habitat and the Sustainability Institute – final drafts of the Quick Guides were produced in time for publication and launching at the Rio +20 UN Habitat Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro during June 2012.

As these Guides were targeting decision makers in developing countries, MCA fuelled the momentum of the project by promoting the Guides locally, which proved a very rewarding process. MCA presented to a local SALGA meeting in July 2012, as well as at the IAIA conference in August 2012, during which MCA received complementary feedback and entered into some fascinating debates with our peers. Matt and Gill also travelled to Barcelona during May 2012 to present on aspects of these Quick Guides at the UN Habitat’s Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development. MCA also prepared conference papers based on these Quick Guides for the bi-annual SAPI Planning Africa conference and presenting these at a parallel session at this conference held in September 2012, and subsequently receiving the award for Best Presenter during this session (presented to Elzette Henshilwood). The UN Habitat representative, Andrew Rudd, also attended this conference and introduced the conference goers to this book series in the form of an informal book launch.