“How do we overcome the historical separations and inequalities of our towns and cities?” was the overarching question in the second public debate, organized at the NAGN on saturday 16th of February. Several practitioners from the urban filed shared their analysis regarding (urban) inequality and necessary actions to overcome it.
John Nakuta from UNAM reminded government on its responsibility to ensure every citizen his or her right to adequate housing and sanitation, the two major crises he singled out in contemporary Namibia. Jacques Korrubel, urban planner by profession and lecturer at Polytechnic of Namibia, propagated compact cities, i.e. densification within the current urban boundaries, more integrated communities through mixed-use and participatory planning, and democratic decentralized public spending. Tom Fox, sociologist at UNAM, highlighted the issue of isolated spaces, separated by cultural, ethnic and increasingly class divisions, as main obstacle to create more inclusive cities and suggested that hope lies in the emergence of social movements "outside" of official politics, to put forward demands and mobilise around issues of inequality. Architect Leon Barnard posed that the perpetuation of the suburban model, leading to uncontrolled urban sprawl, is the major obstacle to creating healthy communities, and suggested that the answer might lie in the idea of compact, pedestrian-based cities of the past, where the abundance of well-scaled and connected public spaces compensates for restricted private space. The city, according to him, needs a conductor of the orchestra, in the person of the urban designer, who coordinates all the different urban disciplines into a unified whole. Urbanist Guillermo Delgado argued that the city as we know it is the necessary form that a capitalist economy creates, and that more needs to be changed than just spatial design. A system that relies on infinite growth, in the city based on the growth of the value of land, must necessarily create inequalities, as it puts exchange value above social necessity. Anna Müller from Namibia Housing Action Group urged that solution, especially referring to the issue of affordable housing, needs to be sought outside "the market" as the last 17 years of grass-roots engagement have shown that the poor are structurally excluded, by denying them the right to self-develop. In the further discussion the question how an urban land-reform, and a re-distributive model of urban development would look like. Far from reaching conclusions and finding solutions, the debate showed the immensity of the work lying ahead.
*Originally published on 20 February 2013