Dislocated Suburbia

LSE Cities MSc. Thesis

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My Master of Science in City Design thesis examined the changing suburban fabric of Johannesburg. Through a categorization process, variance across suburban conditions was mapped and solutions to long ingrained challenges of segregation, securitization, and wealth inequality were identified. Emergent hybrid processes that have seen slow change in some suburbs were identified as potential solutions to creating a suburbia with greater density and income mixing. An extract from the conclusion of the thesis outlines an important finding:

“In essence, the apartheid model has become a tool for development, premised directly on socio-economic exclusion. Each restorative action is met somewhere else by a regressive response. It is thus not only a population of citizens and developers who demand such segregation, but city designers, too, who are allowing this unabated proliferation of increasing exclusion to continue. In fact, city designers, as was the case during apartheid, are regularly the very creators of the segregated urban landscape.

The message here perhaps is that the city is not an object that can be designed, but merely a supportive framework that enables a diverse population to live and work, and that actively presents opportunities for economic and social development. Above all else, though, a city values the democratic rights of those who reside in it to make and take part in it.

This framework is spatial and infrastructural, but importantly it is significantly cultural. This is where the city designer can make a difference, whether at the scale at which the city itself is made, within a community, a local organisation, a residents committee or a body corporate. An in-depth understanding of a local condition, combined with a broad knowledge of the city’s variances, can facilitate as opposed to dictate urban solutions.

It is the process of design when facing a diverse context like Johannesburg that should replace a fixed outcome driven, urban agenda. Not only does process imply continuing change and development, it prevents a static vision for the city. It allows the framework of the city to enable a ‘becoming’ of the future, as opposed to rigidly dictating it. While it is not realistic to remove goals from a city or regional plan and a considered aspirational approach to building a city is important, it is necessary to do away with imaginations of an alternative that will never be fulfilled, a point in time at which the city is ‘achieved’, such as is eluded to by Johannesburg’s Growth and Development Strategy 2040.”