#SFSA: Businesspeople look for answers

Pretoria – The Science Forum South Africa is primarily about scientists and researchers showcasing the latest science innovations in the country but enterprising businesspeople are also looking to it to figure out what the opportunities of the future might look like.

One of these people was a Pretoria businessman, who declined to be named, who attended a session on the Science of Cities and Urbanisation to see how that would help him in planning for his business.

The man said he was at the talk to see what ideas he could get and how they could help him when seeking business from the City of Tshwane.

At the session, Professor Philip Harrison, from Wits University, said cities were complex and fluid and therefore hard to design and plan for.

“The city is far more complicated. It is an assemblage of things that are not tangible and we might attempt to model aspects of it and we should, but we have to understand the limits of our knowledge,” Harrison said.

He said researchers needed to understand economic drivers as an important part in planning.

Even though it was hard for scientists to plan for the future cities, it was important for them to look into how cities would survive.

“If we get population data wrong in planning; if we ignore the realities of geology and water solutions what will the consequences be?

“As planners we have to make the best possible decisions as we can through making ethical choices,” Harrison said.

These decisions have to be done in understanding that more and more people live in urban areas, said Elsona van Huyssteen, from the CSIR.

“More than 70% of our population are living in urban areas. Planning is more than about cities but about the science to create space,” she said.

Dr Geci Karuri-Sebina, of the South African Cities Network, argued that when researchers conducted work in cities they must also pay attention to people who live in them.

“We need to expand the scope of questions. We need more grounded approaches. We need to be humble and take the science of cities in a robust way and not use communities as a checkbox or a side issue but as complex core,” Karuri-Sebina said.

Harrison agreed with her, saying: “The city is about the people who inhabit the city.

“It has to be about understanding their aspirations and needs but for researchers the trick is how do you do that.”

The Science Forum got under way at the CSIR Convention Centre in Pretoria on Tuesday and concludes on Wednesday, with at least 1 500 participants representing 45 countries.