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Development of an integrated model for urban sustainable resilience through smart city projects in the Southern African context.

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The construct Smart City has gone through a few phases in the last decades. Today there is still no consensus on an accurate definition of Smart City, even though a few concepts are now accepted by most stakeholders, establishing frameworks heading to enhance the quality of life of citizens, sustainable development and economic competitiveness, and, most importantly, the optimal balance between these. Starting from the framework of the Smart City model as conceptualized by the developed world, this research attempts to critically analyse the challenges and barriers to a transition and upgrade of such a model for implementation in developing countries, particularly in the Southern Africa. The mid-term future trends in the region create a huge expectation and concern internationally. Factors like the considerable demographic increase in the post-colonial Africa, the massive migration from the rural areas to cities and the shift from the manufacturing world pole in the East to the African continent predict a remarkable dynamic and vibrant scene in the near future. Stressing the ability of the region to respond to these challenges is starting to gain the attention of scholars and organizations internationally. However, it is important to say that most of the research studies point to both, the solution of dramatic situations related to poverty and underdevelopment, and secondly, the market prospect studies that research the economic potential of the region to foreign capital. Moreover, regarding urban systems, most African governments have scarce and unreliable data. Therefore, looking from a local perspective, it is fair to explore ways Africa and Africans are able to cope with the challenges to come. Not only to make the place attractive to outsider eyes but to increase the quality of life and opportunities for local people through selfmanagement. Africa has undergone through a long history of catastrophes in recent times, with horrendous impact on the population. Yet, a proved resilience makes room for hope in a better future, away from a patronizing management by external forces. Part of this research stresses the feasibility of tailor made solutions to cope with future challenges from a local perspective in the era of globalization. International agencies tend to rate performance in multiple fields based on worldwide standards. Taking into account the use of a series of indicators as a tool to rationalize (evaluate) the performance of any particular field of human action; the measurement of those indicators can vary from region to region. In such resilient environment as described above, the aim of this research is to identify sustainable ways for long-term implementation of up to date technologies in Southern African cities for an effective leapfrog that would bring Southern Africa up to nowadays standards without losing local references. A deep dive into the literature about current technologies and the African city represents the starting point of the methodological approach in order to understand localities and real challenges. The research looked at worldwide urban trends and aims to extract those parameters that are meaningful to Africa today. In order to validate the findings of the research, a case study focussed on specific urban challenges has been identified: the Umgeni River estuary in eThekwini municipality is representative of the confluence of multiple urban dynamics: environmental concerns, lack of municipal services, climate change vulnerability, ocean pollution, poverty, regional business, mining, commercial activities, informal settlements and formal planning. The waste sector in particular, typically undermined in the Global South, has been identified as a potential common thread across the aforementioned urban dynamics. The application to the case study of the lessons learnt through the study of the smart city and urban sustainable resilience highlights the readiness of the Southern Africa city and unlocks a discussion about sustainable urban growth. The results indicate a dual scenario, concerning yet optimistic: there are great disparities between the aspirations from city managers and policy makers, and the conflicted reality at ground level. The pressure due the competitive agenda to render Southern African cities appealing in order to gain foreign economic attention could fade as local communities improve their life condition and strength local markets: “Africa by Africans for Africans”. Two important factors can make this shift possible: one is the presence of strong academic institution with great number of strong collaborations with organizations of great reputation. The case study proves a great interest to assist with solutions to African matters by the international community, but probably not in the way city managers expect. The second one is the advantage that can be taken from the “already made” infrastructure fabric, re-programming the initially “colonial-conceived extractive economic vision” towards social gain.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.