This collection – resulting from a conference on Urban Futures in the year 2000 – addresses some of the most significant issues facing South Africa today, and a range of issues of broad concern to urban geographers. The book is arranged in three sections. The first, “Reorganizing Space”, addresses the struggle for integration in segregated space (Tomlinson, Beauregard, Bremner and Mangcu), the culture of suburban life (Czelgledy), race and class in retail activity (Tomlinson and Larsen), housing (Jürgens, Gnad and Bähr), and property investment (Goga). The second, “Experiencing Change,” portrays life in contemporary Johannesburg through work (Kesper), belonging in the city (Gotz and Simone), an unflinching article on violent crime (Palmary Rauch and Simpson), and a short but powerful photo essay (retreks). A third section on “Governing and Institute Building” provides an interdisciplinary perspective on civics and politics (Heller), policy dimensions of HIV/AIDS (Thomas), social differentiation (Beall, Crankshaw and Parnell), the law and social rights (Emdon), and the role of art in envisioning a new urban future (Carman). Two concluding pieces under the theme of “Representing” speculate on Johannesburg’s futures (Robinson) and the potential for political culture to shape urban discourse (Mangcu).
The initial chapters provide an excellent historical primer on apartheid and its urban impact, complete with helpful maps and statistics. The balance presents a compelling picture of urban life and the Johannesburg landscape. We move through the elite northern suburbs with its “fortress architecture” that physically defies nation-building efforts, to shopping areas and the CBC, where public spaces create opportunities for integration that is limited by economic differences, to a range of residential landscapes where “white flight” and entrenched spatial regimes mean that the goal of integration has made very little progress. Kesper’s analysis concludes with the glum observation that “living and working conditions in the Johannesburg inner city are deteriorating” (p. 98).
The landscape is complex and disturbing. While violent crime has increased, reflecting growing economic disparities and a general lack of social programs, the successes of reclaiming urban citizenship occur on a small scale, in some parts of the informal economy, among drivers on a taxi rank, and in a few social movements that keep alive the principles of inclusion and participatory democracy. Overall, it is a mixed story of a society reinventing itself, pitting creative civic visions against the deep structures of racism, poverty, crime, and the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS.
None of the authors presents a picture of Johannesburg having benefited from the demise of apartheid. The problems are too deeply rooted historically, too strongly imprinted upon the postcolonial landscape, too devastating in their economic reach. The book concludes, however, with a vision of what is needed: a model that deals effectively with conditions and situ, rather than attempting to emulate the major cities of the developed world, one that takes into account the complexities of Johannesburg today, and that charts a future built upon the cultural and political potential of this place, a potential that could never be achieved without the dismantling of the apartheid regime.