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Social action for an equitable future

Published on October 31, 2022
The New Urban Agenda (NUA), adopted at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, represents a shared vision for urbanisation that leads to equal rights and opportunities, socio-economic and cultural diversity and integration in the urban space. As part of RSK’s Cities of Tomorrow series, Greg Jacobs, Principal Consultant at International Projects Group (IPG), an RSK group company, explains how city planners and developers can approach new infrastructure developments with social responsibility to help achieve this goal.

In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly decided to convene the Habitat III conference to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanisation and to focus on the implementation of a New Urban Agenda (NUA), building on the Habitat Agenda of Istanbul in 1996. These commitments included goals such as eliminating discrimination and violence through social action, not simply the building of infrastructure and services. While planners and developers can’t force social action, they can act in a socially responsible way to contribute to equitable cities if they take the time to consider the impacts of infrastructure growth.

What makes a city socially equitable?

The goals of the NUA include ensuring equal rights and opportunities, socio-economic and cultural diversity and integration in the urban space and eliminating discrimination and all forms of violence by providing equal access for all to physical and social infrastructure and basic services, as well as adequate and affordable housing. Social goals such as these are crucial to ensuring our growing urban centres are not just environmentally but also socially conscious. These types of goals encourage more equitable access to education and better opportunities for jobs for all. In one way, these are infrastructure-focused goals in that they recognise the need for affordable housing, green public spaces and high-quality education: all things that are physical infrastructure projects. However, putting in infrastructure alone is not enough to create an equal city and, in practice, even theoretically beneficial projects can further disadvantage people.

Case study: Dar es Salaam BRT project

In 2008, the Tanzanian government announced a transport masterplan in Dar es Salaam that would alleviate traffic congestion. It included a multi-phase bus rapid transit (BRT) project covering a total of 141.1 km, which aimed to increase mobility, reduce congestion and improve accessibility, safety and the overall quality of public transport along selected corridors in Dar es Salaam. It cut some people’s commutes by two hours a day. So, in concept, this fitted well with the NUA: it was greener, safer and faster and offered the same affordable fares. However, when the resettlement action plan (RAP) was upgraded for BRT phase 5, on behalf of the French Development Agency (Agence Française de Développement), it became clear that it affected a lot more people than anticipated, many of whom would need unique support to mitigate any negative impacts.

That’s because the BRT system is replacing the local daladalas – Tanzanian minibus share taxis – along the main routes around Dar es Salaam. For each daladala there is an owner, a driver, a conductor and a tout who is involved with the operation, all of whom will directly lose their income stream to the BRT system, which is much more efficient and requires fewer buses with fewer staff to carry the same number of people. On top of that, along the daladala routes there is a large informal economy made up of street hawkers and vendors selling everything from fruits and vegetables to phone accessories, bicycle repairs and beauty services that will be cut off from their customers once the BRT system is constructed. In total, around 2500 people, mostly low-income and low-skilled informal workers, are facing a loss of their main source of income.

The question then becomes, how do we ensure these people have a livelihood equal to or of a higher standard than before? What can we do to ensure this loss of income and possible change to their livelihood is made up for? The complexity of their livelihoods makes restoring them a very challenging situation in such an urban area: it is not as simple as finding new jobs for people, retraining workers or building new vendor locations. People who have been drivers their whole lives prefer to stay as drivers rather than reskill, and simply moving vendors to another location doesn’t remedy the lost access to their customers who are now using the BRT system.

So, although the BRT project has a lot of benefits to offer the people and city, it has significant negative impacts as well. Social impacts need to be properly considered at the outset or they undermine any positives the development may have.

Act local to go global

The ideal approach is to use localised employment and procurement to get people involved in the new project. World Cities Day 2022 explores the theme of ‘act local to go global’, and this is exactly what is required to create a socially sustainable and equal ‘city of tomorrow’. It is complicated and requires a large effort: the work carried out by International Projects Group (IPG) in Tanzania involved sending people out to physically count the number of informal workers (hawkers and vendors) affected by the BRT phase 5 corridor and performing a gender and vulnerable groups analysis so that a more complete RAP could be developed.

However, in recent years, there has been a growing awareness of how this approach can work and more willingness to consider all of the social aspects of new developments. When considering a future city that is equitable, has social and economic diversity and inclusion and gives equal opportunities to all, it is vital to look at the social impacts of both new developments and redevelopments, such as infrastructure, transport, green public spaces and housing, and consider whether they are shared equally or benefiting only one group of people. In that sense, the way in which the NUA goals are reached is less a series of steps and more an approach that always considers the people.

The IPG social team provides social expertise and support for all stages of the project life cycle from definition to appraisal, development, operations, closure and decommissioning, including social baseline studies, social impact assessments, stakeholder engagement services, social management plans, ecosystem services assessment, land access and resettlement plans.

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Greg Jacobs

RSK IPG, Principal Consultant

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Greg Jacobs, Principal Consultant in the IPG social team, has over 20 years’ international experience providing technical advice to private sector companies, the public sector, and civil society organisations. He has a particular focus on resettlement and has worked on both large-scale linear and static developments in an arc from Helsinki to Cape Town.

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