Urban Festival 2020: A festival of virtual proportions

The festival’s ‘Empowering the Civic’ theme is about valuing the voice of the civic in all its rich and diverse forms

22 October 2020 - 08:56
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We can build a better future through acknowledging and celebrating diversity, says Urban Festival opening speaker Sumayya Vally.
We can build a better future through acknowledging and celebrating diversity, says Urban Festival opening speaker Sumayya Vally.
Image: Supplied/SA Cities Network

The imagery of our cities is massively informed by our own lived reality. This is what I took away from the passage read by young and emerging author Keletso Mopai from her book If you keep Digging on the opening day of the Urban Festival 2020.

Her own story of moving from a small-town township to the big city of Joburg and having travelled the country observing and engaging with SA’s people, has certainly fuelled her imagination of life here. It is a life of contradiction and complexity, darkness and light, trauma and liberation, hope and despair, depression and inspiration. 

The Urban Festival 2020 is the first edition of the event in SA that seeks to provide a virtual platform for engagement on urban development ideas and perspectives. This year’s theme is “Empowering the Civic” and contends with how technology could be used to bridge gaps and enable development.  

Watch the video below:

“Empowering the Civic” is about valuing the voice of the civic in all its rich and diverse forms. As Urban Festival opening speaker Sumayya Vally (another young South African breaking barriers on the international stage) said, we will be able to build a better future through acknowledging and celebrating diversity.

The Urban Festival brings together so many South Africans who are out there doing  considered and conscious things to improve people, places and the economy. It’s about providing platforms for people to tell their stories to inform a more diverse understanding of where we have come from and where we are going. 

Government certainly has a role to play in shaping the developmental agenda; the job of providing public goods and services is best performed by the government. The critical question is what does a local government system that actively empowers the civic look and feel like? These questions have been explored in the “MY IUDF” sessions during the Urban Festival 2020.

From a leadership perspective, a government-supported platform for listening and engaging a diverse group of urban stakeholders is an important part of the puzzle. With about 80 events and 30 host organisations across society and some international hosts, a festival is something that could be sustained into the future and provide a relatively low barrier of entry for wider groups to connect and engage.

Notwithstanding, the challenges faced by data connectivity and access to many of the poor and marginalised groups in society, the enthusiasm with which South Africans, Africans and international guests have engaged in the Urban Festival 2020 has been encouraging. 

Urban Festival 2020.
Urban Festival 2020.
Image: Supplied/SA Cities Network

Covid-19 has highlighted the extreme levels of inequality that persist in SA. And, as the world becomes increasingly uncertain, with the true impact of climate change and public health crises predicted to become a more frequent occurrence, we have no idea what the future will look like. Providing digital access and improved public facilities has risen up the ranks of priorities. 

Considering the impact on mental health with isolated city living, and with so many developmental challenges still being faced, we have to find a way to rebuild the people, places and economies that will take us into a better future. It cannot be enough to make it through and return to the old ways: we must be courageous and find different ways of being and doing.

SA policy is filled to the brim with transformative rhetoric that has been struggling to find expression off the paper and out in the real world. Perhaps history tells us that sometimes good ideas need moments of crisis to find tangible expression. The Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF) is one of the good transformation-laden policies that could benefit from the opportunity this Covid-19 moment presents to support bold steps to forge a different path. 

What the Urban Festival and “MY IUDF” sessions are showing is that perhaps empowerment starts with self. Despite all the challenges faced by SA, people are taking courageous steps and doing amazing work to uplift their communities and have managed to find a way to keep going even during the past six months.

If the government could use the IUDF to inform a more empathetic and development partner approach to its work, then hope abounds. The signs are clear that people will continue to drive development as best they can. The government has an opportunity to rewrite its own rule book now and get with it or be left standing in the way. 

For more information on the Urban Festival 2020 and to join the conversation and festivities visit www.urbanfestival.co.  

This article was paid for by South African Cities Network.