Cities have never been more important for human well-being and economic prosperity. South Africa needs to create millions of jobs. As a relatively under-urbanised society, growing cities can be a source of dynamism and economic growth.
In South Africa economic activity is disproportionately concentrated in cities, especially in its largest metros, where 59% of the country’s economic output is generated by just 37% of its population.
If young people are disproportionately concentrated in cities, employed young people are more so. This is especially true of the metros, which are home to fewer than 40% of all young people but to more than half of those who have jobs. The concentration of youth in cities provides benefits to society as a whole, as it creates agglomerations of skill, energy, innovation and talent.
Despite this, South Africa’s relationship with urbanisation is complicated and ambiguous, if not outright hostile. Government at all levels should recognise the critical importance of cities as arenas for higher economic growth, jobs and opportunities and promote much more effective urbanisation and urban management.
This requires actively densifying cities; improving South African cities’ competitiveness; undoing the spatial legacy of apartheid; and deliver urban infrastructure as affordably as possible.