Page 150 - UCT Research Report 2011

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UCT Research Report '11
The world’s population is steadily rising, but
nation states are no longer able to respond
convincingly to popular demands for
services. Populations are mostly urbanised,
but many cities cannot meet the needs of
their inhabitants for shelter and sanitation,
let alone ensure their involvement in the
decision-making that isnecessary to regulate
life and to distribute resources equitably.
Despite the problems, cities are resilient
and are often the sites of experiments for
new and sustainable ways of living together.
Researchers at UCT know this first-hand and are actively
engaged in multi-disciplinary research that brings different
bodies of knowledge together to work with cities – Cape
Town in particular – to learn from their citizens and craft
sustainable solutions to the many challenges they face.
As a learning laboratory, Cape Town is a good one: with
levels of inequality among the highest in the world; almost
40 percent of households are classified as poor. This
brings with it a host of challenges ranging from high levels
of disease, mental illness, and inadequate housing to
crime and violence.
To facilitate this research focus, the university set up
the African Centre for Cities (ACC) in 2007 to develop
existing strengths in urban research at the university
and advance critical research and policy discussion for
the promotion of vibrant, democratic, and sustainable
urban development in the global South from an African
perspective. One of UCT’s six signature themes, the
ACC has since produced new pure research, notably on
ethics and methods of working in the global South, urban
social and economic diversity, natural resource issues,
and urban health.
Creating healthy and resilient
cities for all
The hallmark of the ACC is the applied research projects
that it has supported that stimulate policy-relevant research
and research practitioner engagement on various key
challenges facing Cape Town from health to flooding risks.
The Cape Town work of the ACC is at the cutting edge of
global debates about the co-production of knowledge and
the impact of applied research in cities.
Headed by Professor Edgar Pieterse, who holds the
DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Urban Policy, the ACC
is a collaborative venture between the faculties of
Engineering & the Built Environment (EBE), Science,
and Humanities. The centre, which enjoys a number of
international partnerships, works closely with colleagues
and postgraduates from related areas. Professor
Vanessa Watson (School of Architecture, Planning
and Geomatics), Associate Professor Harro Blotnitz
(Department of Chemical Engineering), Professor Sue
Parnell (Department of Environmental and Geographical
Science), and Professor Owen Crankshaw (Department
of Sociology) are among the senior academics who have
large research projects located in the ACC, and whose
experience and leadership adds value to the centre.
The ACC also has key partnerships with other research
groups, notably the African Climate and Development
Initiative, the Energy Research Centre, and the Children’s
Institute, as well as several scholars in the faculties
of Law and Health Sciences. These cross-disciplinary
relationships form the basis for a serious engagement
with the complex and multi-dimensional problems that
cities present.
A recent independent review of the ACC lauds it
for becoming “successful and recognised the world
over for its leading thinkers, researchers, and their
products”. Thanks to its growing global and continental
reputation, and its relevant and rigorous research,
the ACC has succeeded in attracting high calibre
researchers and is making its presence felt, both in
Cape Town and further afield.
“It is hard to assess the ACC’s external impact precisely at
this stage,” says Professor Gordon Pirie, Deputy Director
of the ACC, “but suffice to say that the Province, City,
private consultancies, NGOs, and current and prospective
postgraduate students from abroad and locally, beat a
never-ending path to our door. Some of the least visible
impacts are concealed in – and endure in – teaching texts,
research outputs, and also in policy. An explicit ambition
of the ACC has been to foster publications on cities, like
Cape Town, that are not at the forefront of international
“The hal lmark of the ACC is the
applied research projects that it
has supported that stimulate policy-
relevant research and research
practitioner engagement on various
key challenges facing Cape Town
from health to flooding risks.”