Photography by:
  • Gareth Pon

Landscapes in Transition

Despite the considerable progress that has been made over the last two decades in bringing decent shelter and basic services to communities, it is fair to say that the spatial inequalities and settlement distortions left by apartheid remain as scars on the urban landscape. It also needs to be acknowledged that some of these distortions have been exacerbated by poor state-led housing policies, as well as weak public-sector strategic spatial planning that has allowed the private production of space in unsustainable forms (such as artificially separated lifestyle estates and incongruously located office parks and retail centres) on the urban periphery. A fragmented public transport system, and the drift of jobs away from mining and industry to tertiary activities almost always located far from townships, has compounded spatial dislocations and in turn poverty and inequality.

These space and mobility issues have been a key focus for the GCRO since its establishment. Key research outputs have included a major book, Changing space, changing city: Johannesburg after apartheid; a research report, Mobility in the Gauteng City Region; and an occasional paper, Modelling urban spatial change: a review of international and South African modelling initiatives.

GCRO continues to deepen its research into space and mobility through a new set of lenses on the subject. While there are some important exceptions, 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.

GCRO’s current research supports the policy objective of ‘spatial restructuring’ through detailed multidimensional studies into particular landscapes that are either: (a) changing quickly in ways that are not clear enough to those responsible for developing human settlements; or (b) in need of dramatically different spatial-policy interventions. It is hoped 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 – will better elucidate the global and generalisable and the local and idiosyncratic forces (including government policy) producing this region’s settlement forms.

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