Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies

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Current projects and initiatives

Collective book projects

Four international edited book projects currently underway within CUBES, each building and reflecting on collective projects within CUBES  are on the themes of

  • housing and urban governance in Africa,
  • the peripheries of African cities,
  • practices of the state in urban governance and
  • the disruption of global norms through everyday practices.


Support to representative structures in shack settlements

CUBES provides technical advice to on an ongoing basis to two shack settlements in pursuit of incremental, in situ upgrading or development. One is Harry Gwala, located within Wattville near Benoni in the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality. The other is Slovo Park to the south of Eldorado Park in Soweto, within the City of Johannesburg. This ongoing engagement provides insight into the limits of the statutory tools and instruments for ‘upgrading of informal settlements’, the shortcomings in institutional and intergovernmental arrangements, and the outsourcing arrangements. On a yearly basis, a ‘student-stakeholder engagement on informal settlement upgrading has brought community leadership, NGOs and officials from key departments and agencies together to update, reflect and debate on progress on and obstacles to participatory, incremental informal settlement upgrading as indented by policy.

SERI held a webinar on 30 July 2020 reflecting on the Slovo Park informal settlement upgrading process. Neil Klug and Marie Huchzermeyer who have long been involved in this process participated alongside Nomzamo Zondo from SERI, Lerato Marole from the community forum, and Jacquie Culyer from 1to1.

Neil Klug and Marie Huchzermeyer presented in the Faces of the City Seminar series in 2022. The seminar presentation titled ‘Upgrading of Informal Settlements in South Africa: Policy, Policy Engagements, Divergence and Failed Efforts at Unblocking Implementation’.

Marie Huchzermeyer presented a reflection on ‘understanding the state from below’ about Harry Gwala and Slovo Park in 2020 in the CPR-CHS Seminar Series of the Centre for Policy Research in India.


Between struggle and ambiguity: women, water and sanitation in Dar es Salaam and Tshwane's self-built peripheries

Through a sandwich postdoc fellowship sponsored by Wits University’s Centennial funds and co-hosted by the School of Architecture and Planning and CUBES (Prof Sarah Charlton), and the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield (Dr. Paula Meth), Priscila Izar is furthering her research work around the everyday practices and long-term strategies that women adopt towards improving urban and living conditions in their territories. Furthermore, she is look at the ways in which ambiguous and fragmented state approaches intersect with women’s action(s), and the outcomes of these relationships on the built environment and in women’s lived experiences of activism and struggle. The investigation is based on a case study in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and in Tshwane, South Africa, taking as a point of departure women’s action in water and sanitation. This work builds from research at the intersection of gender and urbanization at the periphery that Priscila coordinated at the Dar es Salaam City Lab (Ardhi University, Tanzania), and which also received support by an Urban Studies Foundation International Fellowship and Knowledge Mobilization Award.

In parallel to the postdoc research, Priscila Izar is co-leading a series of seminars with support from the Urban Studies Foundation Seminar Series Award, to strengthen debate and dialogue about the multiple ways in which contradictory outcomes of urban transformation at the periphery affect marginalized women, through gender and intersectional lenses and south-south comparison.  Titled Feminising urban struggle: bodies, territories and politics in women’s production and reproduction of peripheral spaces, it also involves the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo in Brazil and the Institute of Human Settlements Studies at Ardhi University in Tanzania.


Wits-TUB-UNILAG Urban Lab

This project began in 2016 through collaboration between the School of Architecture and Planning at Wits and the Habitat Unit at TU Berlin funded by the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD. In its second 5-year phase starting in 2021, the project incorporated a third partner, the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development at the University of Lagos. As a Postgraduate SDG School, the first phase supported PhD students, the restructuring of the School’s interdisciplinary masters degrees into one Master of Urban Studies with different fields, the introduction of a new field in Urban Management, and bursaries for numerous masters students. The second phase of the project includes fewer bursaries, but incorporates postdocs, the development of young career researchers, and collaboration on a book project that critically engages global urban policy norms. The research components of the project are located within CUBES. For more on the project, see https://www.wits.ac.za/wits-tub-urban-lab/ and https://www.urban-sdg-school.org

The Wits-TUB-UNILAG Urban Lab has issued a call for sessions for its conference titled ‘African Urbanisms: Critical Engagements, Transformative Practices, Alternative Futureswith a closing date of 21 January 2024. The conference is hosted by the School of Architecture and Planning, University of the Witwatersrand, 23-26 October 2024.