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Laying the foundation for BRICS cities research

- Wits Communications

“BRICS Cities Facts & Analysis” is a 395-page book of data about more than 30 cities in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS).

The compendium provides a first-of-its-kind research base to inform ongoing sub-national BRICS research and policy consideration.

Launched at the BRICS City Seminar in Johannesburg on 15 February 2017, BRICS Cities Facts & Analysis is the result of a partnership between the South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning (SA&CP) in the School of Architecture and Planning at Wits, and the South African Cities Network (SACN).

Professor Philip Harrison, lead author and SA&CP Chair, referred to the new comparative urbanism, which promotes a cosmopolitan agenda amidst the rise of nationalism worldwide.

“We are sympathetic to the geo-political agenda yet BRICS are large, fast-growing economies with the potential to change the geopolitical landscape. We need to understand cities in China and India; where the next wave of urbanisation is going to happen [India], and we have so much to learn from Brazil, which is 85% urbanised,” says Harrison.

The book focuses on urban agglomerations (not municipalities) and despite the challenges of securing city level data, provides a “substantive understanding” of cities in BRICS.

“BRICS cities are analytically interesting and they are in countries that underwent radical transformations in the fairly recent past. Some of these cities are important – we may not have heard their names before, but they are among the largest in the world,” says Harrison.

BRICS Cities provides a comparative overview of cities in BRICS, thematic analyses of transportation, green energy, and innovation, and detailed city fact sheets which are colour-coded per BRICS country.

Some data excerpts show that:

  •  Johannesburg is rated the fifth worst city in BRICS in terms of travel pain, higher than Moscow in Russia and cities in India
  • Eighteen percent of residents live in slums in Johannesburg and 22.6% in Ekurhuleni. In the Indian city of Hyderabad, 31.9% live in slums, and 8.5% of residents in Curitiba, Brazil
  • The highest population growth in SA is in Gauteng at 3.25%
  • Cities in Gauteng are densifying although off a low base whereas Mombai in India is de-densifying as city dwellers move to outlying areas
  • There has been accelerated de-centralisation of economic activity from inner-city areas with inner-city Johannesburg emerging as a residential node for migrants
  • Africa is lagging in terms of urbanisation at just 40% although Nigeria will grow by an additional 207-million urbanized by 2050
  • BRICS economies now contribute 25% to the international community, up from 11% in 1990
  • Cities in SA and Russia now reflect negative economic growth while Casablanca in Morocco leads as a driver of local economies that impact city growth
  • Non-motorized transport (critical for the urban poor) in the form of cycling and bike-sharing has increased in Cape Town in SA, and in Sao Paulo and Rio in Brazil
  • Russia and SA are the biggest culprits in terms of CO2 emissions per capita
  • Cape Town is an emerging leader in innovation

Dr Yan Yang, lead author and Honorary Research Fellow in the Wits City Institute, cautions against taking BRICS Cities out of context.

“BRICS are too diverse to be intrinsically comparative. The point of book is to help city governments develop a contextual understanding. The book is a beginning rather than an end. We need to expand our reach; more on Africa, more on other emergent economies,” she says.

Dr Geci Karuri-Sebina, BRICS Cities project leader and Executive Manager: Programmes at SACN, said at the launch that feedback will be helpful for future research.

“What’s really important to me is to think: What next? It’s quite helpful to hear how people respond to give us a sense of where to go from here in this area of work.”