In 2010, President Zuma’s State of the Nation Address called for faster, harder and smarter government action in respect of service delivery and the achievement of a developmental state. Following the president’s call, and being led by the Department of Human Settlements’ Social Contract process, a vision titled: “Faster, Harder, Smarter: Towards a shared vision for human(e) settlements” was developed by a group of built environment professionals. The vision presented government with a tool to work faster (by delivering more housing opportunities within shorter time frames), harder (by going beyond the conventional in the search of alternative delivery mechanisms) and smarter (by being innovative in the use of subsidies and in the design of settlements).

This process was initiated as an outcome of a meeting of the Department of Human Settlement’s Social Contract process. The Planning and Development work stream, under the leadership of William Jiyana, encouraged a group of stakeholders and professionals to present an alternative vision for human settlement. A first draft of the vision was presented at a Social Contract meeting on the 21st September 2010.

The group that came together to actively debate and envision the concept of sustainable human(e) settlements gave itself the name: the TSELA TSHWEU DESIGN TEAM and had representatives from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South African Institute for Architects (SAIA), Social Housing Focus Trust (SHiFT), South African Institute for Civil Engineers (SAICE), and Duro Pressings (Pty) Ltd., a partner from the private sector.

The vision is an expression of opportunities within current policy framework and resources available to government that can be harnessed to unleash our nation’s wealth and contribute to the making of sustainable and human(e) settlements that begin to build the Rainbow Nation and the types of environments that empower our children to be proud and responsible citizens of the future.

The vision aims to achieve vibrant, attractive, integrated, natural, environments in which the pedestrian is the priority, and where the built environment embraces and encourages the spirit of Ubuntu thereby providing dignified settlements.

The Tsela Tshweu Design Team vision encapsulates ten key principles which are applicable to green fields projects as well as existing townships, informal areas and wealthy suburbs. They are based on the idea that value needs to be added to what is already there and to retain what works. The vision also addresses the whole housing “eco-system” reinforcing the idea that there can be no solution to low-cost housing if it is not acknowledged that it is integral to the city – and thus the debate on low-cost housing should be integral to any debate about the city as a whole, including the wealthy suburbs.

The aim is towards achieving mixed residential environments in terms of tenure, typology, income groups, functions and densities. It is believed that this would generate vibrant, attractive, integrated environments in which the pedestrian is the priority.


The TTDT vision 2010: ten principles for Sustainable Human(e) Settlements


  1. Revise zoning to encourage desegregated mixed use

The regulatory framework i.e. town planning and building control instruments, currently used in determining the shape of our built environments have not been adapted from the modernist era to suit the objectives of the new political dispensation. The lack of diversity expressed in our built environment is a direct result of this. For example, aligning the building height, coverage, and land usage regulations with the hierarchy of roads and other transport networks would directly link achievement of diversity to issues of connectivity.

  1. Ensure sustainable densification opportunities for XS,S,M,L and XL

Affordable housing principles can be applied, and are just as relevant, to affordable business opportunities. Equal opportunities for the extra small, small and medium scale entrepreneurs must be accommodated in the same spaces occupied by the large and extra large enterprises. For example, shopping malls must provide small affordable rental units (possibly cross subsidized) and furthermore contribute to the development of taxi/bus drop off areas within their boundaries, and street traders can be accommodated at all taxi and bus stops (informal and formal) in small well designed units that provide affordable structure to house the street traders services and provide a service selling coupons to the bus and taxi industry. However, this cannot be achieved if the densities remain so low. By increasing densities, small and medium business can be supported, on foot, as well as large businesses which are mostly accessed by cars and public transport.

  1. Just Add Housing

We argue that housing should be incorporated with other developments and that we can be creative about finding appropriate sites for housing. Mono-functional residential developments must be discouraged. Mixed-use environments promoted that infrastructural investments are used to their maximum potential at all hours of the day or night. Furthermore, perceived land scarcity can be challenged through innovative “injection” of housing into our existing urban landscapes. For example, office parks, set within open parks, can be encouraged to include employer-assisted and market rental/ownership dwelling units between or on top of buildings; shopping malls can include dwelling units above; churches and educational facilities may include residential components. This principle is strongly linked to principles 4 and 8 below.

  1. Refocus government subsidies on one hour (+/-3km) wide neighbourhoods

Directing government subsidies to the shared public domain (primary level) implies that the focus of government funds moves beyond the “one house per stand” typology. The vision suggests that a one-hour (walking) wide area be used a determinant for the application of subsidies, thus building the interrelatedness of government departments and providing for a framework for neighbourhood upliftment rather than focusing on individual subsidies.

  1. Distributed decision making for mass customization and self-regulation

The focus on neighbourhood (suburb) scale development implies that decision-making is distributed to stakeholders in each community. This allows for communities to “own” the vision for the development of their neighbourhoods, therefore encouraging self-regulation rather than strict regulation and “policing” of the implementation of the vision. The control of the private domain is therefore left to the residents themselves. Building support centers distributed proportionally to building works would provide support services and access to wholesale price materials (for those who qualify). However, the issue of non-qualifiers also needs to be address in these self-regulating communities.

  1. Street edge activation as a condition for development approvals

Acknowledging how a development will influence what happens beyond the confines of a site is as important as the residential units themselves. The buildings contribute, define and add value to the surroundings, thus design becomes our most important development tool. Application of this principle only could have immediate positive effects in how we experience our cities by discouraging the use of alienating security walls and creatively making active boundaries to secure properties. This shows respect for our pedestrian traffic. A wall tax, for instance, could be applied for every cubic meter of wall; those taxes could be diverted into contributions to the shared public domain or subsidized housing.

  1. Phased and adaptable developments

Differentiated interpretation and context-specific solutions are important in avoiding monotonous and repetitive residential environments. This differentiation becomes apparent through orientation, appropriate facade treatment and service and access strategies. An understanding of what catalyst infrastructure is required to provide just enough to encourage the incremental development of both dwellings and neighbourhoods is important towards the achievement of this goal. Government could provide the appropriate catalyst, allowing for interventions and diverse interpretations through private sector investment. Special urban frameworks (one-hour wide neighbourhoods) will give local municipalities a tool to take ownership of, and to secure funding against, a tool that demands that private sector investments which are appropriately allocated towards the building of their respective (neighborhood) visions.

  1. Public, private and community partnerships led by committed project teams

The balance between public, private and civil society partnerships needs to be addressed. The above-mentioned urban spatial framework would rely on use of committed project teams drawn from municipal officials with departmental representation, professional teams and civil society organisations in developing a vision that will integrate systems and the built environment. The public-private partnership will work toward the common vision where government does not forfeit its assets but rather leverages the value-add by private investment toward incremental development. Furthermore, the resultant strengthening of community participation in neighbourhood management could result in changes to the delivery of support services in the neighbourhood.

  1. Culturally adequate, desirable and dignified environments

The desirability of our current township type environments also needs to be addressed. These environments require the insertion of amenities that would attract residents and higher-income businesses and residents to invest and live in such communities. The diversity in cultural rituals and accommodation thereof can be addressed in expanding the type of public shared facilities at the primary level of provision.

  1. Technical innovation in the services of a vision (and not vice versa)

Technological innovations cannot, in isolation, solve the urban dysfunctionalities of our current built environment. Technology can only contribute to the development of the built environment if it aims to support a larger vision for how settlements should function and what they should look like. While current housing debates try to focus on innovation in the creation of sustainable human settlements, the discussion always reverts back to “houses”– solutions for individual units with a focus on technical solutions and materials at a very local scale or at building level.