In April, 2023, the African Centre for Cities and the Economic Development Partnership (EDP) began a new collaboration. This partnership, building on a decade-long relationship between the two organisations, focuses on building knowledge from, with, and for urban practice.
To kick off this engagement, the EDP supported the teaching activities of the ACC’s new master programme: the Master in Sustainable Urban Practice (MSUP). The MSUP focuses on developing an applied and critical skillset for practitioners. The aim of the programme is to develop a new generation of ‘urban integrators’ based on the ability to work across disciplines and sectors. Vital for this is the ability to move between scales and registers, concept and practice, policy and operationality.
Both the ACC and the EDP sit in a dynamic ‘grey space’ between knowledge and action. The ACC’s MSUP, for example, is largely attended by practitioners working across levels of government and civil society in South Africa. Similarly, the EDP has been at the forefront of designing and convening collaborative platforms and partnering processes that harness the power of diverse perspectives towards solving development issues facing the Western Cape.
While these student-practitioners face ‘on the ground problems’ in their work everyday, the partnership with the EDP – embedded within the module on Sustainable Urban Infrastructure – allows for students to practice collaborative, creative and critical engagement. Equally, the process allows the EDP and the ACC staff who are engaged in designing ‘learning journeys’ to trial various methodologies for action learning, knowledge co-production, and interactive sense-making.
“To be able to step-out of our work routines and challenges, and be immersed, even for a number of hours, in the hustle and bustle of daily life and experience, first hand, some of the implications of the decisions we make, was a welcome and refreshing approach to understanding what works and what doesn’t work in certain contexts,”remarked MSUP student, Liteboho Makhele.
The ‘learning journey’ approach uses facilitated walking, observation and discussion through a local space to reveal systemic challenges or opportunities through direct experience, while nurturing relationships and ideas for future action.
In May, on a rainy Wednesday morning, the partnership was put into action and 14 students were given the chance to spend the day with EDP staff and partners. The students, broken into three groups, were asked to engage with a series of questions. The groups focused on: culture and creative economies; green transitions; and spatial integration – visiting various sites in Langa and Athlone. These topics formed the basis of the group work assignment that they presented on Saturday morning to their peers and an assessment panel.
“If culture isn’t planned for, will it matter? This experience and exploration of the space really urged me to question what it means to be building in the city and building knowledge, more so, to engage people in that entire process,” reflected student, Kaylin Harrison.
Through these engagements with the EDP, students could engage directly with the experience of urban practitioners (like themselves) who are compelled and inspired to drive change. They could ask questions, as both peers and students, that allows for generative engagement.
Will Bradley, a student on the MSUP programme, said: “I was particularly inspired by the cycling programme and pump track at Langa which enables young people to claim their right to use public space in a positive way.” Another student, Jesse-Daniel Box said: “The excursion was truly enlightening, providing me with a genuine glimpse into the intricate realities of South Africa. Having been confined to my own perspective for quite some time, this experience allowed me to witness the multifaceted challenges our country faces. Thanks to the partnership, we now have the opportunity to actively address these issues, engaging with all stakeholders and uncovering any overlooked aspects through collaborative efforts.”
“I came to understand that building sustainable communities is more about building people than structures; that sustainable development is less of a destination and more of a journey made simpler by strong partnerships , for example collaborations with EDP and the communities of Langa and Athlone.”