Why tackle challenges alone, when there is so much to be gained from working together? How global peer learning strengthens cities in their role as leading actors of urban change. By the South African – German City Peer Learning Network.
Urbanisation poses one of the biggest challenges of this century: by 2050, about 70 per cent of the world population is expected to live in urban areas. The UN’s New Urban Agenda thus strongly advocates for three vital issues: the development and implementation of national urban policies, strengthening local governments as actors and a strong commitment to the notion of an integrated approach.
Integrated Urban Development Policies in South Africa and Germany
South Africa has responded to this global agenda by establishing the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) as a national policy initiative in 2016. The goal is to foster a shared understanding across government and society about how best to manage urbanisation and achieve the goals of economic development, job creation and improved living conditions. The IUDF’s overall outcome – spatial transformation – marks a New Deal for South African cities and towns, by steering urban growth towards a sustainable growth model of compact, connected and coordinated urban spaces.
Likewise, in 2007, the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities was signed by 27 European Ministers in charge of urban planning and urban development. Contributing to the overall improvement of living conditions in urban areas of the EU, it highlights strategies and principles for sustainable urban development with a strong focus on equal liveability and an integrated approach to urban development. In 2020 the Charter will be updated to include new aspects on migration, digitalisation and climate change. The German National Urban Development Policy (NSP) is a joint programme by federal, state and local government and aims to realise the principles as set out by the Leipzig Charter, focusing strongly on the development and implementation of an integrated approach to urban development.
With their strong belief in integrated urban development and a shared passion for the development and implementation of a national urban policy, Germany and South Africa have joined hands and established a partnership that is a tangible realisation of the global agenda.
International Peer Learning as a Tool to Strengthen Cities and National Policy Frameworks
Indeed, considering urbanisation as one of the major challenges of our time, it seems more important than ever to jointly identify and share innovative solutions in the field of integrated urban development. In this regard, the South African – German City Network for Integrated and Liveable Neighbourhoods proves how important it is to strengthen cities in their leading role as actors of urban change. Since 2013, both countries have championed a learning alliance on integrated urban development, using peer learning as an important tool to strengthen municipal capacity.
The peer-learning network approach © GIZ
The network comprises decision-makers and implementers from both government and civil society. The six participating cities in the first edition were: Halle (Saale), Munich and Ludwigsburg in Germany and Nelson Mandela Bay, Ekurhuleni and Msunduzi in South Africa. The overall objective of the peer learning approach is to jointly identify and share innovative solutions in the field of integrated urban development through new forms of cooperation and learning. As part of a “living lab”, each city provided one of their strategic urban development projects, ready to share knowledge and experiences and to draw inspiration from their peers for the project’s continued implementation.
Within the overall theme of “integrated and liveable neighbourhoods” and the sub-theme “from integrated planning to practice” the network members agreed on the following topics as common key challenges: Interdisciplinary management and coordination, citizen participation and neighbourhood presence, as well as marketing, communication and branding. In addition to jointly elaborating and supporting each other with regard to the chosen topics, the network also engaged with the higher-level policies on integrated urban development in the two countries. It does so with a view to contextualizing the successes and challenges of the cities in relation to the framework provided by national-level policies and programmes. The added value for the involved projects has been very high.
The Benefits of Peer Learning and City Networks
City representatives of the South African – German City Network for Integrated and Liveable Neighbourhoods have reported that the visibility of their work with regard to (integrated) urban development has increased significantly, for example through frequent interactions with mayors, city managers or councillors during the workshops hosted at city level. At the same time, decision-makers’ and politicians’ understanding of the challenges in realising integrated urban development has increased, for example with regard to management complexities or questions of integrated funding streams.
Peer-to-peer learning © GIZ
Participants have also expressed a new appreciation for national policy by recognizing practical linkages between policy and implementation; direct exchange between national and local levels brings about a better understanding of each other’s objectives and approaches. A representative of a city association, for instance, admitted that through his involvement in the project he has developed a new respect for the work of local government – as he had previously been unaware of the complexity of challenges facing cities.
Most importantly, through this intensive interaction, participants have experienced that they share similar challenges concerning implementation, irrespective of where they work. They felt reassured that discussions are the same – no matter where – and recognized they are part of an international group of professional urban planners. Finding solutions collaboratively also means not every city has to reinvent the wheel. While approaches have to be adjusted to cultural and social contexts, there is a great benefit in transferring and sharing practical methods across borders, proving that cities globally can learn much from each other and contribute to each other’s development.
The South African – German City Peer Learning Network reinforces the idea that local administrations can indeed become part of a global conversation and take on new responsibilities relating to the realisation of the New Urban Agenda. This may inspire future international alliances and further the vision of more integrated and vibrant urban settlements everywhere.