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The role of urban design in South African corridor development

The role of urban design in South African corridor development

Comrie, Henri Pierre (2003) The role of urban design in South African corridor development. PhD thesis, University of Greenwich.

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The joyous advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994 brought real promise of an improvement in the life chances for millions of marginalised South Africans. There was reason for many citizens to have great faith in the new order after decades of sustained struggle. Effective state intervention and the spatial reorganisation of society seemed a realistic prospect in a country blessed with abundant natural resources and an established industrial base. The power of the state to affect change at the grassroots level was however soon compromised by the substitution of the populist Reconstruction and Development Programme with the neoliberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR) by mid 1996. South Africa was now part of the international community and the new government's gaze was directed away from its popular support base. The radical and risky policy shift was influenced by demands of an international investor community and by the dictates of international donor organisations. Announcement of the policy shift was a low profile affair and few citizens had any real comprehension of the impact the shift would have on the capacity of the new ANC government to deliver on its electoral promises.

Change in the macro economic policy reverberated within the lower tiers of government and in local authorities. Urban development policy was repeatedly rewritten; first in response to the dictates of the socialist RDP in 1994, and again in response to a neo-liberal GEAR in 1996. In 2000 the fragmented urban management system of appointed officials was replaced by an elected metropolitan government system. This initiated a third, profound shift in the policy context as each metropolitan government sought to formulate its own, context-specific policies. The most recent shift is significant since it has resulted in massive organisational upheaval and restructuring. However, it has opened new laboratories, which generates new opportunities for more responsive and accountable policy-making and planning. These new opportunities emerge against a backdrop in which the comedy of policy shifts that have occurred during the past nine years have resulted in little action and a growing crisis on the ground.

Despite the policy shifts, corridor development has remained a constant feature of post apartheid urban development frameworks. Initially it made sense as a mechanism to physically integrate fragmented cities. It fitted a populist agenda, had political currency and was an easy sell. After the adoption of neo-liberal strategies it would receive another label; that of an accessible armature for private investment. Importantly, the latest policy shift in 2000 offered an opportunity to consider the city in a holistic and integrated fashion. This represents the belated death of the Apartheid City, which was characterised by fragmented, sub-regional councils linked to racially defined urban enclaves. New metropolitan governments arguably have greater capacity to facilitate and co-ordinate action in the extended corridor zone than has ever been possible.
Effective implementation of a regional capital web of minimal public investment now becomes a distinct possibility.

The recent adoption of a metropolitan government system and the associated strategic urban management approach offers an opportunity for reflection and for the construction of an informed vision of the role of urban design in corridor development. Whilst the corridor concept has survived, its purpose has become confused. While not discarding the corridor idea, many proposals that originated during the early post apartheid years are being questioned by new metropolitan governments. The new crisis is largely the result of the private sector having shown reluctance to invest in marginal zones of the city. Since corridors were originally conceived as devices which aim to link marginal zones to the core of opportunity, their capacity to facilitate change is limited by the sustained lack of market interest.

While the market remains reluctant to invest in the areas of greatest need in corridors, requirements for improved mobility and access amongst the urban poor have escalated dramatically as millions of migrants from the rural hinterland and the African sub-continent flock to the urban peripheries. Migrants squat on the verges of highways or crowd into the backyards of apartheid-era townships. They are effectively constructing their own informal corridors along lines of access. This dynamic adds to the emerging crisis associated with an uninterested private sector.

This thesis responds to the crisis from an urban design perspective. It evaluates the actions of urban designers in the corridor context during the past decade, and tests the perceptions of ordinary citizens who are affected by corridor development. While doing this it questions the predominance of generic approaches to corridor development and draws on insights gained from international fieldwork in Malaysia, Australia and Peru. Finally, it presents a strategic approach that indicates ways in which urban design may realise its potential to become an enabling discipline in the participatory development of the post apartheid integration corridor.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:
Uncontrolled Keywords: urban design, city planning, urban corridor planning, South Africa, post-Apartheid,
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
S Agriculture > SB Plant culture
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Architecture, Design & Construction
School of Architecture, Design & Construction > Department of Architecture & Urbanism
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:15

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