Photography by:
  • Gareth Pon & Nichola Bosman & Sifiso Mashwama

Taking streets seriously

In many parts of the city-region, streets are congested with cars, trucks, minibus taxis, pedestrians, and informal traders. In other parts of Gauteng, streets are quiet, underutilized, and frequently underserviced. The surface quality of the city-region’s streets varies widely from the engineering marvel of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project to those (relatively few) remaining gravel or dirt roads, and everything in between.

This project is entitled “Taking Streets Seriously”, and that is what it will do. Specifically, it will take a careful look at a number of streets around Gauteng, to understand the functions they serve, the functions they could instead (or in addition) be serving, and how successful they are at doing so.

We have highlighted the range of functions and activities associated with streets and the diversity of street experiences in the city-region. The project will include case studies of streets from a variety of different conditions in order to interrogate how good urban design and liveable streets may shift in different contexts. It is our intention to understand the various logics at play in Gauteng’s streets; not only those of their designers or builders, but those of the people who inhabit or use or otherwise interact with them.

We hope to provoke a re-imagination of our streets, not least as streets rather than roads, but also as public spaces. Streets comprise by far the majority of public space in contemporary Gauteng where other forms, such as plazas and parks, are inadequate. Streets taken seriously have enormous potential to enable and encourage public life in Gauteng’s cities; conversely streets neglected outright or designed with indifference or even hostility towards their non-motorised users—as we will argue many are—can constrain the society and economy of a city.

Ultimately we hope to correct an urban discourse that overlooks streets and their potential. In a time of enormous excitement and corresponding investment in our cities, we would like to see some of both directed towards the street. The first output is a research report with a variety of chapters and reflections from GCRO researchers and external contributors. We are looking to produce a second output of either another research report or a book.


Research Report

Harber, J., Parker, A., Joseph, K. & Maree, G. (eds.) (2018) Taking streets seriously, Johannesburg: Gauteng City-Region Observatory.

Map of the Month

Harber, J., Maree, G., Parker, A., & Joseph, K. (2018) The streets of Gauteng, GCRO Map of the Month, January 2018.

Seminar and Presentations

Alexandra Parker (April 2017) 'Pedestrians, Parking and Public Space: Streets in Suburban Johannesburg'. Taking Streets Seriously Symposium. Wits University, 5 April 2017

Jesse Harber (April 2017) 'Seeing the better Braamfontein'. GCRO Taking Streets Seriously Symposium. Wits University, 5 April 2017.

Mamokete Matjomane (April 2017) 'The Politics of 'The Piles': contestations of street trading on De Villiers Street'. Taking Streets Seriously Symposium. Wits University, Sturrock Park, 5 April 2017.

Kate Joseph (April 2017) 'At the intersection of informality: Following Moshoeshoe Street'. Taking Streets Serious CRO Symposium, Wits University, 5 April 2017.

Last updated 28 February 2018.


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