Nearly twenty years after apartheid, Johannesburg’s urban constellations continue to reflect its history of spatial segregation and exemplify socio-spatial inequality. Despite the relative wealth of the city and scope of its administration, planning has not yet been able to overcome these ingrained patterns of poverty and inequality. Its structure remains marked by the enclaves and buffer zones planned during apartheid. Since the end of apartheid, many of the city’s in-between and former buffer zone spaces have been abandoned or have been appropriated as informal settlements. Examining the socio-spatial isolation of these areas is the starting point of the project, using Johannesburg’s unique urban narrative and structure as the basis for the formulation of a cooperative approach to urban development. Defining and testing this tool, entitled cooperative urbanism, is the primary goal of research.
In order to achieve the project objectives, several methodologies will be employed. This includes both methods that will be unique products of the dissertation as well as established methods from the social sciences. Cooperative urbanism is a method to determine how to implement strategic urban development; it is in its early stages of development and must be defined in detail during the course of research. Ethnographic research and mobile monitoring are both methods of data collection and will complement one another in this project. Ethnographic research including expert interviews, ethnographic interviews, and annotated walks is an established method of the social sciences. Mobile monitoring is a form of GIS tracking in its early stages of implementation and will be refined during the course of research. Mapping is a well-established analytical method of both the social sciences and the fields of architecture and urban planning. Proven methods of community organization and urban/architectural design tools will also be employed.
The project’s main hypothesis is that a strategy to reduce the socio-spatial inequality of the city, or its inequality footprint, must retrofit the existing urban fabric with public resources and spaces based on the everyday patterns of low-income populations. Solutions that rely solely on formal, top-down planning mechanisms often fail to address the everyday and informal patterns of the city. A new concept of cooperative urbanism would therefore focus on the needs of its least privileged residents, creating opportunities for participatory processes and improving transparency in urban development decision-making. This concept will contribute to current debate as to how existing urban fabric can be modified with punctual, incremental interventions to achieve greater urban equitability and sustainability.