Spatial Transformation: Measuring Success in South African Cities

Inequality is one of humanity’s greatest challenges, especially in cities where over half the global population lives. Around the world, injustice persists in urban spaces, as “issues of equity, inclusion, race, participation, access and ownership remain unresolved” and are made worse by “dramatic inequality, unequal environmental burdens and risks, and uneven access to opportunity”. In Africa, cities were “planned for inequality” and are characterised by “the gap between the slum and the gated villa”. In light of increasing urbanisation, Africa’s urban development challenge is to meet demands for new infrastructure to accommodate the growing population while addressing historical inequalities. Inclusion, equity and justice will depend on how cities are able to realise “social demands for infrastructure and spatial integration”.


In South Africa, the apartheid government deliberately divided South African residents by racial categories. The Group Areas Act of 1950 provided the legal framework for establishing “neighbourhoods as ‘group areas’, where only people of a particular race were able to reside.”1 − hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, and families, friends and communities were broken up. Black and coloured people were moved to the periphery of cities to live in “dormitory townships”, far from places of employment and excluded from social and economic opportunities. The result was cities characterised by “sprawl, low densities, functional segregation between home and work” – and deep inequality based on race and class.