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Our research team has been attending a range of conferences - and hosting workshops - to ensure ongoing engagement with the project from a wider audience.

Edge City exhibition (2020)

Edge City exhibition of photographer Mark Lewis’s images from the project, created for the Southern Africa City Studies Conference 2020.

ESRC Festival of Social Science, Sheffield (2019)
African Centre for Cities International Urban Conference (2018)

Our team hosted two panels at the African Centre for Cities' International Urban Conference

Living the periphery: researching African city peripheries through urban comparison 

This panel focuses on the spatial edges of large cities and city-regions in Africa which we argue are complex places exhibiting processes of often poorly understood urban transformations. Urban change can arise in relation to substantial state-directed investment in infrastructure, or private-sector led interventions which may enhance or undermine employment opportunities. Overlapping, weak or politically challenging governance, policy and planning measures in these areas can also mean that processes of change are poorly managed or produce conflicting outcomes. Everyday life in these areas also varies enormously, with near rural tranquillity a bonus for some, while others suffer marginalisation and social exclusion.  This panel aims to engage researchers (and other urban colleagues) interested in questions relating to the African urban periphery, in particular work which is grounded in case studies of urban change. The panel welcomes papers focusing on spatial practices, political and governance trends and interventions, economic processes and social realities among other issues. Comparisons across cases are encouraged but are not essential. 

Paula Meth: Governing the peripheries – shaping the everyday

Geographic peripheries are critical sites for governance, and for municipal, provincial and ward boundary tensions and opportunities as well as leadership changes. They are areas of complex political negotiation occurring at multiple scales, often spanning extensive low density sites, but also ones containing a real mix of income levels. In some, the role of traditional leadership is critical, and residents’ loyalties to such authority contrasts with their relationships with party leadership, particularly the ANC. These multi-scalar governance relations and practices shape residents’ everyday lives in multiple ways, underpinning a sense of citizenship, fostering welfare benefits, exercising the law, performing democracy, managing poverty and also creating situations of conflict over service delivery failures, perceived injustices and notions of corruption. These diverse governance engagements are facilitated sometimes through shifting technology and private sector economic services and negotiated through a mix of formal and ‘informal’ practices. This paper draws on comparative cases from eThekwini and Gauteng of diverse urban peripheries to offer early interpretations of governing the peripheries.

Sarah Charlton: Living on the margins of peripheral mega-human settlements: access and opportunity in Gauteng and KZN

Government-driven mega human settlements are underway or planned across South Africa, many of them on the edges of South African cities. These peripheral locations are significantly critiqued for working against attempts to consolidate, compact and integrate spreading, fragmented and disjointed cities. At times disconnected from significant businesses and jobs, there are also concerns these new neighbourhoods will further marginalise their poor and low income residents, economically as well as spatially and limit their access to the benefits of urban life. But the experience of living in these edge areas can be more diverse and mixed than assumed. This paper draws on empirical data from existing residents living in three diverse localities in or close to emerging mega human settlements, in eThekwini, Johannesburg, and Tshwane, to explore their experience of access to infrastructure, state welfare assistance, and other prospects for life improvement. The paper considers the intersection of state development and private capital initiatives at the neighbourhood level in shaping this lived experience.

Tatenda Mukwedeya: Peripheries as relational spaces: a lived experience perspective on African urban peripheries

African urban peripheries are home to a diverse range of residents. They are accommodate people from rural areas seeking a foothold in the city whilst their informal settlements often accommodate an array of residents usually in transit and seeking more formal housing and livelihood opportunities. People seeking to build their own homes also find themselves in peripheral areas, drawn by cheaper and more accessible land whilst some wealthier people have moved into these areas to escape overcrowding and other social ills in the core. The diversity of residents living in the periphery mean that they relate to the area they are living in differently because of their particular circumstances. This paper will bring out peoples understanding of where they live to offer a more nuanced understanding of what periphery means. A relational understanding of peripheries will be advanced to capture the changing meaning of periphery to the people who live in them across space and time. For instance, rural residents who move into peripheries may consider themselves to be moving into the ‘core’ based on where they are coming from whilst informal dwellers often understand themselves in relation to fellow residents residing in adjacent government provided housing. A consideration of the lived experiences of peripheral residents challenges our conceptions of what ‘us’ as scholars and researchers might have of peripheries.

Divine Asafo: Resource Struggles in the peripheries: Exploring the complexities and dynamics of land conflicts in peri-urban Accra, Ghana

Peri-urban areas are identified as centres of new developments, exhibiting footprints of rapid infrastructural growth. Distinctive characteristics of these spaces, chief among them, the availability and relatively cheaper cost of land, amidst the rapid deterioration of urban services, unguided urbanisation, and the lack of effective and comprehensive urban policies account for the substantial transformation of peri-urban areas in Africa. Although serving as a ‘safe haven’ for new developments, peri-urban spaces have become tenure hotspots threatening land use, tenure security and subjecting properties to intense contestation with rapid change in access and authority. The privatisation and commodification of land, the co-existence of different modes of supply, speculation of land prices, existence of multiple institutions and weak governance among others are argued to be the underlying factors eroding the tranquillity surrounding peri-urban lands. In recent times, peri-urban land conflicts have become crucial and intertwined with diverse complexities threatening socio-economic and infrastructural development in peri-urban areas. The paper thus explores the dimensions, dynamics and levels of land conflicts in peri-urban areas of Accra, Ghana’s capital, in order to comprehend and establish the fundamental challenges facing peri-urban development.

Jen Houghton: Jobs and livelihoods in the periphery

This paper explores the multiple complex ways in which diverse residents in varied urban peripheries seek, access, do not access, different types of work and employment situations. It uses a comparative approach across cases in eThekwini and Gauteng to examine this overarching critical issue. In some areas, extensive investment in housing and also infrastructural projects, such as King Shaka airport, are still struggling to counter poverty and high unemployment trends, although certain skilled workers may have indeed benefitted. In others, historic investment in industry has since suffered and local residents have to look further afield for opportunities. The paper considers therefore the intersection between broader processes of economic growth and decline, alongside infrastructural investments and questions their relationship to multiple experiences of job seeking and the kinds of work that residents may find. Its aim is to complicate notions of un/employment and accessing jobs in the periphery by bringing together the lived experiences of work and job seeking alongside wider structural trends.

Ngaka Mosiane: Living, making a living, and infrastructural changes in Rustenburg

Rustenburg, a mining city, has since the 1970s been attracting large numbers of people in search for livelihood opportunities. For that reason, this city’s landscape has come to be marked by, among other elements, large swathes of informal settlements interweaving mining shafts and hostels. This paper examines the infrastructural changes that have taken place in Freedom Park informal settlement in Rustenburg since 2003 – in what ways have project-linked housing, credit-linked housing, and the upgrading of mining hostels into family units not only improved the living conditions for their inhabitants, but also enabled them to use such assets to pursue other aspirations? What kinds of landscapes have these interventions created, what do such landscapes mean for ordinary people, for their place in the city, how to behave in the city and even ordinary people themselves ending up expecting other city dwellers to behave in particular ways?

Alison Todes: The diversity of peripheral urban transformations: South African cases

The spatial edges of large cities and city-regions in Africa are places of complex but poorly understood urban transformations. These processes are often inadequately managed through policy and planning. Policy debates have focused on ideas of urban compaction versus an acceptance of forms of urban expansion, with a predominant focus on proposals for new cities and grids of roads to structure growth. These sets of ideas however do not engage with actual processes of change on the urban periphery, and their diversity. This paper explores some of the forms peripheral urban transformation takes in the South African context and the complexities of their management.   In some areas, large-scale formal investment is evident, while other areas are characterised by informal development or mixtures of formal and informal processes. Theoretical framings which focus only on growth are misleading as the spatial edges of cities also include places of economic and population decline. The paper draws from case studies in eThekwini, Johannesburg and Tshwane. Places of focus include new areas of infrastructure investment and property-led growth; new state-provided low-income housing developments, some styled as ‘mega-human settlements’; informal growth including on traditional authority land; the transformation of old apartheid settlements distant from urban employment on the urban edge, including forms of ‘displaced urbanisation’, former industrial decentralisation points and associated human settlements. The paper extends discussions on the diversity of ‘African suburbanisms’ (Mabin et al, 2013) exploring a number of South African cases, the drivers of change, policy responses and debates in each case.

IV World Planning Schools Congress (2016)

Sarah Charlton presented a paper on behalf of the team at the IV World Planning Schools Congress in Rio de Janeiro in July 2016.

Living the urban periphery in Gauteng, South Africa

Sarah Charlton, Philip Harrison, Margot Rubin, Alison Todes, Tom Goodfellow, Paula Meth

Download the powerpoint presentation: Living the Urban Periphery: IV World Planning Schools Congress

African cities are often claimed to be sprawling, with peripheral growth being seen in rather polemical terms: either involving the marginalization of the poor to the city edge or the construction of exclusive elite enclaves, disconnected from the rest of the city. This paper argues for considered research which is specifically focused on the peripheries of urban areas in Africa, and makes the case for a particular methodological approach to this exploration. It uses the case of the Gauteng City Region in South Africa to illuminate what these urban peripheries and this method brings into focus. Whilst there are some studies that point to complex spatial change on the urban edges of cities in Africa (see for example Todes 2014; Doan and Oduro 2012), research has often tended to overlook peripheral areas or focus on a donor-driven conception of the ‘peri-urban’ concerned primarily with changes to land use and agriculture (Mbiba and Huchzermeyer 2002). Yet it is increasingly apparent that the edges of many large cities and city-regions in Africa are spaces of complex urban transformations encompassing multiple processes of spatial change. In some, largescale formal investment in housing and economic activity is evident historically and currently. In others, the growth is mainly happening through informal land development or a complex mixing of formal and informal processes. But there are also places of decline in local economies and population, and so theoretical framings which focus only on growth are misleading. While “new centralities” which offer prospects for employment and livelihood are emerging in some localities, governance is often weaker and more fragmented on the edge than in the core, which can produce inequalities in capacity and strategic direction.

For their residents, fringe locations, often reinforced through state-housing provision or speculative land developments, can produce mobility challenges which impact on employment opportunities, as well as strain the viability of providing and maintaining infrastructure and services. Peripheries may also be characterised by environmental hazards, social exclusion, and low levels of spatial identity and cohesion, yet for other residents the benefits of smaller communities, in peaceful or privileged locations, and of well-serviced settlements outside of the bustling core may prove highly desirable.

This paper forms part of a larger research project which addresses a critical gap through its focus on understanding how transformation in the spatial peripheries of African cities is shaped, governed and, importantly, experienced by those who live and work in these spaces. The paper discusses a particular methodological approach to a newly initiated three-year study of the peripheries in three city regions: Ethekwini and Gauteng in South Africa, and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. All three cases display rapid but variable urbanisation, changing patterns of segregation and integration, and variant patterns of governance and investment, offering critical spaces for comparative analysis, theorisation, and policy influence.

Using the Gauteng city region the paper demonstrates why the spatial edges in large cities in Africa require new attention, makes a case for what is selected for scrutiny in the new study and discusses what the particular methodological approach offers. It draws on existing studies on peripheral sites in the Gauteng region, as well as recent government proposals for new megaprojects, to explore the diversity of current edge conditions, the forms of change underway (both growth and decline), and some concerns and potentials of the proposed new developments.

We focus on how changes in infrastructure and economies through the actions of state, private sector or informal interventions, play out in the lives of people in edge locations of large urban areas, and are in turn shaped by these. We use the lens of ‘lived experiences’ to understand the intersection of state, market and people’s practices in producing “new urban spatialities” (Beall et al 2015; Mabin et al 2013; Todes 2014) and how these processes then impact on urban poverty. This idea of the lived experience of spatial change draws on significant intellectual threads in fields including urban studies, geography and planning theory, urban anthropology and sociology, and is concerned with how people live in places, including how they work, eat, parent (Meth 2013), love and die. It uses a mix of qualitative methods (including interviewing diaries and auto-photography) to understand everyday life on the periphery. In addition the project uses key informant interviews, surveys, document analysis and mapping to understand the characteristics and drivers of changes, and also the governance and poverty implications of these urban changes. The paper that will be presented draws on the first phase of the research and discusses some of the large scale trends seen in Gauteng’s peripheries, drawn from existing research, demographic and census data and demonstrating the large differentiation between the various peripheral communities. Using the information base described, it will then discuss the value and usefulness of the focus on “everyday lived experiences”.


Doan, P. & C. Oduro (2012) Patterns Of Population Growth In Peri-Urban Accra, Ghana, International Journal Of Urban And Regional Research, 36(6), 1306-1325.

Mbiba, B. & Huchzermeyer, M (2002) Contentious Development: Peri-Urban Studies In Sub-Saharan Africa, Progress In Development Studies, 2(2), 113-131.

Meth, P. (2013). ‘I Don't Like My Children to Grow up in this Bad Area’: Parental Anxieties about Living in Informal Settlements. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(2), 537-555.

Todes, A. (2014). New African Suburbanisation? Exploring the Growth of the Northern Corridor of eThekwini/KwaDakuza. African Studies, 73(2), 245-270. 

South African Planning Institute: Planning Africa Conference (2018)


Living the Urban periphery: South African cases

Alison Todes, Paula Meth, Sarah Charlton, Jennifer Houghton and Tatenda Mukwedeya

View the presentation

European Conference on African Studies (2019)


Employment, livelihoods and marginality in two South African urban peripheries

Jennifer Houghton and Alison Todes

This paper explores relationships between peripherality and marginality in South African cities through focusing on people’s experiences in accessing work and livelihoods in peripheral areas experiencing economic growth and decline: northern eThekwini and Ekangala/Bronkhorstspruit, Tshwane.

Peripheralised within the peripheries: analysing difference and uncertainty in state led housing projects in African urban peripheries

Paula Meth

Urban peripheries contain spatially standardised areas of state led housing, yet residents’ accounts of living in these spaces are often differentiated. What accounts for these differences? The urban peripheries of Ethiopia & South Africa are examined to understand the comparative lived experiences.

Chinese private industrial parks in Africa: a new nexus of industrialization and urban development?

Tom Goodfellow and Zhengli Huang

China-Africa research has largely neglected the role of private Chinese firms, particularly in industrial development in Africa. We examine cases in Ethiopia and Uganda, and explore the challenges of integrating Chinese industrial parks in with broader urban development and infrastructure needs.

Infrastructural misfits: Chinese roads and rail in Kampala and Addis Ababa

Tom Goodfellow and Zhengli Huang

We explore major city-level Chinese transport infrastructure investments in Addis Ababa & Kampala. We argue that these lack coherent development logic, being driven forward by contractors rather than states, and explore how they were negotiated as well as the challenges of integration they generate.  

African Urban Planning International Conference, Lisbon (2017)


Living the urban periphery: The case of northern eThekwini Municipality in South Africa

Alison Todes, Tatenda Mukwedeya, Paula Meth, Jennifer Houghton and Sarah Charlton

Download the presentation: The case of northern eThekwini Municipality: African Urban Planning Conference


Learning from comparing: challenges of researching across three African cities

Paula Meth, Sarah Charlton, Jennifer Houghton, Tatenda Mukwedeya and Alison Todes

Download the presentation: Learning from comparing: African Urban Planning Conference