There was beautiful rain on the farm on Saturday night. It’s been very dry here, so the sound of rain on the tin roof as we huddled in front of Netflix was even more pleasant, even more comforting than it would usually be. Except of course that the tiny cottage we live in is located in a little patch of third world where, for some reason, the internet goes down every time there is the smallest drop of rain.
With no connectivity, activity in the cottage quickly gravitates to reading, playing chess or trying to teach our enormous great dane “Tank” to add “lie down” to his small repertoire of tricks. My grown son Litha, was slouched behind the Weekend Post. “Dad…What can we do to get it opened?” He asked, referring to the headlines talking about the “Disgrace” that the beautiful Red Location museum remains closed to the public for six years now. “It’s not that simple” I mutter vaguely as I try for the third time to reset the WIFI router. His question interests me though and we end up debating the issue well into the rainy night. The exchange got me thinking about the issue and wondering if this whole matter has been thought through properly.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that the buildings that make of the Red Location Museum precinct are the best collection of contemporary buildings in the province. The buildings were lovingly designed by Jo Noero, an architect deserving of the highest levels of respect. I suppose, though, the question still remains “Why does the museum remain closed?”
Perhaps there’s more to it this than the lawlessness of the local neighbourhood? Perhaps there is more to this than the fumbling incompetence of the three spheres of government that have power and sway here. I’m beginning to think that the real problem is that Red Location Museum was way ahead of its time. But not in a good way.
I have visited Berlin. There is a Holocaust museum there (as there are in many other parts of the world) While these museums are all different, they have one thing in common. They were built after the holocaust was over. Just like the Vietnam War memorial was built after the Americans lost the Vietnam war. Just like the little memorial I visited in Buenos Aires was built after the Falklands war. I suppose it’s a matter of timing.
Mayor Nceba Faku was the best Mayor PE has ever had, but perhaps he got this wrong. Perhaps he declared victory in the struggle for liberation against apartheid too soon. Perhaps the people struggling in desperate poverty to this day in Red Location and hundreds of other places like it, may say that it is even now, 25 years after 1994, still too soon to celebrate or to memorialise victory.
After all, our World War 2 hero, Winston Churchill did not declare victory on “D-Day” when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy. No. They pushed on, did the dirty work and cleared Europe of every last Nazi Pantzer, released every last Jew, Gypsy, Gay and Slav from the concentration camps and then, and only then, declared victory on Armistice day.
I guess that the city’s great thinkers, like the erudite and well-spoken Rory Riordan, who worked tireless to ensure the Red Location museum received funding, got built and became more than a mayor’s pipe dream, will argue that I am misguided. He will point to the projected economic impact and how the tourists could flock there, spend their Euros and Pounds and Zim Dollars and thereby stimulate the economy and create a better future for the poor and destitute of Blawa, Ndokwenza and Katanga. Well friends, I am afraid the jury is out on this one. In the thirteen years since the museum was opened in 2006, it could not even generate enough tourist spend to keep its own little museum restaurant running, let alone stimulate the rest of the region’s tourist economy!
I am afraid colleagues this project is a failure. It is a failure despite the good work of Noero, Faku and Riordan. It is a failure by the ancient measure of that most famous of roman Architects, Vitruvius. Even before the time of Jesus, Vitruvius helped us understand that in order to for Architecture to be enduring and cared for, it must prove itself against the age-old tests of “Firmness, Commodity and Delight”. Yes, Red location Museum is “Firm” (It hasn’t fallen down). Yes, it is delightful. But no, it does not offer “Commodity”. It is not used. It has no function in this particular time, in this particular economy and under these particular social conditions. By the measure of the great Vitruvius therefor, The Red Location Museum is failed architecture.
Of course, we are concerned as tax payers that we have spent so much money on these buildings. We feel therefore that something productive must be forced upon them. This mistaken thinking, friends, is the “sunken cost fallacy” AKA “throwing good money after bad”. Even the Berlin Wall and the Sardinia Bay Life Savers Club were demolished when we reached consensus that building them was a mistake.
Perhaps then, if anyone ever resuscitates Mayor Faku’s great plan to demolish the freeways that devastated the once bustling and thriving Strand street, they may also be so wise as to add the Red Location Museum onto the list structures to be dynamited!
There is a Natural Order to things. I see it when I look around me.
Our dog “Tank”, a huge Great Dane, is friendly and sociable. He is a pack animal. Being friendly and sociable comes naturally to him. It’s also completely “natural” for him to chase the chickens, lick his genitals while we’re watching Netflix or bark at our assistant, Roy, when he comes to work in the morning. It would be completely “unnatural” for Tank to live in a fishpond or to eat a raw, low carb, vegan diet.
Of course, the idea of the existence of a “Natural Order” is not new at all. Lao Tsu spoke of it 4000 years ago already. The idea of a “Natural Order” makes perfect sense when we apply the thinking to dogs or even to people like you and me. We can see that there is a natural way to be that just seems comfortable and right. My thinking though has (over the last 20 or so years as an Architect in private practice) meandered to the question of whether we can find a “Natural Order” that will guide the design of buildings, objects and spaces.
Is there a way that a brick wants to “behave”?
Is there a way that a piece of timber or a roof sheet wants to “behave”??
Is there a natural way in which a landscape or a building site would like to express itself?
Is it possible for an architect to facilitate the expression of this “Natural Order” through a conscious and mindful design approach?
Is there a “Natural” way in which a team can come together to design and build beautiful things?
When I begin to doubt myself I ask: “What is “Natural” anyway?” Perhaps a better word to use would be “comfortable”? I’m not sure. What I do know is that I can easily spot when something is not natural, when it feels uncomfortable. When a building is “pretentious” and “over designed”, I can feel it. When a building is overly decorated or overly complicated or when it is just unresolved and clumsy, I can feel it. I have no doubt that can feel the absence of a “Natural Order”. It is this quality, this “Natural Order” I seek in our buildings and in the spaces we design. It is this quality we set out to achieve at the Bhisho Contact Centre, The Gqebera Advice Centre, the Missionvale Library and many other of our precious projects. The quest for a Natural Order informs these buildings geometry, their relationship to the site, their use of materials and their play with light. Theses buildings seek to answer the question, what was “meant to be” on this site. These buildings seek to answer the question: “What would this space / surface / door / window / ceiling / component look like if it were to look like it were “meant to be” like that? This is what we have come to see as the “Natural Order” of design. I have come to see that this design approach is crucial if we are to play any part in creating a Natural Order Habitat.
To be clear, I am not speaking about a search for minimalist simplicity like our respected friends Mies van der Rohe or Tadoa Ando.
I respect that quest and I love the work of these and other great Architects like them.
But I have come to see that sometimes the Natural Order of things is very simple but at other times it can deliver surprising complexity. Also, to be clear, my quest to find a Natural Order in design should not be confused with attempts at “Bio mimicry”, where we learn lessons for the building of a staircase from the geometry of a sunflower or where our parquet tile floors are inspired by the patterns in the scales of an Armadillo. I love all that, but that’s not my quest right now.
My colleagues and I have been searching for this Natural Order for a long time. Yes, we are very interested in the design of buildings, but it is the design of the contemporary human “HABITAT” that dominates our thoughts. That HABITAT includes buildings. It includes the spaces between buildings and of course it includes the landscapes that we move through and live in on our way to and from buildings. The quest for a NATURAL ORDER HABITAT permeates our attitude toward design and also, perhaps even more importantly, our attempt to find a comfortable and natural “feel” in the interpersonal collaboration that makes up the design and construction process. Some say it’s a silly quest, some say it’s a waste of time. I say though, that it’s a quest that I know may not reach a clear answer, a specific result or a particular destination. I know that this may in fact be true, but I also know along the way we will learn. Perhaps like the Alchemists that searched for a way to make gold from ordinary stuff, we may not find this elusive “NATURAL ORDER HABITAT”, but we will learn many lessons along the way.
(This piece by Tim Hewitt-Coleman first appeared in the Weekend Post on 24 March 2018)
On our way to swim in the ocean on Wednesday morning, we were chatting in the the car about Human Rights day. As we drove, I gave a little lecture explaining how on the 21st of March 1960, 69 unarmed protesters were gunned down outside a police station in Sharpville. “Why were they protesting?” asks Mandisa. “They were protesting about the “pass laws”. They burned the papers that they were required to carry as evidence that they had permission to leave the “homelands” in order to seek work in the city”. Mandisa silently nodded her head in the backseat as she continued to flip through Instagram, but Poppina said: ”You know, come to think of it, not much has really changed since 1960! If you walk down any Hillbrow street today, you run the risk of being thrown in the back of a police van if you don’t have the correct, ID papers, Refugee papers or Asylum papers”
I thought about this statement as I bobbed in the ocean that morning. Mandisa and I swam to the end of the pier. Poppina strolled on the beach. “What has changed since 1960?” I asked myself. Yes, things are much better for a whole lot of people that happen to have the right papers, but really, we have fallen into exactly the same thinking of the apartheid government. Then, the state said: “If your ancestors come from the wrong side of the Kei river, you go back there and do whatever your ancestors did there” All that has actually happened since 1960, is that the state has now just changed the rivers that they choose to use as reference points for their cruelty and brutality. “You dare not set your foot on “our” side of the Limpopo River. Go back to where you came from! Go do there whatever it is that your ancestors did there!”
We feel good about ourselves and justify our cruelty by referring to concepts such as “The Constitution” or “The Sovereign State”. My friends, I am writing to you today to remind you that these, and many such like fabrications, are merely “concepts”. They are just ideas formed in the minds of people. They are neither real nor tangible. What is real and what is tangible is the tremendous suffering of many millions of people across the globe and especially in africa that are unable to flee drought, famine, war, rape and slavery because of the notional concept of a “sovereign state”, with borders that cannot be freely crossed without risking death and imprisonment. People are dying (and worse) for the sake of these concepts. The “lucky” few that make it out of whatever desperate situation that has driven them to give up their ancestral home and their families, find themselves in a situation in a country like South Africa perhaps, where they are, at best, treated as second class citizens. They struggle to get a bank account, they struggle to own land, they struggle to get the same wages as those who have the “correct papers”, they struggle to access education. They are harassed by the police, they are exploited by the criminal underworld.
As we speak, right now, somewhere north of the Limpopo, young girls are being captured by rebels and sold into slavery. As we speak, right now, children are embarking on foot on a thousand mile journey in the hope of escaping the hell that has driven them to find the courage to flee. As we speak, in this town of ours, young girls from Somalia or Zimbabwe, or the DRC or Sudan, with no papers, no means of support and no hope, are trapped in a living hell of drug induced sex slavery. Tell me my friends, why, why, why do we think of this unspeakable injustice in different terms to the way we have come to think about the crime of apartheid?
We are deluding ourselves to think that this is in any way OK!
It must stop right now!
I am not a prophet and I do not pretend to be one, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that we will look back at this time and we will judge ourselves for tolerating this situation. We will be embarrassed that we committed our energy to attempts to rid the oceans of plastic bottles, arguing against backyard dog breeders and whether our leaders should be permitted to smash each other’s heads with water jugs. We will judge ourselves for dedicating our time to this relative pettiness while this tragedy of human suffering continues as the result of our silence in condoning the rubbish idea of “Sovereign” borders.
The reality is that our species is a wandering species. From the time when we first emerged from the Cradle of Humankind near Krugersdorp, we have wandered. We have moved our families on to new lands when the conditions we were facing became unpleasant. This movement over thousands and thousands of years was a gradual process, but a fundamental ingredient to our continued success as a species.
Impermeable national boundaries are unnatural! They cause untold suffering and must abolished without delay. We are a species gifted with profound intelligence. We split the atom. We send our representatives to the moon. We have credible plans to colonize Mars. Trust me, we can figure out how to overcome the challenges that emerge out of the removal of national boundaries. What do you think?
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I love design, I love simplicity. I love the idea that we can rethink cheap readily available materials and use them in a way that was not imagined by the manufacturer. So in the video below I show how I use 75 mm diameter PVC down pipe as a guttering system. Building a rain water harvesting system normally takes a complicated range of fittings brackets screws and masonry anchors.But very often the same objective can be achieved using only 75 mm diameter PVC down pipe and elbow fittings.Watch this short video to see how we use this idea at Pebblespring Farm.
I love building! The hammer and nails, the step ladder, with cordless drill. The pain in my joints in the evening as I rest after a day of sweat and pain. Building of course starts way before any hammer is swung or any brick is laid. Building begins like all other created phenomena. In the mind as an idea, a notion. It may then find form words in discussion with a loved one, an argument with a banker, then later it may take the form of text, a letter, a blog post, an idea in a journal, emerging only later perhaps into sketch form growing over self-confident: a serviette in a late night restaurant at first, a koki-pen drawing on a desk pad soon after. Each step of this building process comes closer to completing the vision and giving physical form to what was just a notion. The bricks mortar, timber an steel follow when the idea is strong enough to survive in the physical world.
I love the feeling of freedom that building gives me. The freedom to move beyond all the “reasons” why something cant be built. Overcoming the “reasons” and excuses and physically seeing the from emerge to completion.
While building is my great interest and passion, so too over the years I have come to be very interested in “Freedom”. I have become interested in what this word “Freedom” actually means to to me, and how the idea of Freedom may be different to you reading this post right now. Also I have become especially interested in the idea….in the truth that Freedom is not something that we simply stumble across, but rather that it is something that we build for ourselves. Freedom is something that must start out as an idea, then find its way into conversation, eventually into text and writing, then documented plans and ultimately in the concrete action in the physical and spatial world.
This website is about Building Freedom. Not about marching for freedom or fighting for freedom or voting for freedom. Here we test the notion that for freedom to be lasting and meaningful, it must find its expression first at the level of the individual. (You and I). Sure we can collaborate, pool our individual energies where we can align ourselves to obtain such freedom, but here we will explore there idea that you and I must first define for ourselves what it means to be free in our own lives. Having defined that freedom for ourselves we can choose to become free or to remain imprisoned.
Imprisonment may come in different forms for different people. You may be imprisoned in poverty, you may be imprisoned in your dead-end job, in your sexuality, in your family traditions, in your relationship. Most people reading this will not be physically imprisoned or enslaved, but sometimes those that are physically held captive are in a way more fortunate in that there is know doubt in their mind that they are not free. They have no doubt in their mind that they are being held against their will. If they try to escape their captors, they will be instantly met with violence.
In 1986 and 87 I was held captive as a conscript in the South African Defense Force. The army at the time was a brutal institution known for it cruelty and intolerance. Never once did I try to cut my way through the razorwire fences that surrounded our barracks or risk being shot by the guards. The threat of violence was though imminently clear and evident. The public punishment of those that did try to escape was enough to discourage me and most others not to even try. In that system I knew that I was not free. It was made clear by the fences, the guard towers the barbed wire and the armed guards and by the military police. It was made clear by the suffering of those held in the notorious “detention barracks”. I had no doubt that I was not free. I had no doubt about who my captors were.
But what about you and me today? In our ordinary jobs, in our ordinary families in our ordinary relationships. Are we free? What does it really mean to be free? I have thought about this quite a bit. I have played with a few different definitions and I suppose what I have settled for is “freedom is choosing without fear”. So, In other words if I decide to stay inside the military base because I love the accommodation, the food and the camaraderie then I am free. But if i stay because I fear getting shot by the Military Police or being held in the detention barracks, then I am not free. If I stay in my job because I fear that my children will not eat, then I am not free. But you may say “well of course we need to feed our children”. But hear me. To be clear, I am not saying for a minute that anybody “deserves” freedom. All I am saying is that many of us (maybe most of us) are not free, because we are motivated everyday by fear to get out of bed and endure what we endure.
I have come to see in my life that it must be my mission to live free. Perhaps I will never achieve this objective. Perhaps until the day I die I will be striving toward achieving a life motivated by joy and not by fear. But what I have decided is that I will not resign myself to a life of fear. I have decided to build freedom. I have decided work in the same way we would set about building a house or a church or a hospital. I have decided to build freedom in a methodical way. Starting first by recognizing where I am not free, then conceptualizing and designing a new, free place and new reality. Then working hard to build it. To make it real.
I have never yet been a civil servant and I don’t have any immediate plans to become one. In fact I have my doubts that I am really “employable” in that the sense of the word. But if I was employed by the taxpayers, I suspect I would be a little miffed that Minister Malusi Gigaba thinks that it’s not such a bad idea that the PIC (the public investment company) bails out ever-ailing South African Airways with the savings of ordinary working people who have contributed a chunk of their civil servant salary month after month to a pension fund they believe will look after them in the years when they are too old to be a fire man, or that guy that comes around to your house to be sure that you have a TV liscence
But I am not angry at Minister Gigaba. He like many of my otherwise intelligent friends, labour under the continued belief that the only way any of us can ever fly from PE or Joburg, or from Cape Town to Singapore, is if we use taxpayers money to own and run airline to do so. But I must admit, I struggle to get it. Is it a matter of national pride that we fly to Doha in a plane marked “South African”? Is it a huge embarrassment if I fly from Mangaung to King Shaka International in a plane owned by Comair or some other privately owned enterprise? I don’t think so. So why then, I ask, are so many of us obsessed with the idea that we need to year after year be called upon to bail out SAA, or the Postal Services, or Eskom or Sanral? I’ll tell you why. It’s quite understandable actually. You see, there was a time, not very long ago, where the only way to get an airline up and running was to use tax payer’s money to do so. There was a time, not too long ago (before email and couriers) when the only way to effectively get important messages to each other was through a Postal Service paid for by the tax payers. There was a time, not to long ago, before Skype, WhatsApp and Cell C, when the only way in which we could ensure effective voice communication was by the taxpayers investing in a telephone network now called Telkom. The reality of course is that times change and as great minds bring new innovation. We figure out ways in which projects can be made to happen in such a way as not to depend on violently extorting funds from the public (remember tax would not be collected unless there was the violent threat of Jail time). There was a time that it was the accepted general consensus that the only way humanity to get into space was through the efforts of publicly funded programmes like NASA. Now companies like Space X embrace advances in technology in order to make it possible to do so without any government support.
Where am I going with all this? What I am trying to do, in a roundabout way, is to open a conversation beyond the political poles of “statists” and “anarchists”. Where the extreme “statists” would argue toward the state controlling everything (like in North Korea) and the extreme anarchists would argue for a “government free” situation as we may find in Somalia. What I am trying to argue is that as technology and innovation advance, the things we think we needed government for become fewer and a fewer. Right now, I believe that we need government to, for example, see to basic education and to address the wealth gap. I am however completely open to the idea that we will very soon have access to innovation and technology that is able to achieve these critical objectives without the requirement of a state. It’s just that I can’t yet imagine how this could be done. But then again, it was inconceivable a few years ago that we could bypass the state in the creation of a reliable currency to use as a means of exchange. Now we have Bitcoin and Ethereum (Google them if you’re out of the loop)
I saw on Youtube the other day how the IBM Artificial Intelligence platform “Watson” was able to compete and win against very able human players in the US television game show “Jeopardy”. That’s not very exciting in itself, what is exciting, is that there are now stories of UK Law firms and Japanese Insurance companies buying the Watson computer and as a result being able to retrench dozens of graduate attorneys and actuaries. I begin to ask myself then, if even these highly complex professional posts can be replaced by computers, how soon will it be until we begin to reconsider our belief that the only way to, for example, keep our toilets flushing and out refuse removed is to have a 120 elected Councillors overseeing thousands of unionised municipal employees? It must be plain to us that it is only a matter of time until we come to see that the idea of government, was an “interim measure”; a mere blip in history until technology caught up with our desire to live in a world where we are free, but a world where still there is order.
In order for a city to express its “soul” through built form, a framework must exist where real people, with real passions and real desires, are able to give direction to urban space and structure. The reality however in most cities throughout the world is that it is not the passion and energy of committed individuals (be they Architects, developers or investors) that drive the shape and form of the city. We observe rather that increasingly form is given to buildings and the spaces they frame by an anonymous set of bureaucratic procedures, codes and planning controls.
We live in a time where much of the world is emerging into greater and greater freedom. This culture of freedom permeated the US hippy movement of the sixties, South Africa’s “Freedom Struggle” of the eighties and the Arab Spring in the earlier parts of this decade. In spite of news headlines that speak of a minority reactionary backlash, the general tendency is towards freedom to choose one’s religion, sexual orientation and vocation.
It seems contradictory therefore that during this time of widespread personal freedom, we have witnessed a global tendency toward increasing state control over what individuals may and may not build on land that they own. The work of Architects, more than ever, is an almost impossible task of navigating land use rights, permits and compliances. The physical act of building too is constrained by state imposed controls instigated by career bureaucrats and “technical experts” under the guise of “Health and Safety”. While the sustained attack on the Architect’s freedom to guide the building process is to be understood as part of a global tendency toward bloated self-serving civil service, desperate to claim increasing power as an end in itself, we argue here that this should not be allowed to continue on its current trajectory without exposure to the spotlight of academic scrutiny.
While this paper will contextualise itself within the global tendency away from freedom in the built environment, it will focus specifically on impact of land use rights and building controls on wealth inequality in South Africa. The paper explores the possibility of establishing a methodology that can reliably measure whether the building and land use controls currently in place represent a “nett cost” or a “nett benefit” to economy, the environment and to the community and especially to wealth inequality.
Keywords: Wealth Inequality, Freedom, Building Codes, Local Government, African City, Land Use rights, Planning Control
It has become widely understood that wealth inequality is a significant threat to stability and sustainability. Even in advanced economies like the US the reality is that the 10% that make up the wealthiest part of the population own 76% of the country’s assets. The French economist Thomas Piketty argues that “extremely high levels” of wealth inequality are “incompatible with the meritocratic values and principles of social justice fundamental to modern democratic societies” and that “the risk of a drift towards oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism.” Piketty, T, and Ganser, L. J. (2014)
The basic premise of Piketty’s argument is those whose livelihoods depend on labour (blue and white collar) tend over time to have to work harder and harder to maintain their status quo. By contrast those that own assets tend to become wealthier and wealthier. More significantly to the architects reading this paper is that we know from an analysis of Piketty’s data by Matthew Rognile, an American scholar, that in fact the growth in wealth among those who own assets can largely be ascribed to real estate assets and not to equities. Rognlie, M. (2016)
Since at very least the time of Marx and Engels, scholars and politicians have discussed, formulated and proposed a broad range of solutions to wealth inequality and motivated their work as an attempt to respond to a threat to global order. Most recently Thomas Picketty has proposed a progressive wealth tax as an essential component to any economy aiming for stability. Piketty, T, and Ganser, L. J. (2014)
Picketty’s “wealth tax” falls into the category of strategies that the state can employ through coercing the citizenry into doing what they would otherwise not choose to do. It is understood that scholars and politicians would resort to proposing coercion in the absence of any other seemingly workable macro solutions. This paper will therefore begin to explore the possible effectiveness of “micro” solutions born out of industry specific knowledge gained through years of professional practice. It will explore the detail as it applies to the real estate and construction sectors and to the Architect’s profession. This paper will not seek to add complexity to existing strategies to address wealth inequality. It will not propose new legislation or regulations that serve to further coerce or constrain private individuals. This paper explores rather the potential impact of simplifying the approach toward land use rights and building controls with the aim of initiating a discussion around the relationship between land use right restrictions and wealth inequality.
Corresponding Author: Tim Hewitt-Coleman
PO Box 12956
Phone: +27 415822753
Email: email@example.com 2. Defining land use controls
In Port Elizabeth, where I have lived and practiced as an architect for the last twenty five years, owning a piece of land does not necessarily mean that you are free to use this land as you please. While you are free to sell the land or generate and income through rental, the manner in which you use the building and the manner in which permanent changes and improvements are made are restricted by a range of land use right restrictions and building controls. While controls and restrictions may vary, the following schedule of controls and restrictions would apply to a sample site in Port Elizabeth.
In addition to these controls more specific by-laws are developed from time to time to limit specific uses including keeping animals, accommodating paying guests or accommodating students.
3. How do land use right restrictions impact on wealth inequality?
It may not be immediately obvious that restrictions on land use rights as expressed in zoning schemes, building regulations and other “compliance measures” are not in the public interest. When they are discussed at all, they are defended as necessary devices to avoid urban chaos and mayhem. The scientific evidence however for this supposed chaos and mayhem is very thin. We have reviewed the National Environmental Management Act, National Heritage Resources Management Act, National Building Regulations Act, Port Elizabeth Zoning Scheme, The Nelson Mandela Bay Guest House Policy and the South African National Department of Transport Parking Standards. Not one of these documents quote any case study or any scholarly work that predicts the chaos and urban mayhem that would emerge should these restrictions on personal freedom not be imposed.What is clear and beyond discussion or dispute is that land use controls have the very powerful effect of entrenching the status quo. Any attempt to change the status quo is met with complicated compliance hurdles that need to be overcome. So while being defended as necessary devises to maintain urban order, land use right restrictions serve to maintain and the status quo of the built form making it difficult for new entrants in to the market. Since, as it can be seen from Rognlie’s work, much wealth accumulation actually arises from the ownership of real estate Rognlie, M. (2016), any attempt to maintain an urban form status quo, must simultaneously be understood to be an attempt to maintain (if inadvertently) a wealth inequality status qou.
Those individuals attempting for the first time to build wealth through real estate are confronted with a set of building regulations that are very difficult to comply with when working in such a way as to best mobilise sweat equity. Building materials that are freely available, such as those required for wattle and daub wall construction or round pole roof construction for example, are not permitted by the national building regulations. While South Africa has a rich and varied pre-colonial architectural tradition, Frescura, F. (1981) traditional building skills have also been lost (partly as a result of the imposition of building regulations making the application of these
traditional skills illegal). The net effect of the imposition of building controls historically in South Africa has been to outlaw traditional building methods, bringing to an abrupt end the evolution of building materials and methods that comes with societies that urbanise organically outside of the context of colonialism. This evolution of building technique from rural to urban circumstance is evident throughout Europe, India and China but largely absent in societies that have been colonised. While this may appear to be a subject of importance perhaps only to architectural historians, the loss of a tradition of building to meet a families’ housing needs, has had a significant impact on wealth creation over passing generations. Those new entrants into the market, who do manage to acquire a structure compliant with the National Building Regulations, find themselves limited in a number of ways. They very often may not build on the full extent of their site (limited by coverage and bulk factors). Their attempts to increase their wealth by adding value to the property are limited by these controls. They are very often limited in the uses they may put their property to. Their ability to grow their wealth by adding revenue generating actives to their land is severely curtailed. The height to which they are able to build is very often limited, once again limiting the value that could have been added and thus the wealth growth opportunities.
Because of a pattern of restriction on land use rights over the years, the understanding that changing the status quo is very complicated and time consuming has become common among landowners. The impact of this “common knowledge” is to dissuade land owners from ever attempting to build wealth through expanding their own properties. This results in either spending on non-investment grade consumer items or in allocating resources toward poorly performing listed assets or derivatives thereof marketed by the financial planning industry. The available research on the impact of land use rights on wealth inequality is sparse or only indirectly relevant. The research however on the impact of the tendency of land use rights to dissuade landowners from consider changing the status quo is completely absent from scholarly literature. This is not surprising as it is of course very difficult to develop a methodology to quantify that which did not happen or that would have happened. Taleb, N. N. (2007). So while the points above illustrate the mechanisms that serve to limit the ability of new entrants and small land owners to fully exploit the wealth generation potential of their land, wealth inequality does not arise out of this phenomenon only by virtue of it being very complicated to close the wealth gap from the bottom up but also because those investors in the economy that already have significant wealth are able to negotiate the hurdles of land use right restrictions to release value and thus increase their wealth. In the case of land and land use rights it is certainly a pattern of the rich get richer, not only because the rich are able to purchase real estate in greater quantities, but because “the rich” are able to afford, the lawyers, town planners, environmental consultants, architects, engineers and heritage practitioners required to unlock the value in investment land. This is evidenced by the fact that by far the significant majority of new retail space, new office space and new industrial space in cities like Port Elizabeth results not from the small private land owners transforming their properties to meet these needs, but results rather from the work of big capital acquiring land and (at great expense) changing its rights to accommodate significant new investment. 4. What can be done?
In South Africa, as in many other parts of the world, land use rights and building controls are entrenched at many levels of government. To remove or modify them will prove to be a very complicated task requiring significant resources and determination. But before there can be any hope of progress in this regard, the important work that needs to be done is to develop a comprehensive “cost benefit analysis” of the barrage of land use right and building controls that are current and applicable. This paper postulates the hypothesis that land use right restrictions and building controls in their current form serve to not only perpetuate wealth inequality in South Africa, but in fact aid in the increasing the gap between the rich and the poor.
The economy of Port Elizabeth, South Africa and the world, has been characterised since its establishment by a series of “disruptions”. A disruption can best be described as an innovation that creates new markets and radical transforms and industry or even an entire economy. Seba, T. (2014). Perhaps the first major disruption the Port Elizabeth region experienced was the introduction of an agricultural economy introduced by Nguni speaking
people migrating slowly from the north along the east coast of Africa. Beef, dairy and crop growing technologies combined with a whole range of implements possible with iron smelting technology, completely overwhelmed the pre-existing hunter gatherer economic model. Mostert, N. (1992) Evidence suggests that hunter gatherer economy that had existed for tens of thousands of years was completely disrupted and replaced with in a relative “blink of an eye”. Since that disruption there have been continuous waves of disruption characterised by among others, shipping and navigation, gun powder, telecommunications (since the telegraph), railways, the internal combustion engine, Air transportation, the internet and smart phones. Disruptions are very difficult to predict. Taleb, N. N. (2007) This fact is true even for the most well-resourced corporations in the world including those corporations who are highly specialised in the sector of the economy in which the disruption is about to occur. In 1985 AT and T famously predicted that the US demand for mobile phones would be no more than 900 000 by 2000. The actual figure was in fact will over 100 million. Seba, T. (2014) Governments have an even worse record at anticipating disruptions than do corporations. When we return to our focus on land use rights, we see that in places like Port Elizabeth where we find that restrictions on land use rights, have the potential to significantly impair and slow a region’s ability to take up new demand that may emanate from a future disruption.
This is especially significant in economies, like South Africa, that are attempting to transform existing and entrenched patterns of wealth distribution. This is true because one of the few things that we do know about disruptions is that they generally tend to not favour those already entrenched in the sector or the economy. AT and T was not the major beneficiary of the disruption caused by mobile phones in the US, the existing taxi industry was not the major beneficiary of disruption caused by Uber and horse breeders were not the major beneficiary of the disruption caused by the steam engines.
Transformation in patterns of wealth distribution is of course complicated and all encompassing, but where transformation touches land use rights, it is clear that we need to act firstly to remove land use right restrictions that are standing in the way of current and future disruptions. Presenly, technologies like Air B and B are disrupting the short stay rental economy, but the Local Authority has on its books a “Guest House Policy” that would cause law abiding citizens to think twice before taking advantage of the sometimes significant revenue streams that would be accessed by making use of the simple, free disruptive technology.
Uber and its competitors have begun to disrupt the pattern of private motor vehicle ownership. One of the consequences is a dramatic reduction in demand for parking space at for example shopping centres or theatres. Henao, A. (2017) We know that government takes a long time to react. It takes a lot of effort to remove a regulation or a statute, the real fear therefore is that in spite of a disruption enabling a much greater percentage of the investment on each retail site being invested in retail space, that this will not happen very soon because of the length of time it takes for processes to pass through government. It is because of our poor track record in anticipating disruptions and governments poor record in in reacting quickly that we argue that the options under consideration must include the complete removal of land use right restrictions and building controls.
It is anticipated that there will be significant resistance and intransigence toward any campaigning for the removal of land use right restrictions and building controls. It is also anticipated that it will not be enough to popularise and analyse studies that point to the many success stories of cities with little or no planning.
A possible route to consider is that of the court system, where the attempt would be to show that land use right restrictions and building controls are an infringement on personal freedom that cannot be justified by any scientific evidence of harm that would be caused if this personal freedom were not infringed upon. While this route remains a possibility, what is required to precede such action, is a clear and defensible methodology to illustrate the beneficial economic impact of the removal or relaxation of land use restrictions and building controls. The route therefore proposed to test the hypothesis put forward in this paper, is the development of a computer model that is able to test the impact of relaxing or removing land use right restrictions and building
controls in the context of a functioning urban economy. It is proposed that we use data from the city of Port Elizabeth in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality to develop and test this model.
This type of modelling has been used with varying success for years to model demand for public and private transport. Sophisticated modelling packages have been able to test impact of various road building projects on trip times and other quantifiable measurable that enable policy makers and public executives to make decisions regarding the allocation of funds to public works projects. What we propose is the development of similar city wide modelling software that is able to deliver clear physical, spatial and economic measurables resulting from the manipulation of land use right restrictions. The economic measurables we propose though should include, overall economic impact, impact on job creation, impact on wealth creation, impact on wealth inequality. Because of the number of variable involved it is anticipated that the computing power required of a model of this nature would be significant. The timing of this proposed model may therefore be especially appropriate given the continued rapid grown in computing power with machines now rapidly nearing human intelligence in some complex fields and already outstripping human performance in a number of less complex tasks.
Understanding land use rights and their impact on the potential of land to express its full development potential, is a highly technical field. Many architects through years of practice and working up against these land use right restrictions have become acutely aware of the impact that these controls have. In South Africa there exists a group of professionals that call themselves “Town Planners”. These professionals, in the South African context, are experts in the processes involved in changing land use rights from one form into another. Due to the amount of time that Town Planners spend dealing with the technical aspects relating to land use rights, they are well placed to articulate themselves on the subject. The fact however that the town planning profession relies for its income on Land Use rights existing (in as complex a form as possible), makes it less likely that voices will emerge from this profession that will honestly and critically reflect on the negative impact that land use right controls may have on society.
This being the case, Architects, as a group of professionals seem the most likely group to take up the cause of activism in this regard. This paper therefore reaches out to Architects to criticise and guide the activism and research that may be triggered by ideas contained herein. Feedback from this paper will guide the next step to be taken either by the author of this paper or by other individuals that may emerge as a result of the discourse that flows from it. References
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