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Zones of displaced urbanisation

Much current policy oriented spatial research is single-issue driven, with the research question set by a policy problem in need of resolution – the affordability or poor location of housing; what sustainable human settlements are all about; how to activate transit oriented development; and so on. This research is important and valuable. But very often it is normatively driven rather than dispassionate and objective, and it does not carefully enough examine actual spaces and spatial processes through a multidisciplinary perspective. This project moves from the premise that a ‘landscape’ study approach – involving both careful empirical analysis of specific places over an extended period, as well as new theorizing of the urban processes shaping them – may better elucidate the global and generalisable and the local and idiosyncratic forces (including government policy) producing this region’s settlement forms.

This longer term project will study the GCR’s ‘zones of displaced urbanisation’ holding hundreds of thousands of people, but without discernable economic centres, in the north-east and north-west of the GCR. This focus is important because the idea of an extended city-region, spanning across the borders of the Gauteng province, is often mentioned, and the need to situate the trends and dynamics shaping Gauteng within its wider frame – the platinum belt in the west, the coal and energy economies of to the east and south – is frequently highlighted. However to date GCRO has done very little sustained and in-depth research into the areas adjoining Gauteng proper. The ex-bantustan and homeland areas north of Gauteng are a significant and generally under-studied feature of the region. There are arguably few major metropolitan regions in the world that have such a periphery, with city-sized populations forced by past policies into inefficient and inappropriately located not-quite-urban and not-quite-rural settlement forms. We know very little about how these areas are changing. Do long term commuting patterns still sustain them? Are they ageing and depopulating over time? Are they benefiting from investments of migrant worker wages? Are any new local economies emerging over time? What are government’s plans for them, and how do these articulate with the long-term strategies (spatial and otherwise) being generated by Gauteng?

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