Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies (CUBES)



CUBES at the World Urban Forum, Medellin
Read more 


Inner City Database click here Guides for tenants     click here
Guides for landlords  click here Guides for sectional title owners click here


“Faces of the City”

Date: Tuesday, 01 July 2014
: 16:00 – 18:00
First Floor Seminar Room, John Moffatt Building, Wits East Campus

Read more


City Studies Conference 2014

It focuses on ’urban materialities’ and the place of the poor in South African cities: how material realities of contemporary cities (their built environments at different scales, access to urban goods and central spaces, contestations about urban physical and political orders) affect urban citizens and in particular the marginalized groups. It builds on (but differs from) dominant approaches on cities in the South, which have progressed towards understanding urban subjectivities, diversities and cultures, but have tended to forget the lived realities of ‘most of the people’ (Chatterjee 2004). It aims at critically reflecting on existing practices of planning and architecture, constantly at risk of excluding the poor in their quest to order and formalize contemporary cities.

Therefore CUBES has, and is developing, expertise on the following five thematic fields:
1)    Planning with informality
2)    Building sustainable cities
3)    Building integrated cities
4)    Building democratic cities
5)    Building urban cultures and meanings

It relates to a unique variety of post-graduate city studies such as Urban Design, Housing, Development Planning, Urban Sustainability, Urban Politics and Governance. This places the Centre in an ideal position to build research capacity amongst academics and young future scholars, as well as to initiate innovative thinking around issues of South African cities such as equality, informality and governance. Its three key pillars are:
1)    Grounded and excellent research
2)    Education and mentoring
3)    Civic engagement and activism

These pillars are manifest through CUBES activities, which include collective research programmes, individual members’ expertise and institutional partnerships:

  • CUBES organizes conferences, exhibitions and the Faces of the City Seminar series (run weekly, jointly with the NRF Chair on Spatial Change and the Gauteng City Region Observatory, GCRO).
  • CUBES thematic teams run regular workshops including junior and senior researchers for focused discussions.
  • CUBES central activity is community-oriented City Studios, which link research, engagement/activism and teaching/learning.



25 October 2013

Members and friends of the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies (CUBES) in the School of Architecture and Planning at Wits University note with grave concern the evictions and violent raids on over 3 000 informal traders that have taken place since 10 October under a “clean sweep” initiative following a directive of the Mayor of the City of Johannesburg.

As indicated by the Socio Economic Rights Institute, the operation does not comply with the City of Johannesburg’s existing economic, spatial or urban management policies or by-laws, which claim that the City recognises informal trade as a key economic activity which creates livelihood opportunities. Nor does it abide by the City’s own statement issued earlier this year that said it wants to ‘ensure informal trading is effectively integrated into the economic, spatial and social development goals of the city’.

As the country anticipates marking twenty years as a leading democracy and an exemplar of the principles of social justice, accountable government and responsible economic development, these actions symbolise not simply a flagrant disregard for proper procedures but a violation of the tacit agreement made between informal traders and those tasked with governing the city.

This “clean-up” campaign in the inner city is in no way constructive but rather has endangered the livelihoods of thousands of traders and their families and constitutes an abandonment of the City’s developmental aims, particularly for the city’s poor.

In a context of rising unemployment informal trade provides income generating opportunities for many thousands of people who are not able to find employment in the formal sector. This campaign is anti-poor and it cannot be viewed outside the context of violence, some xenophobic in orientation, which is levelled against many traders across South Africa.

We insist on invoking South Africa’s framework of human rights, these traders’ rights to dignity and their rights to the city, to trade in places of centrality. We demand a full enquiry into the actions of the police and JMPD during the raids, the legal basis for the raids and the removal of stands, confiscation of goods and denial of permission to trade.

The academic community is watching the situation in the inner city very closely. We call for an immediate end to these raids and we demand constructive engagement with traders. We also insist that the City abides by its own policies and strategies. The City of Johannesburg presents itself as a “caring” World Class City, but questions remain on how it can claim this status in the absence of supporting sustainable livelihoods and a coherent and inclusive strategy for street traders in the inner city.

Signed: Dr Sarah Charlton, Mpho Matsipa, Dr Margot Rubin, Professor Marie Huchzermeyer, Hannah le Roux, Professor Alison Todes, Kirsten Dörmann, Dr Sally Peberdy, Jennifer van den Bussche, Dr Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon, Dr Christopher McMichael, Neil Klug, Associate Professor Diaan van der Westhuizen, Associate Professor Claire Benit-Gbaffou, Solam Mkhabela, Professor Philip Harrison, Dr Costanza La Mantia, Associate Professor Mfaniseni Sihlongonyane, Nqobile Malaza, Garth Klein.

CUBES members Margot Rubin, Neil Klug and Sarah Carlton were recently asked to contribute an article to the Saturday Star on the question of urban land reform. Read more



(Last updated on 6 February 2014)