(This Piece first appeared in The Herald in Nelson Mandela Bay on 3 November 2021)
It’s a blustery voting day in Nelson Mandela Bay as I sit to write this morning. I’ve not yet voted but did check out the length of the queue at the Walmer Town hall on my way back from gym. The crowd will probably die down a bit later and I’ll pop in then as a physical expression of gratitude that I live in a functioning (if imperfect) constitutional democracy. I must be completely honest though; it is not all easy for me to decide who to vote for. When I peer into the faces on the lamp pole posters of those that are asking us to make them mayor, I am not at all convinced that any one of them has even the foggiest idea of what needs to be done to address the physical and spatial challenges that stand in the way of Nelson Mandela Bay becoming a world beating city. (I am not judging them either. They have had to spend their entire careers doing the things people need to do to rise in political life. What time could they possible have had to ponder on the shape and form of the city?) But really, I am not at all convinced that any of the hopefuls even have a remote grasp of the mechanisms of local government that cause a city, (any city) to take on the shape and form that is does. The shape and form of Venice or Stone Town or Rio or Havana is not accidental. The shape and form of these beautiful cities are the result of layers upon layers of human decisions taken by leaders over decades and centuries. Where cities have become good places to work or visit or raise children, they have become so because of the decisions that successive leaders in these cities have made. While this statement of fact is entirely beyond dispute, we find that the political campaigning that has preceded the 1 November vote is almost completely devoid of any discussion around the physical shape and form that we would like our city to take. What is their vision for our spectacular beachfront? What is their vision for Njoli Square? What is their vision for Schauderville Korsten? Will they build the International Convention Centre that has been promised for so long? Well, its too late of course to ask these questions. By the time you read this, the election is all over and we are well on our way to the first meeting of the new council. So perhaps rather I should offer a few words of advice to the incoming mayor and the incoming council.
So then, here is my simple advice: “Less is more”. Yes, that’s right. “Less” is what you should be aiming for, not “More”. It was the famous German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that first popularized this slogan among designers around the world in the 1950’s. But the truth is that the wisdom of this aphorism goes way, way back. Even in the time of the great Lao Tzu, the concept of Wu Wei became mainstream in China, where great leaders came to see the power of “non-doing”. Today we see this thinking spread on Instagram and Netflix by the followers of Marie Kondo, that encourage homemakers to discard everything from their living spaces that does not “spark joy”. But what can this great and ancient wisdom of “Less is More” mean to you as a new installed mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay? Well, it could mean many things, but I would urge you to see it simply as “Less Projects” and “Less Rules” is “More Progress” and “More Prosperity”.
Let me talk first about “Less Projects”. In my time in business in this town since the early 1990’s, I have seen Metro mayors try and fail to get a number of grand projects off the ground. I can mention Bayworld, The Statue of Freedom, The International Convention Centre, The Schauderville Korsten Urban Renewal and the Njoli Square Development. My advice…. Pick one!! Yes of course don’t forget about the routine stuff like fixing potholes and keeping the taps working, but when it comes to novel, game changing projects that will take our city region to the next level, pick one and run with it! When you are done, pick another one. Drive the project at the highest level. Yes, you are Mayor drive it yourself! Don’t think that paradigm changing projects can be delegated down into the deep ranks of the various departmental silos. We have tried this. It does not work.
Secondly, please. Commit yourself to “less rules”. Our metro and others around the country are struggling to administer the various applications that are made to Council to be given permission to vary from one or other rule that impacts on what private property owners may do with their money on land that they own. My advice is that you get rid of all but the most essential rules. (and you will find that there are very few that are essential). You will be surprised to see how quickly the private sector responds and what construction boom will follow along with the thousands of jobs the government can simply not be expected to create.
That’s it. Follow this advice. Give it a try. Its free and it’s easy to do. Trust me; you will thank me when you are re-elected in four years’ time!