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Building Gauteng

As GCRO’s November 2015 map of the month shows, urban land cover in the province has grown substantially in the last quarter of a century, and that it is set to grow a great deal more. Furthermore there has been extensive densification on existing urban land cover (Todes, Harrison and Weakley 2015). Across the province, an enormous amount of construction is under way, including major projects at Modderfontein, Waterfall and Steyn city; dozens of planned mega human settlements; vertical constructions in Sandton, Illovo, Rosebank and elsewhere; and cluster housing in the belt north west of Randburg through to south east Pretoria. In informal settlements and in state-sponsored human settlements, there is extensive self-built accommodation in the form of back-yard rooms, back-yard shacks and standalone shacks.

For the working class the property sector is a major employer and, for those who receive a low cost house, a chance for a welfare transfer and a better dwelling. For elites the property sector is a major opportunity for wealth accumulation. For the middle class it is a chance to ride a property wave and to live in spaces that augment their social reproduction. In an economy that is struggling to find an engine, the construction and property sectors are notable for their visible activity. Unsurprisingly, therefore, this sector has been endorsed by political representatives. In his 2016 state of the province address, Premier David Makhura proclaimed ‘Let the cranes go up everywhere in the province. Let the construction work intensify.’

The ‘Building Gauteng’ project complements ‘Spatial Imaginaries’ – a GCRO project which began in 2015 and which examines some of the representational and symbolic aspects of space making in Gauteng. ‘Building Gauteng’ examines a more material set of considerations including an understanding of various actors and role players in the state, landowners, developers, construction firms, and labour.

The major activity within this project for 2016-2017 was the organisation of a two day workshop from 25 to 27 July 2016, on the theme ‘Understanding the role of urban developers’. Around 50 people attended, including city and provincial officials, developers, researchers and other interested stakeholders. The meeting was divided into two parts. Half a day was devoted on an ‘Urban Lab’ which is part of a monthly series organised by the Wits South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning. The intention of this series is to allow for City of Johannesburg officials to engage with key stakeholders on specific themes. For this particular urban lab, city officials presented the Spatial Development Framework and several developers responded. The discussion brought to light some of the key differences between city officials who are concerned about urban sprawl and developers working on the periphery of the city.

The second part of the meeting, a day and a half, was a more academic workshop arranged around the presentation of research findings. It also broadened the geographical scale of interest, as it included four presentations from researchers working on other parts of the world: Jenny Robinson (working on large developments in London); Gavin Shatkin (Asian cities); Liza Weinstein (India) and Donald Leffers (Canada). In addition, 12 South Africa-oriented presentations contributed towards a wide ranging set of inputs. Some presenters are currently investigating possibilities of publishing a special issue of an academic journal on their papers.

Following the conference Richard Ballard together with colleagues who presented at the conference have been preparing a collection of 9 research papers on the role of developers based on case studies from around the world.

Richard Ballard and Phil Harrison (July 2016) ‘Transnational Urbanism: Chinese investors seeking approval to build the ‘New York of Africa’ at Modderfontein’. Understanding the role of urban developers workshop, Johannesburg (26 July 2016)

Last update: 20 October 2017


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