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URBAN IDEAS OP-ED

Public-private climate collaboration — there is a lot to learn from cities in the Global South

Public-private climate collaboration — there is a lot to learn from cities in the Global South
The Company's Garden in Cape Town is busy with many weddings on Sundays, but programming during the week could further enliven the space. (Photo: CC ShareAlike 4.0 International)

Next time you think there are no solutions to our complex urban issues in Cape Town, it might help to look South rather than North for inspiration.

While it is a common practice to use Amsterdam as the model to emulate for Cape Town’s cycling infrastructure, or New York City for its public spaces and efforts to address climate change, doing so can feel like a self-defeating exercise. Notwithstanding their impressiveness, ideas from Global North cities – with GDPs and public budgets the size of whole countries – are simply not always appropriate. 

Imagine, instead, looking at examples of public-private collaborations from cities with similar challenges, contexts and resources which illustrate what is possible in less-than-perfect conditions. There is no need to just imagine – it turns out that cities and businesses are doing just that using what they have, and inspiring others in the process.

The trick is to strike a balance between ambitious goals and the reality of limited resources. This doesn’t have to mean substandard quality, but rather making the best of those resources and building on locally grounded innovation.

While there are many examples, they are not so readily available. Through speaking with city officials and businesses in more than 30 cities in Latin America, Africa and Asia to develop the UrbanShift Guide to Public-Private Collaboration, we saw how some of these initiatives could be relevant to local government and the private sector in our home city of Cape Town.

Expanding solar energy in the city

Surat in India was so successful with the roll-out of solar energy that the state of Gujarat, within which the city is located, adopted their model. The city worked with the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a local scientific organisation, to build a programme for households to install roof solar panels. The strategy was based on facilitating the interaction between industry and residents through a vendor database and subsidies. They also worked with the TERI team to train students as “ambassadors” who explained how the system worked and its benefits to residents.

Cape Town has been pushing hard on solar energy and uptake is on the increase; but it can still be challenging to find the appropriate vendor, costs are prohibitive, and there is lack of information about the technology.

More partnerships between industry, academia, and local government can help to dispel myths and raise awareness about the opportunities the City is already offering. This could support residents in practical ways, increase the number of households installing rooftop solar significantly, and grow the market further.

Improving public space

In Accra, the municipality engaged the private sector to join their Greening Accra campaign. Building on the industry’s desire to participate in climate initiatives, the Ghanaian capital has leveraged support and resources for public good. They first engaged banks and encouraged them to start at their sites, and have subsequently expanded to other areas like the City Hall. 

Cape Town has plenty of areas that could make use of more greenery; and there are commendable efforts by some local NPOs. Some companies are already supporting that work and there may be opportunities to attract other sectors, such as large retailers, to align with municipal plans such as Cape Town’s Green Infrastructure Programme and to make their areas more attractive. 

Similarly, public space in Cape Town could benefit from greater activation and programming. Kigali in Rwanda has invested in prioritising people over vehicles through its Imbuga City Walk – a car-free zone in the city centre. However, it learnt that simply creating a car-free space is not enough. The city decided to work with an events management company to help activate the space without having to use more public resources.

Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa’s cities can be reinvented to restore people’s hopes and dreams

In Cape Town, both for-profit and nonprofit entities can help bring energy through events and activities that are aligned with the City’s agenda around health, arts and culture, and even safety. This may entail the City adapting regulations around event permits, or setting up programmes that enable various financial and in-kind contributions to City programmes. 

Supporting innovation that is profitable for all

Rio in Brazil runs a biannual competition for start-ups addressing urban sustainability called Desafio COR. The winning company is housed within the City’s Operations Centre – a multi-agency response centre – for two years. It also receives access to all the city data available at the centre. This helps it to develop technological solutions to key climate issues that are well-informed and therefore useful for local government. Examples include a flood prevention app and one that helps to calculate public transport emissions.

There would be a plethora of participants in a similar programme in Cape Town to help ease mobility challenges. Not all proposals would be suitable or pragmatic and there will be hurdles to get it started, but there might be a start-up out there that could help unlock small pieces of the complex transportation puzzle of our city. The City’s Urban Mobility Directorate is already doing something similar by canvassing ideas from the public on road safety.

Another interesting model comes from Balikpapan in Indonesia. The city government created an online platform to showcase innovative initiatives to address sustainability. Through this they offer support on administrative issues and local and international exposure.

While part of the challenge lies in finding the right combination of incentives to foster broad participation, there is enormous potential to maximise the benefit to our city through creative public-private collaborations.

Next time you think there are no solutions to our complex urban issues in Cape Town, it might help to look South rather than North for inspiration. After all, an effective strategy may not align with “best practice”, but can certainly be inspired by the many stories of defiant, unrelenting innovation ubiquitous in cities of the Global South. DM

Marcela Guerrero Casas and Dustin Kramer are co-founders of Local South. Located between Cape Town and Bogotá, they work to create sustainable, dynamic and livable cities in the Global South.

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