Contributing to Urban Debates in South Africa

There is a lack of up-to-date, alternative and appropriate knowledge about South Africa’s cities. Perspectives on South African cities are still dominated by outmoded discourses and dated analytical concepts and categories. These cannot inform meaningful policy interventions. The challenge is therefore to transform existing knowledge as well as to steer opinion in progressive ways.

There is an urgent need to approach the urban crisis with a different set of assumptions and horizons, and to translate these into ordinary conversation and actions. Few municipalities have even begun to address the hopelessness of ‘business as usual’ in their structures, staffing and processes. Citizen journalism is also misdirected and would benefit from a deeper understanding. Elevating urban debates is urgent; disclosing the multi-dimensionality of urban challenges (financial, operational, technical) is also a way of probing opportunities and seeding powerful new alliances for supplementing and enhancing City capacities. City problems belong to all citizens. 

Urban challenges 

The urban challenges that are addressed in the project are wide-ranging and key to academic and policy debates on cities and urbanism in the global south. One example is responding to proposed national licensing legislation that intended to regularise petty trading in South African cities but would hamper participation of both foreign immigrant entrepreneurs from across Africa and traveling cross-border traders in southern Africa. Another example is the co-hosting of a public debate on the proposed and then approved application for a large development called Wescape in Cape Town that challenges the City-defined urban edge. 

The knowledge used in different debates and activities stem from the other Cape Town platform projects as well as from projects within the ACC, African Centre for Cities, which is one of the partners of the platform. 

Research focus 

The main research questions are: How can we get to know a city? How do we recognise that cities are different, and that what works for one may not work for another? How do we understand a city on its own terms? What are cities’ needs and constraints? Who defines these? How do we make cities more livable, sustainable, resilient, efficient and equitable, taking these needs and constraints into account? How do we reconcile caricature slum urbanism with the nuanced realities people living in slums face?


The aim of the project was to raise the standard of research and discourse about the urban crisis in South Africa. Through a range of joint activities with diverse specialists, urban agencies and publics knowledge partnerships have been strengthened and spaces for discussion and strategizing has been created. This has allowed for the sharing of data, innovative methods and channels for communication. 

Another aim was to learn ways of influencing urban policy making as well as fostering considered and evidence-led academic and public discussion about South African cities and about appropriate and desired interventions. 

These two aims have been achieved through hosting, cohosting and attending relevant conferences, workshops and public dialogues. Consultancy and advisory services have been provided and peer-reviewed books, chapters and papers, and articles for newspapers, blogs and periodicals have been produced. 

Other results include policy documents, most notably the draft Integrated Urban Development policy for South Africa, the Cape Town 2030 Vision document and the exhibition entitled City Desired, City Divided. 


Photo credit: Dala


  • The Art of Public Space: Curating and Re-imagining the Ephemeral City
    Gurney, K. Palgrave McMillan, 2015
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book
  • The allure of 'smart city' rhetoric: India and Africa
    Watson, V. Dialogues in Human Geography, vol. 5, no. 1, 2015, pp. 36-39
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Making the sustainable development goals operational through an urban agenda: perspectives from science
    Parnell, S., Siri, J., Elmqvist, T., Marcotullio, P., Capon, A., Revi, A., Pelling, M. & Ivey Boufford, J. Solutions, vol 5, no 2, 2015, pp. 37-40
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Cape of Storms: Sharing the coast in the face of turbulent, rising seas
    Cartwright, A., Oelofse, G., Colenbrander, D., Taylor, A., Fairhurst, L., Brundrit, G. & Joubert, L. Report. Cape Town, South Africa: African Centre for Cities, 2013
    Location:Cape Town Type:Report/Paper/Working paper/Brief
  • Planning and the 'stubborn realities' of global south-east cities: some emerging ideas
    Watson, V. Planning Theory, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, pp. 81-100
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Co-production and collaboration in planning: the difference
    Watson, V. Planning Theory & Practice, vol. 15, no. 1, 2014, pp. 62-76
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Furthering the urban agenda in developing countries: guidelines for preparing national ‘State of Cities’ reports
    Tipple, G., Smit, W. & Majale, M. International Development Planning Review, vol. 32, no. 1, 2010, pp. 71-92
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Democratic renovations and affective political imaginaries
    Sitas, F. & Pieterse, E. Third Text, vol. 27, no. 3, 2013, pp. 327-342
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Automobile organizations driving tourism in pre-independence Africa
    Pirie, G. Journal of Tourism History, vol. 5, no. 1, 2013, pp. 73-91
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Recasting urban sustainability in the South
    Pieterse, E. Development, vol. 54, no. 3, 2011, pp. 309-316
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Introduction: rogue urbanisms
    Pieterse, E. Social Dynamics: A journal of African studies, vol. 37, no. 1, 2011, pp. 1-4
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Hip-hop cultures and political agency in Brazil and South Africa
    Pieterse, E. Social Dynamics: A journal of African studies, vol. 36, no. 2, 2010, pp. 428-447
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Grasping the unknowable: coming to grips with African urbanisms
    Pieterse, E. Social Dynamics: A journal of African Studies, vol. 37, no. 1, 2011, pp. 5-23
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Cityness and African urban development
    Pieterse, E. Urban Forum, vol. 21, no. 3, 2010, pp. 205-219
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • (Re)theorizing cities from the global south: looking beyond neoliberalism
    Parnell, S. & Robinson, J. Urban Geography, vol. 33, no. 4, 2012, pp. 593-617
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Why I want to be a South African geographer: a response to Hammett’s (2012) “W(h)ither South African human geography?”
    Lawhon, M. Geoforum, vol. 43, 2013, pp. 937-947
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • The meaning of global engagements with Africa (for us)
    Lawhon, M. Political Geography, vol. 31, 2013, pp. 530-533
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Relational power in the governance of a South African e-waste transition
    Lawhon, M. Environment and Planning, vol. 44, no. 4, 2012, pp. 954-971
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Contesting power, trust and legitimacy in the South African e-waste transition
    Lawhon, M. Policy Sciences, vol. 45, no. 1, 2012, pp. 69-86
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Socio-technical regimes and sustainability transitions: insights from political ecology
    Lawhon, M. & Murphy, J. Progress in Human Geography, vol. 36, no. 3, 2012, pp. 354-378
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Rooted cosmopolitanism: spaces of multiplicity in Cusco, Peru
    Lawhon, M. & Chion, M. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 36, no.3, 2012, pp. 539-553
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • City/University interplays amidst complexity
    Pieterse, E. Territorio, vol. 66, 2013, pp. 26-32
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
  • Rising Waters: Working together on Cape Town’s Flooding
    Joubert, L. & Martindale, L. Cape Town, South Africa: African Centre for Cities, 2013
    Location:Cape Town Type:Report/Paper/Working paper/Brief
  • Informal settlements: in search of a home in the city
    Watson, V. In Urban Health: Global Perspectives, D. Vlahov, C.E. Pearson, L. Norris and J. Boufford (eds.). Jossey-Bass and John Wiley, 2010
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Popular youth cultures and the mediation of racial exclusion/inclusion in Brazil and South Africa
    Pieterse, E. In Urban Diversity: Space, Culture, and Inclusive Pluralism in Cities Worldwide, C. Kihato, M. Massoumi, B. Ruble, P. Subrirós and A. Garland (eds.). Woodrow Wilson Centre Press and John Hopkins University Press, 2010
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Planning and land-use conflicts amidst the search for urban integration: the case of Wingfield
    Pieterse, E. In Development Dilemmas in Post-Apartheid South Africa, B. Fruend and H. Witt (eds.). University of Kwazulu-Natal Press, 2010
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Introduction
    Pieterse, E. In Counter-Currents: Experiments in Sustainability in the Cape Town Region, E. Pieterse (ed.). Johannesburg, South Africa: Jacana, 2010, pp. 12-25
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Filling the void: towards an agenda for action on African urbanization
    Pieterse, E. In Urbanization Imperatives for Africa: Transcending Policy Inertia, E. Pieterse (ed). Cape Town, South Africa: African Centre for Cities, 2010
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Development, planning and sustainability
    Pieterse, E. In Ashgate Research Companion to Planning and Culture, G. Young and D. Stevenson (eds.). Ashgate, 2013, pp. 239-255
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Conclusion: reimagining Cape Town through the rebus of identity, economy and ecology
    Pieterse, E. In Counter-Currents: Experiments in Sustainability in the Cape Town Region, E. Pieterse (ed.). Johannesburg, South Africa: Jacana, 2010, pp. 258-265
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Building brave new worlds: design and the second urban transition
    Pieterse, E. In Design with the Other 90%: Cities, C. Smith (ed). Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, 2011
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Alternative city futures
    Pieterse, E. In Afropolis: City/Media/Art, L. Förster, C. Hanussek and K. Pinther (eds.). Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2012
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Local government and poverty reduction
    Pieterse, E. & van Donk, M. In State of the Nation: South Africa 2012-2013. Addressing Inequality and Poverty, U. Pillay, G. Hagg, F. Nyamnjoh and J.D. Jansen (eds.). HSRC Press, 2013, pp. 98-123
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Johannesburg: investing in cultural economies or publics?
    Pieterse, E. & Gurney, K. In Cities, Cultural Policy and Governance, H. Anheir and Y. Isar (eds.). London: Sage, 2012, pp. 194-203
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Regional development: a new pathway to a more equitable and resilient Cape Town?
    Parnell, S. & Clarke, G. In Counter-Currents: Experiments in Sustainability in the Cape Town Region, E. Pieterse (ed.). Johannesburg, South Africa: Jacana, 2010, pp. 220-227
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Global civics via global solidarity
    Manuel, T. & Pieterse, E. In Global Civics: Responsibilities and Rights in an Interdependent World, H. Altinay (ed). Brookings Institution Press, 2011
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Desenho, limites e perspectivas da governança metropolitana na África do Sul
    Gotz, G., Pieterse, E. & Smit, W. In Governança das Metrópoles: Conceitos, Experiências e Perspectivas, J. Klink (eds.). São Paulo: Annablume, 2010
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book chapter
  • Counter-Currents: Experiments in Sustainability in the Cape Town Region
    Pieterse, E. (ed.). Johannesburg, South Africa: Jacana, 2010
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book
  • The Routledge Handbook on Cities of the Global South
    Parnell, S. & Oldfield, S. (eds.). Abingdon: Routledge, 2014
    Location:Cape Town Type:Book
  • Grazing response in the vegetation communities of the Kamiesberg, South Africa: adopting a plant functional type approach
    Anderson, P.M. & Hoffman, M.T. Journal of Arid Environments, vol. 75, no. 3, 2011, pp. 255-264
    Location:Cape Town Type:Scientific article (peer-reviewed)

Project members

  • Gordon Pirie

    Professor Gordon Pirie is the Deputy Director of ACC, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. 

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Tau Tavengwa

Tau Tavengwa, works at ACC, African Centre for Cities and in the project Contributing to Urban Debates in South Africa he has worked with events and exhibitions. 

Liza Cirolia

Liza Cirolia works as Brown Bag seminar co-ordinator  and coordinates the Sustainable Human Settlements CityLab