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UJ’s Prof Gumbo rethinking sustainable urban development and urges a new approach

Existing strategies for sustainable urban development in the Global South have repeatedly fallen short in catering to the requirements of most low-income households. Trynos Gumbo, a Professor of Smart and Sustainable Cities and Regions at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), calls for a transformative mindset, advocating the creation of smart and sustainable cities that prioritise inclusivity, resilience, and sustainability.

Prof Gumbo explored urban development challenges when he delivered his professorial inaugural address on Thursday, 16 November 2023, titled Whose Smartness Matters?: (Re)-imagining Sustainable Cities from the Global South. Prof Gumbo questioned the effectiveness of existing interventions in transforming lives in urban areas of the Global South. He highlighted the pressing challenges of low urbanisation levels, coupled with overwhelming issues faced by low-income populations, including inadequate housing, inefficient transport systems, and precarious employment opportunities.

Prof Gumbo emphasised the necessity for a new mindset that recognises the urgency of addressing these triple challenges. He stressed the importance of reimagining sustainable cities and regions to align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the New Urban Agenda, focusing on inclusive, resilient, and sustainable policies.

Introducing the concept of the HIM nexus, Prof Gumbo highlighted the interconnectedness of home, income, and mobility needs for the urban poor. He argued for a holistic consideration of these three elements to achieve sustainable urban development. Highlighting the role of institutions, he urged for responsiveness, fairness, self-correction, effectiveness, efficiency, and adaptability to address the needs of low-income households.

Prof Gumbo advocated for bottom-up approaches, suggesting engagement with low-income households through participatory frameworks. He proposed co-creation approaches, where the urban poor become owners of programmes and projects, ensuring accountability in the sustainable development process.

In concluding his address, Prof Gumbo asserted the feasibility of devising and executing appropriate solutions for the challenges faced by low-income populations in cities and regions of the Global South. “The importance of social, economic, and environmental programmes that are sensitive and responsive to the needs of the majority, urging governments and stakeholders to focus on providing well-located and decent housing, improved connectivity, and better access to income-generating activities, is key to ensure urban development,” he said.

Prof Gumbo’s inaugural address serves as a compelling call for a paradigm shift in sustainable urban development, providing a promising framework for addressing the critical needs of most low-income households in cities and regions globally.

Watch Prof Trynos Gumbo’s inaugural address here:

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