Trickle-out urbanism: are Johannesburg’s gated communities good for their poor neighbours?

In 2015, the billionaire Douw Steyn launched a mixed-use megaproject 27 km north of downtown Johannesburg. Plans for Steyn City include 10,000 high-end residential units along with private hospitals, schools, a golf course, an equestrian centre and 2000 acres of parkland behind a 3-m-high perimeter wall. The launch attracted some critique in the media for the exclusive environment that the development sought to create, an ambition that seemed particularly incongruous given its close proximity to the poor settlement of Diepsloot. In response, the developers argued that the project had created more than 11,000 jobs and that wealthy people should invest close to places that need work and livelihood opportunities. This paper is based on interviews with workers who live in Diepsloot and travel each day into Steyn City to work for subcontractors building infrastructure, housing and social facilities. The empirical material shows that although these workers acknowledge the opportunity of employment, they are aware these jobs are uncertain, mostly low-skilled and insufficient to cover the basic costs of everyday life in Diepsloot.

“Residents of Steyn City do like to help out people from Diepsloot, but their kind of help is not the one that will enable people of Diepsloot to empower themselves. ... they are moving forward with their lives and while we are falling behind. I’ve worked the entire year last year but I have nothing to show for it.” (Matthew, Construction Worker and resident of Diepsloot, 2016)

Key points

  • Champions of Steyn City argued that the development was creating opportunities for those living in neighbouring Diepsloot and Cosmo City.
  • While workers that we interviewed were grateful for these opportunities they struggled to make ends meet on the income that they received.
  • In 2016, general construction workers building Steyn City were earning an average of R2 839 a month.

The full article is available at this link.

Recommended citation

Richard Ballard, Gareth A. Jones, Makale Ngwenya (2021). Trickle-out urbanism: Are Johannesburg’s gated communities good for their poor neighbours? Urban Forum. 32(2): 165-182.

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