The South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning

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The South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning is situated in the School of Architecture and Planning, at the University of the Witwatersrand and is headed by Prof Philip Harrison. This collection includes research outputs from the programme, including those under its previous name, the South African Research Chair in Development Planning and Modelling. For information on accessing The South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning collection content please contact Janie Johnson via email : For information on accessing Architecture content please contact Bongi Mphuti via email : or Tel (W) : 011 717 1978.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 5 of 20
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    BRICS Cities: Facts & Analysis 2016
    (South African Cities Network, 2017) Harrison, Philip; Yang, Yan
    BRICS Cities: Facts & Analysis is a compendium of research produced through a partnership between the South African Cities Network (SACN) and the South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning (SA&CP) in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. It presents key general and thematic descriptive and comparative information about urban growth and development in the five BRICS states: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The comparative analysis includes a section relating to cities in Africa, while the detailed Factsheets cover thirty-one of the largest BRICS cities. BRICS Cities provides a first-of-its-kind research base to inform ongoing sub-national BRICS research and policy consideration. Recent reports on urbanization point out that over the next 20-30 years, almost all of the expected growth in the world population will be concentrated in the urban areas of the less developed countries of which a significant 42% will occur in cities in BRICS countries. Despite the fact that the distribution of the urbanization figures will be highly unequal between the different countries, considering the currently high levels of urbanization in Russia and Brazil and the extremely low levels (just over 35%) in India, the realities of large scale urbanization can and no doubt will have substantial impacts on the material conditions of urban life, governance, service provision, social relations and the environment. There has also been, and will continue to be, the expansion of networks of all kinds far beyond designated urban boundaries. In some cases, these challenges and the expanding boundaries have been met with additional layers of government, innovations in policy-making, and the reconfiguring of relationships between urban actors. However little is known in a comparative sense around some of the most important sites and cities in the BRICS countries , and insufficient research has been undertaken to learn from the differences that have been identified. The SACN and SA&CP, in line with our mutual interest around the nature and shape of urbanization and urban processes in South Africa and in BRICS countries, have developed a compendium of comparable information around key cities in the BRICS countries. BRICS Cities will serve as a useful reference of important base line information but also offers comment on the state of key areas of shared concern: innovation-driven economies, transport and mobility, and green energy. Furthermore, the publication provides a careful analysis of these factors in a comparative and relational framing.
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    (2016-06) Todes, Alison; Charlton, Sarah; Rubin, Margot; Appelbaum, Alexandra; Harrison, Philip
    Addressing the racially divided, sprawling and socially inequitable spatial form of South African cities has been key to strategic spatial planning and urban spatial frameworks in South African cities, including in Johannesburg. These ideas were included in the Johannesburg 2006 Growth and Development Strategy (GDS), and in the 2011 GDS, which focused more strongly on resilience, but making strong links to spatial form. They have also been a consistent element of various rounds of Johannesburg Spatial Development Frameworks (SDFs). However, despite several of these concerns being embodied in national urban and city policies, objectives to restructure cities spatially have proven to be very difficult to achieve, and there is a growing frustration and questioning of whether some of these objectives are still appropriate. At the same time, the urban restructuring agenda, and the areas that spatial policy addresses have been constrained in practice, and there are several gaps and silences in the issues that are addressed. This paper provides a discussion of the choices, tensions, and trade-offs facing spatial policy in Johannesburg. It considers whether the policy objectives expressed in existing spatial policies (including the Johannesburg GDS and SDF) are still relevant, and address key spatial dynamics and issues. It does this by exploring several key areas of debate around the spatial form of cities and spatial policy internationally, examining how they manifest in Johannesburg, and highlighting these choices, tensions and trade-offs. It recognises, as a starting point, that while urban spatial policies have some power to shape spatial change, spatial trends and dynamics occur in a complex environment, where there are many drivers and shapers of spatial change. As emphasised in the position paper on ‘Strategic Planning in a Turbulent and Uncertain Context’, spatial policies that hope to influence spatial change need to understand the (shifting) key trends and drivers that affect space, including demographic, economic and social patterns that influence the demand for space. There are many examples of spatial plans which missed key trends, vastly over- or under- estimated population growth, and consequently planned for spatial forms which proved to be inappropriate. The spatial form of cities is also shaped by markets of various forms. Planning may attempt to engage with and regulate or direct these markets in the interests of its social and spatial goals and objectives, but it does not have completely free reign. Further, there are frequently disjunctures between strategic spatial planning and implementation, reflecting limits in terms of capacity, political will, institutional cooperation/integration and other factors. Finally, city spatial policies do not occur in isolation, nor do spatial policies necessarily have the power desired by planners. Spatial change and spatial form is critically affected by infrastructural investments, particularly in relation to transport (roads, transit systems), which are frequently follow a different planning process and logic (UN-Habitat, 2009). Likewise, differences between spheres of government and sectoral departments with power to invest in the built environment are also key to the disjunctures between spatial plans and outcomes. The emphasis on housing delivery on scale, along with cheaper land on the periphery, has undermined spatial policies towards urban compaction both internationally (Buckley et al., 2016) and in South Africa (Charlton, 2014). The recent international emphasis on ‘mega- projects’ is often driven by the private sector (such as major gated estates), but also by parts of the public sector (for example eThekwini’s airport). It is also influencing spatial change, bypassing spatial plans or forcing their adaptation (Shatkin, 2008; Robbins et al, 2015; Todes, 2014). This paper explores several key points of focus and debate affecting the spatial futures of cities, particularly in relation to Johannesburg. It draws out the key choices, tensions and trade-offs in these areas, and their implications for future spatial planning in Johannesburg. These include: • The debate over the creation of a more compact urban form, versus expanding and sprawling cities, including the discussion of new cities and satellite cities. Sustainability and resilience as key discourses and their implications for urban spatial form, and the role of transport and mobility will be considered in this context. Understandings of densification, how it is encouraged and managed will also be discussed. • Trends towards social exclusion versus arguments for spatial justice and the right to the city. This discussion considers trends towards privatised and splintered urbanism, gated communities, gentrification, and safety and security as a driver. It also discusses other dimensions of exclusion/inclusion—race, gender and the question of migrant spaces, and policies on socio-spatial integration. • Processes of spatial change in poor neighbourhoods, and initiatives to improve conditions there, including upgrading informal settlements, the growth of informal trade, addressing backyard housing. • Relationships between space and economic development, including the dynamics of growth and decline across the city, debates over promoting development on the periphery versus existing areas of agglomeration, and initiatives to promote economic development in townships. • City-region and multi-scalar governance, including the extent to which metropolitan governance addresses competing tensions and interests across the city, cross-border issues, and disjunctures and tensions between spheres of government.
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    Strategic Planning in a Turbulent and Uncertain Context`
    (2016-08) Harrison, Philip; Appelbaum, Alexandra; Charlton, Sarah; Rubin, Margot; Todes, Alison
    Uncertainty and turbulence is a perennial feature of the context within which cities must plan but there are time periods in which a sense of uncertainty is heightened. This has been the case in the period since the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/08 where the experience of uncertainty has reached levels not known since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Financial Crisis was an ‘uncertainty shock’ but it has left tremors in its aftermath. As one commentator put it, the recovery from the crisis has been “anaemic, brittle and fraught with uncertainty” (Tyson 2015). The combination of economic uncertainty in the contemporary period with political turbulence, global terrorism, and anxieties over climate change has created a ‘perfect storm’ of uncertainty. Wiltbank et al. (2006) write that “unknowability (true unpredictability) can be a disquieting and disruptive phenomenon.” This is especially so for the activity we call ‘planning’ which, almost by definition, requires some degree of confidence in our expectations for the future. The legitimacy of planning depends on the extent to which is can handle radical uncertainty. While the more traditional forms of planning may be helpless in the face of this uncertainty, there are, fortunately, approaches to planning within contexts of uncertainty that have evolved in both corporate and public sector planning practice since at least the late 1960s. In this paper we begin by outlining some of the dimensions of uncertainty, both globally and for the context of Johannesburg, focussing on aspects relating to demography, environmental threats, economy, society and politics, acknowledging, of course, that these are all profoundly interrelated. We then explore the multifaceted literature on planning for uncertainty, using the framework provided by Wiltbank et al. (2006) which distinguishes between approaches which are concerned with the better positioning of an institution within an uncertain environment, and those which actively attempt to shape environments. We apply the useful elements of the varying approaches to a brief analysis of Johannesburg’s current Growth and Development Strategy (GDS) exploring the extent to which the GDS has successfully accommodated uncertainty. We conclude with recommendations on how a new or revised GDS may better respond to uncertainty. Our approach to this study is broadly informed by a key insight offered by Peter Drucker in his seminal piece, ‘Planning for Uncertainty’ published in The Wall Street Journal in 1992. Drucker asked the question “What must we do––in fact, what must we become––if we are to successfully navigate the treacherous waters of unpredictability?” He argues, with reference to corporate planning but with relevance to public sector planning, that traditional approaches to dealing with uncertainty are not helpful: Uncertainty––in the economy, society, politics––has become so great as to render futile, if not counterproductive, the kind of planning most companies still practice: forecasting based on probabilities. (Drucker 1992) Drucker suggests an alternative approach to thinking about the future. Instead of asking “what is most likely to happen?" planning for uncertainty asks, instead, “what has already happened that will create the future?” This is the approach we take below in outlining dimensions of uncertainty. Our analysis is not futuristic and speculative but rather asks what the existing or emergent trends, and identified risks, are and what this may mean for the future. The reality, of course, is that the future is thoroughly unpredictable and we can only present these dimensions as illustrative of the scope of uncertainty and not as the basis of any form of projection. More important, appreciating these sorts of uncertainties, is how we can proceed with non-predictive forms of planning. A critical question that will address further in the text is whether our planning should focus only on adapting to uncertainty, or whether it should actively seek to shape the nature of the uncertainty. We do not assume that uncertainty is necessarily negative. In the corporate literature, at least, there is a strong recognition that uncertainty brings opportunity. This is arguably also the case in planning for the future of large and complex cities. Kaplan (2008) writes that, with uncertainty “often the basic meaning of a situation is up for grabs”. With uncertainty comes the opportunity to rewrite scripts in more desirable ways. However, there are massive risks if trends are misread or ignored.
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    Ruling the Underground: Governance and Agency in a basement in Hillbrow
    (South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning, 2016-07) Rubin, Margot; Gewer, Hayley; Campbell, Morag; van den Bussche, Jennifer
    An unexpected answer a chance encounter, led to the discovery of the life and everyday experiences of people living and working in a basement in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. Unseen from the street level and only known to “insiders” who work and live in the inner city, the basement is used every hour of every day. It is home, work and leisure space, where the sacred and the profane sit side by side. Children are cared for, objects are assembled, taken apart or taken away, deals are made and prayers are offered; all to the steady rhythms of hammering, welding, singing and drumming that signal the hours, days, weeks and months that pass by. This report outlines the informal governance relations and socially determined rules that allow for the creation of multiple purposes in a space that has been reterritorialised and repurposed. It also attempts to tell the story of life in a basement, considering its cycles, rhythms and beats within a space that simultaneously typifies the lived experience and working lives of many low-in- come people in Hillbrow. The basement affords important and invaluable opportunities for trying to understand a range of social and economic experiences and practices that take place within spaces that are informally regulated and hid- den. Thus far, much existing research has focused predominantly on everyday social and economic engagements and interactions that occur at street level, or in demarcated spaces such as markets. In these spaces performativity and agency are more visible and, as such, are better able to be scrutinised and controlled. By contrast, activities within the basements are hidden, and occur within spaces where the distinctions between formal and informal, regulated and unregulated, legal and illegal are even more blurred and difficult to understand than those observed above the ground. This report presents an argument that invisibility, being beyond the gaze of the state, is an invaluable asset for many poorer people. Such “invisibility” ensures that the basement dwellers and users can live and work outside of the rules, regulations and laws that would otherwise deny them income or shelter. However, it goes further and demonstrates that the invisible and the informal do not equate with the chaotic or anarchic, as is the case so often presented. It explains how the often complex, yet still enduring and supportive nature of the socially determined rules of operations and relationships, occur within such a space. The report also speaks to the idea of reterritorialisation, yet moves beyond an acknowledgement that such a process does take place, to an investigation into exactly how spaces are repurposed and retrofitted for new uses. We assert that reterritorialisation is as much about the physical adaptation of the space and reconstructing its materialities, as it is about re-working the rules that govern its use. Thus there is an interlocking process whereby physical change is reinforced through new rules for the territory which, in turn, allow and support both the physical transformation as well as the new uses of space. One without the other would be impossible. As such, this research begins analysing the complex dynamics that arise at the intersection of space, scale, networks and agency, in a particular setting. Current planning procedures and policies do not account for the broad (and expanding) spectrum of diverse urban practices currently occurring within the inner city. A city’s response to these urban challenges is often to try and eliminate such practices through rules and discourses of perceived normalisation. Given the necessity and embeddedness of the spaces under review in this research, it would seem more productive to rethink and redefine policies and regulations in ways that would enable people to work and live more functionally, and with integrity. The report begins with a reflection on our process and experiences of conducting research in the precarious spaces of inner city basements in Hillbrow, and the difficulties and challenges that arise when “outsiders” enter these spaces. We ask questions around what this means for the research, the findings, the researchers themselves and, most importantly, the respondents. Following this meditation, we discuss our theoretical framing, which moves away from the traditional discussion of formality and informality. Rather, our choice is to present the findings from our work through an adaptation of Lefebvre’s (1994) notions of rhythms and cycles as the structuring elements of the discussion, and to demonstrate how the activities in the basement have rhythms and cycles that differ in lengths and intensities. Embedded within these rhythms and cycles, questions emerge that relate to how space has been repurposed, how livelihoods are sustained, and how daily management and governance facilitates these temporal phases and processes. The final section provides key conclusions, and offers some ideas on how to support these spaces without interfering and destroying what is taking place.
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    Transport and Urban Development: Two Studies from Johannesburg
    (University of the Witwatersrand and Gauteng City Region Observatory, 2015) Weakley, Dylan; Bickford, Geoffrey
    This work seeks to quantitatively investigate the relationship between population density and transport in the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality (CoJ), South Africa. It does so by comparing data from the Gauteng City Region Observatory’s (GCRO) 2011 Quality of Life Survey (QoL) (Gauteng City Region Observatory, 2011a) to population density data from the South African Census 2011. The work finds a correlation between urban population density and the use of different modes of transport in the City of Johannesburg, with private cars used more in lower-density areas, and higher rates of public transport and non-motorised transport use in higher-density areas. The study also compares density and household income to the use of public transport in the city. Across all of the household income categories in the QoL 2011, those living in higher-density areas are more likely to use public transport than those living in lower-density areas. Lastly the paper examines why those living in higher-density areas are more likely to use public transport than those living in low-density areas. The data suggests that cost and walking time to public transport are major factors. On average, walking times to public transport increase as density decreases. Household incomes in higher-density areas are generally lower than those in lower- density areas, and public and non-motorised transport is generally cheaper (in real values) than private motorised transport.