Spatial Analysis and City Planning

Start main page content

About Us

What is Johannesburg’s role in the regional economy? What relationships does the city have to other regional centres? How does Johannesburg compare and relate to other cities in emerging economies and BRICS countries?

Our Beginnings: 2010-2015

The South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning is an NRF funded research chair situated in the School of Architecture and Planning seeks to understand and explore these questions. The Chair was established in 2010 under the name of the South Africa Research Chair in Development Planning and Modelling and in its first five years attempted to respond to the challenges of rapid urbanisation in the global South, and especially to the development of large and complex city-regions that pose considerable dilemmas for planning and urban management. The primary objective of the research was to support, develop and promote forms of development planning that will contribute to making cities in poor and middle-income countries more liveable, sustainable, efficient and equitable. Other objectives of the research included: contributions to local and international scholarship, the mentorship of emerging scholars, the development of research partnerships with agencies in the public and private sectors, and the bridging of the theory-practice divide.

In satisfying this mandate over the first five years the Chair undertook a number of projects such as:
  • Spatial Change in the City of Johannesburg (which resulted in the production of a significant book as a collaboration with Professor Todes, Graeme Gotz and Chris Wray)
  • Resilience Assessment for Municipalities (funded by the Department of Science and Technology as part of its Grand Challenge on Global Change and conducted as a partnership with senior academics in the School of Architecture and Planning, the School of Law and the GCRO, and also with the The Agence Française de Développement - AFD)
  • The Peripheries of the Gauteng City-Region (jointly with the GCRO)
  • Spatial modelling
  • Alternative Formalities, Transnationalism and Xenophobia in Inner City Johannesburg (a trans-disciplinary project co-ordinated jointly by the SoAP HOS, the Chair and CUBES)
  • Mining and Human Settlement in the Platinum Belt (with support from SWOP)
Direct contributions to policy development were the result of the Chair’s membership of: the National Planning Commission; the Panel of Experts for the formulation of the (national) Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF); and the Carnegie3 Think Tank on Poverty and Inequality. In addition, the project on urban resilience involved a partnership with metropolitan government and the research outcomes of the project have been distributed to municipalities across the country.

The Second Cycle: 2015-2020

After the completion of the first five years, the Chair reviewed the research and inputs that it had made and the environment and context in which it operated and chose to slightly refocus its work. Thus during the first five year cycle, the Chair directed its research mainly to examine spatial change within the metropolitan City of Johannesburg, and drew on this in making contributions to national and local policy-making. The work was “territorially-focussed” although the contributions were to wider policy and debate.

Since 2015, the focus has been on the “relationality” of change. Johannesburg has largely remained our key case-study, but attention has shifted: thematically, development planning is still a key interest; comparative research has become increasingly important:

Comparative Urbanism

The programme has shifted to looking at Johannesburg within wider economic, socio-political and cultural networks, which extend across geographic scales from the local, regional to the global. The new focus has been on comparative research, with exploration of the City in relation to large cities and city-regions in the countries in emerging economies, especially those of the BRICS network. Work under this aegis includes:

Local and Regional Comparisons:
  • Nelson Mandela Initiative: Strategies to overcome poverty and inequality, comparing Delft, Cape Town and Johannesburg, Inner City
  • Transforming urban peripheries: an analysis of the drivers and lived experiences of infrastructural and economic change in South Africa and Ethiopia 
BRICS urban comparisons
  • Transnational capital and city expansion: the case of Modderfontein: understanding the flow of international capital, how ideas travel and the effect these have on the morphology of Johannesburg’s growth
  • BRICS Urban Lab Initiative: creating a network of BRICS city labs to engage in comparative research
  • BRICS Cities Book: an sole-written publication comparing BRICS cities
  • BRICS think tank chapter inputs: an input on urbanisation, infrastructure development, housing and mobility for the
  • BRICS Factsheets: Comparative research amongst BRICS cities, through the creation of a resource of key factors for 32 BRICS cities

Development Planning and everyday practice

The focus on “development planning” has remained but is looking at this theme in ways that have not often been considered:
  • Mothers in the City: the challenges, strategies and tactics that mothers use to navigate their lives and lives of their children in the Greater Johannesburg area
  • Film and the City:
  • Urban Resilience Assessment for Sustainable Urban Development Project: extension of previous work on densification and resilience and aims to deepen our understanding of processes of densification
  • The Johannesburg Rail Transport Corridors: historical perspective of Johannesburg’s development at the nexus of rail transport nodes
  • The making of public spaces in Africa: comparing policy and practise in Kigali, Nairobi and Johannesburg

Considering Urban Governance

There has been a strengthened consideration of issues of governance. In particular, the Chair has provided support to the City of Johannesburg, Provincial and National Government through:
  • City of Johannesburg position papers on “Spatial Futures Paper: Aspirations and Actions Regarding Form and Spatial Change in Johannesburg” and “Strategic Planning in a Turbulent and Uncertain Context” - Reports for Group Strategy, Policy Coordination and Relations, City of Johannesburg
  • Supporting the Corridors of Freedom and Engaging with the Wider City: providing fine-grained inputs to help ensure that the City’s Corridors of Freedom are more socially inclusive and aware of the social and economic conditions that require support in these areas.
  • Governing the Future City: A comparative analysis of governance innovations in large scale urban developments in Shanghai, London, Johannesburg.
  • The Urban Innovation Publication: a publication on urban innovation considering upscaling and replication.
  • Urban Labs: monthly interactions between the City of Johannesburg, other spheres of the state, sector experts and practitioners focusing on broad issues of city growth and restructuring in Johannesburg and how they can be addressed.