The ACC seeks to facilitate critical urban research and policy discourses for the promotion of vibrant, democratic and sustainable urban development in the global South from an African perspective.
In mid 2007, UCT Signature Theme funding was awarded to the Cities in Africa Project, which was a collaborative venture between the Faculties of Engineering and the Built Environment (EBE), Science and Humanities. The initiative is located within the EBE Faculty.
The Signature Theme builds on an interdisciplinary network of academics across these three faculties, which emerged during 2005 and 2006, and which was supported in 2006 by EBE funding. This network in turn, had emerged as a result of an initiative by the Ove Arup Foundation, which had committed funds towards the establishment of an interdisciplinary masters programme in EBE (Urban Infrastructure Design and Management) in 2005, on the understanding that faculty staff would raise further funding for a related research initiative. In 2007, the proposed new director of the Theme was also granted an NRF Research Chair in Urban Policy, allowing the alignment of these two initiatives.
Professor Edgar Pieterse was appointed to lead the Theme and take up the Chair, and he took up office in August 2007. Since then, there has been a process to rename the initiative as the African Centre for Cities to denote the focus on urban research in the global South but from an African perspective.
The ACC is a response to the growing recognition world-wide of the importance of cities, and particularly cities in the developing world. In South Africa this is reflected in the increasingly urban emphasis in policy documents at both national and provincial level. The sense is one of impending crisis, with the realisation that rapid urbanisation also raises issues of adequate food supply, affordable shelter, employment opportunities, water and waste management, public transportation, crime and disease, and environmental degradation and climate change. These challenges intertwine with critical social processes such as exclusion and conflict, which require effective socio-political management institutions and processes. Achieving well governed and sustainable cities is becoming increasingly important to the future health of the planet. And yet most policy 'solutions' continue to be generated by the large aid and development agencies of the global North, with a generally poor track-record of successful interventions in the very different context of Africa and the global South.
The central objective of the African Centre for Cities is to provide a base from which critique and alternatives in relation to urban issues can be launched. In Africa, South Africa and across UCT, urban-related research is highly fragmented. The aims of the Centre are therefore two-fold to partner closely with policy-making centres in the public sector in South Africa (national, provincial, local) and subsequently more widely to provide an alternative perspective on dealing with critical urban issues; secondly to provide an intellectual base and home for interdisciplinary, urban-related research at UCT, from which relations can be established with selected international funders and think-tanks.