Photography by:
  • Mark Lewis

Spatial Transformation

The Gauteng City-Region (GCR) is a complex space of diverse socio-spatial relations, with its apartheid planning before 1994 continuing to cast a long shadow over it. The city-region extends beyond the borders of the Gauteng province, covering the ex-bantustans within its commuting distance. There are arguably few major metropolitan regions in the world that have such a periphery, with city-sized populations forced by past policies into inefficiently located, not-quite-urban and not-quite-rural settlement forms. Importantly, there are important continuities of these historical spatial organisations, with spaces produced before democracy being reinvented and transformed in some respects by those who use them today. In the quarter of a century since the advent of democracy, a large quantity of built urban environment has been added.

The spatial transformation thematic area examines the urban landscapes of Gauteng through the production of urban space both with respect to its original construction and its transformation by those who use it. The suburban fringes of Gauteng have been extended through hundreds of gated community developments. Townships, meanwhile, have been extended and transformed through a number of forces. A number of policies are in place to address this ongoing segregationist spatial transformation, although many commentators within government and beyond it cite the difficulties of achieving more comprehensive spatial change. The thematic area invokes a rich literature on the landscape (e.g. Mitchell; 2000; Cresswell, 2003), with one on the ‘production of space’ pointing to how cities are made by countless actors engaged in autoconstruction and those who use space on a daily basis; and how society is now specializing in making and trading space, no longer making and trading goods in factories. The sheer scale of urban forms today has provoked major international debates on the political economy of urban development, including the idea of the spatial fix (Harvey 1982); regime theory (Elkin 1987); and planetary urbanization (Brenner, 2013). This research theme will also be in conversation with the extensive literature on urban transformation in South Africa (e.g. Crankshaw 2008, Harrison, Gotz, Todes and Wray 2014). Projects may also engage literatures on compaction, transit oriented development, verticality, infrastructural citizenship, and resilient cities.

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