Tuesday 16 April 2019

Wits Faces of the City

Modes, mechanisms and modalities of middle class suburban governance
Margot Rubin and Alexandra Appelbaum, presented by Margot Rubin

Tuesday, 16 April
First Floor Seminar Room, John Moffat Building, University of Witwatersrand

Abstract: The middle-class communities of Johannesburg have been and remain key role-players in shaping the urban landscape of the City. Through a wide variety of modes of engagement, and utilising a plethora of tactics, these communities have been instrumental in influencing how the city looks. Litigation; the use of built-environment professionals; aggressive engagement; as well as moments of co-operation, characterise the engagement of these communities with the state. The paper argues for an expanded notion of "NIMBY-ism" whereby the desired outcomes are a set of urban visions regarding what the "City" and their small portions thereof should look like. These are highly differentiated and include: historical nostalgia about an idealised past, as can be seen in the older middle-class southern suburbs; tropes of international cosmopolitan lifestyles promoted in Norwood and Orange Grove; and a new form of democratic community that is based on notions of new media and a "green community" in Parkhurst. Thus, drawing on a wide variety of cases, from across the city, the paper traces the tactics of resistance to many state supported projects. It offers empirical accounts of the underlying visions that motivate and mobilise collective action within these communities and, in turn, which shape their urban environments, as well as a clear sense of the ability of these actions to affect spatial change. We argue that although the cases are localised to Johannesburg, the middle class is growing across African cities, and understanding the governance dynamics of the South African middle classes arguably, the most established on the continent, is important in gaining insights for other contexts.

Biography: Margot Rubin is a senior researcher in the South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning at Wits. She has worked as a researcher, and policy and development consultant focusing on housing, urban development issues, inner city regeneration, and is currently engaged in work around mega housing projects and issues of gender and the city.

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