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Institutionalising the GCR

Provoke: to stimulate, incite, stir up, challenge, irk, exasperate, vex

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory’s Provocations is an on-going series of think pieces that give a platform to cutting edge thinking on current issues of the day, written and presented in a non-academic style and format. Each provocation is offered by an academic or practitioner for reading by a wide audience, with the hope of shedding light on key topics relevant to researchers, policy-makers, business people, activists and members of the public. The series aims to challenge conventional understandings, stimulate new thinking, stir up debate and incite readers to respond with interpretations of their own.

The idea of the city-region is growing in international prominence. This is because the form has been hailed as a means for promoting a range of agendas, from boosting economic competitiveness, to sowing integrated development benefits, to building partnerships between state and non-state actors, and even to tackling the challenges of urban growth by offering a means for thinking anew about pressing urban difficulties like mass infrastructure provision and environmental sustainability.

More and more policy and academic work is being done on this issue, with many academics arguing that the burgeoning of city-region governance is a dedicated process of scale building—in terms of both agglomeration scales and deliberate state rescaling (Brenner 1999; Scott and Storper, 2003; Jonas, 2006; Harrison and Hoyler, 2014). Brenner in fact argues that the rise of regional governance can be understood as a process of ‘state reterritorialization’, and the specific form of the city-region as ‘state spatial selectivity’—indicating that this scale has been specific chosen or built by the state (cited in Wu 2017:1135). That said, the city-region is not a straightforward site in which to organise governance. As Storper (2014) points out, governance at this scale necessarily involves many large, contested, and intertwined issues that arise as a result of strong interdependencies and cleavages, combined with fragmented geographies and overlapping implementing agencies. These issues of imbrication mean that difficulties are not amenable to a ‘solution’ so much as a haphazard muddling-through. Similarly, Wu (2017) interprets the state spatial selectivity of the city-region form not as a model to manage social provision or promote democratisation, but rather as an attempt to manage crisis.

The Gauteng City-Region (GCR) is increasingly recognised in official and other discourse. Nonetheless, this increasing recognition has not resulted in consensus of what this means, or should mean, for planning, public investment, or governance. As a prompt for thinking through the resulting complexities, each provocation in this series will take on a discrete aspect of governance related to the GCR. Taken together, this series intends to trigger debate and dialogue on various issues and ways of thinking about governance, signalling a series of priorities for consideration as we think about the future and the fortunes of the city-region.


Last updated: 30 November 2017

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