Ekurhuleni prepares Africa's first Aerotropolis

The City of Ekurhuleni, adjacent to South Africa's largest city Johannesburg, officially released its Aerotropolis Master Plan last week. Aadil Engar, an urban planning specialist at the City, offers insights into the initial planning stages (2011), through to alignment with presidential infrastructure programmes (2012/13), and the final overarching Aerotropolis Master Plan (2015).

The relationship between of transportation, infrastructure and land uses (commercial, retail, industrial and residential) are becoming increasingly important as cities grow. Airports are not only centres of economic activity, contributing to trade, investment and tourism, but also have adverse impacts of noise pollution. For this reason, these key facilities were located as far away as possible from the cities they serve.

The same trend hold true for the O.R Tambo International Airport, which initially was constructed to serve the major cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Located on the periphery, the airport played a major role in spurring on industrial development and stimulated the local economies of the growing city-region. Today, this city-region makes a major contribution to South Africa's economy.

Promotional material from the City of Ekurhuleni. Source: City of Ekurhuleni

Promotional material from the City of Ekurhuleni. Source: City of Ekurhuleni

The City of Ekurhuleni, born out of the amalgamation of 9 distinct mining towns, struggled to find an identity as a region. The strategic and national importance of O.R.Tambo International airport, which tremendously affected the surrounding land-uses, provided the City the identity it was desperately seeking. Aerotropolis is a concept popularised by the writings of Prof. John Kasarda, director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at University of North Carolina, and was seen as a fitting urban response to O.R Tambo International Airport, Africa’s largest and busiest, handling approximately 18 million passengers per annum and 87% of all air cargo movements. 

The aerotropolis model brings together airport planning, urban and regional planning, and business-site planning to create a new urban form that is highly competitive, attractive, and sustainable
— John Kasarda, co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next

Ekurhuleni is gearing to become Africa’s first aviation and logistics based economy and a mega aviation hub, also known as the Gauteng City Region Aerotropolis. Ekurhuleni alligned its growth strategies with the master planning of an Aerotropolis for the following reasons: Firstly, an interconnected road network that connects the airport to the adjacent metropolitan areas of Johannesburg and Tshwane. Secondly, an extensive rail network in the form of freight (Transnet), passenger (PRASA) and high speed rail (Gautrain) traversing the city-region. And thirdly, a highly developed industrial and manufacturing economy that has maximized its operations, spurring on economic growth, creating jobs and consolidating the city-region. 

Motorway approaching the O.R Tambo Airport is also an important logistical corridor to industrial areas. Source: City of Ekurhuleni (provided)

Motorway approaching the O.R Tambo Airport is also an important logistical corridor to industrial areas. Source: City of Ekurhuleni (provided)

The Aerotropolis concept for Ekurhuleni City was first introduced in 2011 through the Metropolitan Spatial Development Framework. Subsequently the Aerotropolis Strategic Roadmap was adopted following consultations with international experts in the field of aviation city building. This laid the groundwork to develop and further integrate the concept into the sphere of municipal strategic planning.

When the City adopted its Growth and Development Strategy 2055 in 2013, the Aerotropolis concept was entrenched as a key economic lever to drive the growth trajectory. At this point, the Aerotropolis was also incorporated as one of the key projects in the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission’s SIP2 portfolio (see National Instrastructure Plan), which in essence seeks to drive the development and enhancement of the Durban, Free State and Gauteng N3 logistics corridor. This provided substantive importance and recognition of the Aerotropolis at a national scale.

Regional integration in the Gauteng Province is essential to the success of the city-regions, making up the majority of South Africa's urban economy. Source: City of Ekurhuleni (provided)

Regional integration in the Gauteng Province is essential to the success of the city-regions, making up the majority of South Africa's urban economy. Source: City of Ekurhuleni (provided)

Having secured significant support at a national level, a formal working partnership between the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) and the City of Ekurhuleni, strengthened by a pledge signing between ACSA, the City of Ekurhuleni and the Gauteng Provincial Government, was signed into action in 2013. Mr. Jack van der Merwe, the CEO of the Gautrain Management Agency, was assigned a convening role in the Steering Committee of Aerotropolis Programme at a provincial level.

The planning of a 30-year Aerotropolis Master Plan was also commenced in 2013, after appointing a consortium of local and international experts. Substantial work was undertaken to delve into various streams of planning and economic development modelling and scenario planning. This project was planned over two years, and to be released in 2015. 

In the interim, the Aerotropolis Planning and Land-use Guidelines (PLUG) was developed and approved in 2013. These guidelines identified the physical manifestations of the core of the Aerotropolis as well as the possible land-uses which should be promoted within the various city nodes.

A number of local development plans, such as Riverfield (above), will be part of the Aerotropolis Master Plan. Source: City of Ekurhuleni (provided)

A number of local development plans, such as Riverfield (above), will be part of the Aerotropolis Master Plan. Source: City of Ekurhuleni (provided)

In 2014,  the City’s Planning department completed the Regional Spatial Development Framework (RSDF) for Region A, within which the O.R.Tambo International Airport is located, and continued with the drafting of Regional Spatial Development Frameworks for the other newly demarcated planning regions, which in turn would integrate and co-ordinate and in most cases replace a number of local spatial development frameworks. This was an important exercise, because prior to the formation of Ekurhuleni as a metropolitan region, development was guided by plans of nine different small town administrations, unrelated to the broader goals and objectives of the region. The RSDFs for the other 5 regions (B-F) as well as the MSDF review were also completed and approved during 2015.

The focus of implementing the 30 year Aerotropolis Master Plan will start in 2016 with a programme to mobilise strategic stakeholders and partners across all levels of government and the private sector. Through the master plan, the city’s dreams and aspirations are physically manifested through the 29 catalytic and mega projects and plans, designed to unlock a new growth path not just for the city, but for the Gauteng City Region and the entire African continent.

About the author:

Aadil is an Urban & Regional Planning graduate, and also qualified with an Honours degree in Environmental Management. He is currently studying towards a MSc Town & Regional Planning. Aadil is employed as an Urban Planner at the City of Ekurhuleni, currently working within the City Planning: Specialist Projects Division. Here he is facilitating various projects and programs such as Strategic Urban Developments (SUDs), Built Environment Performance Plan (BEPP), the Capital Investment Framework (CIF) and various Aerotropolis planning initiatives. Get in touch with Aadil via his Link-In Page

 

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