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Cities of Hope: Young People & Opportunity in South Africa’s Cities

Cape Town
Capetown, South Africa. Photo Credit: Flickr User Abdullah Muashi

South Africa—along with the rest of the Sub-Saharan Africa—is still less urbanized than most other parts of the world. However, the region’s rate of urbanization is the highest in the world, resulting in more urban areas with bigger populations as well as the rapid expansion of existing urban areas. Generally, cities are more economically productive than small towns or rural areas. They bring people together to combine their skills, are hotbeds of innovation and drastically lower the costs of many business transactions. Prof Paul Collier, one of the consulted experts, describes in this video the miracle of productivity that is the result of the density of economic activity in cities. In much of Africa, however, different from other parts of the world, urbanization has not generated the kind of productivity growth needed to raise living standards. A new report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise, CDE, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, looks into how South African cities could be turned into “Cities of Hope”, cities in which young people can find meaningful employment or create a sustainable livelihood through entrepreneurial activity.

64% of South Africa’s youth live in cities and many of these young people are unemployed.

64 percent of South Africa’s young population, aged between 15 and 34, live in urban areas and many of these young people are unemployed. Youth unemployment rates in SA cities start at around 30 percent but are much higher in many metros. While these numbers are lower than unemployment rates in smaller towns or rural areas they are still unacceptably high. People who begin their work life without a job are likely to have lower wagers over the course of their lives and face a greater risk of future unemployment. Youth unemployment impacts starting a family, can cause health issues and if persistent can even be handed down to the next generation. Ann Bernstein, the Executive Director of CDE, talks in her video about the devastating effect youth unemployment has on communities and the country’s future prospects. South Africa is a young country with 36% of its population between 15 and 34. Also, its urban population is growing much faster than the population as a whole. Given these trends, the nature and quality of the urban growth process will shape young people’s economic prospects over the next few generations.

How can cities become “cities of hope”?

Working with experts from Brazil, India, the UK and the US, the report suggests that urban growth needs to be effectively planned and managed and deliberately designed to benefit all inhabitants of a city. Policy priorities to achieve these goals include the creation of efficient markets for land and property that make the construction of medium and high-rise buildings affordable, accessible public transport systems, a skilled workforce and the availability of appropriate education and training opportunities. Cities have shown to have the power to pull people out of poverty and provide many benefits—raising incomes, delivering services efficiently and creating opportunities that cannot exist anywhere else. Focusing on creating jobs for young people and making them accessible to poor or otherwise vulnerable young populations are first steps towards creating cities of hope for a future that will be overwhelmingly urban.

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