Blog Archives - MCA Planners

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. What a proud moment for me personally as well as for all involved!

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 we 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. The highlight for me personally was preparing 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. 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. We had limited copies to hand out due to baggage restrictions – but the copies we had disappeared rather quickly!


More importantly, since its launch, these Guides have led to some exciting prospects and ventures around the world, there is even talk of translating these into Chinese! As an example, the government officials of one of the major cities in Equador have initiated a working relationship with the UN Habitat to embark on a substantial brownfield redevelopment based on the principles contained in the Guides.

Not only was the research and writing process extremely rewarding from a personal growth and knowledge point of view but recognition for a job well done has also been evident in various forms.