Contested urban ecologies in Cape Town: Civic network study update

As a step contributing to Urban Debates in South Africa Mistra Urban Futures local partner in Cape Town the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town in collaboration with the Sustainable Livelihood Foundation recently concluded a major research phase into civic networks and contested urban environments in Cape Town.

Between March and July the SLF field work team interviewed 120 citizen associations, from well-known associations—like the Treatment Action Campaign—to 'lesser known' community-based organizations in the area stretching from Tokai to Grassy Park, including informal settlements.

The Cape Town Civic Network Study is focused on the urban environment, from struggles in poor areas to access electricity, sewage and water; to the promotion of indigenous plants, recreational areas, and animal habitat. How do civics collaborate to gain influence? And how is the local government responding? Apart from questions about alliance partners, questions also asked about the events in which associations have actively participated, and about the green and public spaces they mobilize around to protect and care for (e.g. through planting), and their ties to civil servants.

Together with Dr. Henrik Ernstson, the lead investigator, and Mr. Rory Liedeman from SLF, the team has also assembled an archive with news articles, campaign material and field work reports. Results will be developed in the year to come and a larger meeting will be organized with civic associations in October/November 2014 in which results will be debated and discussions held around alliances and civic networks. In a highly unequal city like Cape Town, with legacies of apartheid spatial planning, a comprehensive study of this sort is sorely needed to inform debates about local democratic practices. The study is probably the largest interview-based urban social network study undertaken in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

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