African Real Estate Summit pres.: Vision for Future African Cities

“My vision for future African cities, are cities of more equal opportunity and greater access, where residents can participate in the social, economic, and political life of the city.”

Exclusive interview with Nico Venter, Associate Director at Arup’s Johannesburg Office, responsible for the Urban Design and Cities business in South Africa.

At the recently concluded African Real Estate & Infrastructure Summit he is presenting a case study on “Transit Oriented Development in Addis Ababa”. Arup (Pty) Ltd is the Southern African firm – part of the United Kingdom, Middle East and Africa (UKMEA) region of the global firm of Arup.


African Real Estate Summit: Let’s start with some background about the work in the real estate and infrastructure sphere that you do at Arup?

Nico Venter: The Cities Group (South Africa) is focussed on the business of city making; embracing the emerging complexity in urban thinking, planning and implementation to create visionary, viable and equitable urban environments.

Arup is an integrated consulting practice that provides the spectrum of built environment planning and design services across sectors.

Our involvement in planning and designing infrastructure in Africa has evolved to include transaction advice and property portfolio management that is inherently linked to our approach of total design.

This is further extended to the inclusion of specialist design services such as transit oriented development and the provision of smarter infrastructure systems.

We have focused on these specialisations in the recognition that African cities require flexible and integrated solutions that lead to inclusive development and appropriate investment.

ARES: Any specific projects that you are involved in that you are particularly excited about at the moment?

NV: Our multidisciplinary projects span from urban regeneration -to commercial -to engineering infrastructure.

On a city level, Arup recently completed a transit oriented development masterplan for the light rail transit system in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The project focused on realising the economic potential of the key stations along the light rail system; while regenerating the city, thereby making use of hard infrastructure systems to unlock multiple gains that improve the social and economic prosperity of citizens.

Arup (Structural & Facades) is involved in the development of the iconic PwC office tower, Waterfall City, Midrand. The project is a unique iconic spiral tower that signifies the emergence of the Waterfall City node, contributing to the changing skyline of the city.
Arup has been working as the Lenders Technical Advisor for the Rand Merchant Bank on the Stortemelk Hydropower project. The scheme is one of a few hydropower schemes that have been implemented under the South African Renewable Energy Programme and is the first to reach commercial operation.

ARES: What in your view are the main challenges to the real estate & infrastructure sectors in South Africa (and Africa)?

NV: At the top of my list are:

  • The need for proper planning and design;
  • The deficiency of appropriate legislation to support planning and implementation;
  • The structuring of appropriate project finance, that include capital, operational and maintenance cost;
  • The separation of pro –poor and pro –business policies; and
  • The lack of understanding the value of good design.

ARES: And the opportunities?

NV: The rate of urbanisation in Africa and the rise in more stable governments that we have seen in the last decade, are a real opportunity to improve our cities and the lives of their citizens.

The interest and commitment of many city authorities to advocate for and implement mass public transit, special economic zones and renewable energy projects is a positive trend that bodes well for African urban dwellers and investors.

In addition there is great potential to design, plan and implement smarter solutions (not necessarily high tech – but smart tech), that will enable cities in Africa to leapfrog those in other regions in terms of development, climate change response and resilience; thereby creating a new urban agenda for progress in Africa.

ARES: What is your vision for this sector?

NV: Cities by their traditional definition are places of opportunity and access. For many people living in African cities today, this is not the case. Spatial and economic exclusion have created what urban scholars refer to as the phenomenon of ‘large and poor’ cities.

These are cities where the benefits of urbanisation through the clustering of people and opportunity are unrealised.

My vision for future African cities, are cities of more equal opportunity and greater access, where residents can participate in the social, economic, and political life of the city.

This vision to me is a planned vision, that can be realised through a principled approach to city making and service delivery, that builds on our inherent strengths to enable better futures.

The vision is to create meaningful places where people (citizens, government and commerce) thrive throughout their lives.

ARES: You are presenting a case study at the upcoming African Real Estate & Infrastructure Summit on “Transit Oriented Development in Addis Ababa”- can you give us a sneak preview of your message at the event?

NV: My message is really about having a contextual understanding of the urban environment that you function within Secondly, seeing the opportunity that infrastructure (planned, existing or new) offer the city and its users.
Thirdly, optimizing the use and applicability of that particular infrastructure. Fourthly, unpacking these opportunities in small practical steps that can be implemented and multiplied (and adjusted) throughout the urban environment by a multiple of role-players.

ARES: What are you most looking forward to at the event?

NV: Arup is a firm that values collaboration. This is a concerted effort that is imbedded in our design processes and our products. So, we are always on the look-out for new partners and associates that can enrich the work we all do.. For me, events such as these are a great platform to engage the right people, and build relationships for future projects. ASPIRE


The African Real Estate and Infrastructure Summit, in partnership with United Cities and Local Governments Association Africa (UCLG-A) and WESGRO, took place at the CTICC in Cape Town on 2-3 November 2016. The summit sees leading African cities showcase their urban development plans and discuss the challenges and opportunities of their urbanisation. The event format is conference and exhibition, continuing under the theme “Developing Future Cities”.

Visit, African Real Estate Summit, to find out more.

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