Apartheid planning: Never ending story?

In October I attended the 2016 National Human Settlements conference in Port Elisabeth. I was invited to present a paper on gentrification that I work (see previous post). Minister Lindiwe Sisulu from Human Settlements was there, as were some international speakers. It was an interesting and shocking conference.

First of all the location where the conference was held was in the parking garage of the Boardwalk hotel. There was a reason for it: the conference should have taken place at the university but with the student uprisings it was too unsafe. So they tried to make it as nice as possible. But two whole days in the parking garage with no natural light made it difficult to keep up the spirit.

There were many speakers who stressed the point that the current Human Settlement policies and subsidies are not working. Apartheid planning is still very much prevalent. It is still cheaper to built the RDP housing outside of the cities, even though everyone knows you’re not helping the people who need it the most. The reason? The land is cheaper. This unfortunately is more important than the needs of the target group; like living close to infrastructure and jobs, being part of city life and to not have to spend more than 30% of their salary on commuting.

Minister Sisulu, in my opinion, seemed to miss an important point in her speech. She was focusing on the change from Housing to Human Settlements and how there are not enough skilled professionals in this field. I have to disagree with that. I have met many skilled people, but politics doesn’t listen to them. Minister Sisulu her answer to this lack of knowledge was to create a new course on Human Settlements. But many universities in South Africa are already offering several courses on Human geography, city development and planning and even on Human Settlements. Instead her speech should have focused more on changing practice and policy and how to do that taking all the research into account that has taken place over the years in South Africa.

Interesting were the discussions during the breaks. There is so much frustration on how things are not progressing within the sector! How there are so many opportunities, but corruption and bureaucratic policies are preventing the realisation of great projects or much needed change. How Megacities are again the spearpoint of minister Sisulu, even though several studies have shown that this model doesn’t work. How politicians are not thinking beyond their term, and only want to score points now. And most important how Apartheid planning is still taking place and people seem to think it is ok. Or not even realising that this is still happening…

And then I saw this article: Divided cities: South Africa’s apartheid legacy photographed by drone. It shows exactly what cities look like nowadays. And these developments have not only taken place during Apartheid. Many of these photo’s represent current practice of city development and housing in South Africa. We are stuck, the question is how to change thinking and practice in South Africa? Is there a way how we can actually use all the information available from research? How can critical thinking become leading? Do we have to experiment more? How to design a vision that is creating better cities for the future? I’m not sure where to start to be honest.

NB:All photographs: Johnny Miller/Millefoto/Rex/Shutterstock

Gentrification; Good or Bad?

I’m writing an article with Amira Osman from the University of Johannesburg on gentrification in the inner city of Johannesburg. While doing research on this I noticed again that there is not really a clear definition of gentrification. Some say it is good, some say it is bad. Some say it only has to do with the influx of the rich middle class, some say it is a result of urban renewal. Sometimes it is the same as urban renewal. I’m trying to make sense of this. So here it goes, it’s a bit of a technical post I’m afraid. Continue reading

Thinking about public transport in Johannesburg

In October Johannesburg is hosting the EcoMobility World Festival 2015 focusing on the possibility of an ecomobility future and making public transport, cycling and walking safe. As one might know, public transport is mostly limited to minitaxi’s here (kind of mini buses driving around Johannesburg) and walking is for the poor. The city is trying to improve the unsafe image of cycling by installing cycle lanes. Continue reading

Johannesburg: The New York of South Africa

The question: ‘Why did you come to Johannesburg?’ is the most heard question living in Joburg and being a foreigner. “You come from the Netherlands, we want to go there! Why on earth would you coming to Johannesburg? And why not Cape Town?”

The answer is always the same: Because Johannesburg is such a cool city. There is so much energy, positive developments are taking place everywhere, and there is so much to do! Have you been to this new place in …(fill in the blanks)? Continue reading

Back to work!

From 15 December – 15 January Johannesburg is empty. No traffic, restaurants are closed for a month, everybody is on holiday. People in Cape Town and Durban say that the whole of Gauteng is migrating to the coast, good for business but not really for the relaxed climate that they are used to. I’ve spent some time in Johannesburg, Christmas in the Netherlands and New Years in the Drakensbergen. All very quiet and relaxed. But new things are ahead. Continue reading

Presenting: Experiments and Flexible planning

Last May I was asked to present about Flexible planning at the SAPI conference Planning Africa 2014: Making great places. Of course I was honoured, talking in South Africa about a project that I started with Platform31 in the Netherlands is kind of surreal. The conference was going to take place from 20-22 October in Durban and everything would be arranged for me. At that time it seemed that I had plenty of time to prepare for it. But to use a cliche, time flies when you’re having fun. And so, suddenly it was October. I prepared a presentation and flew to Durban for the first time. Continue reading


It’s been a while, I know. I’ve been studying, went back home to the Netherlands to see family and friends, and struggling what to write next, because what keeps me occupied is a heavy subject: Apartheid. This country, South Africa, is amazing. Beautiful nature, people, plants grow on their own, so much buzz and enthusiasm to achieve great things, new businesses popping-up everywhere. But still, there is always this lingering issue which is always there: APARTHEID. Continue reading

Why design is crucial for urban planning

For some time now I have been following the debate on affordable or social housing. In the blog Vision, Apartheid and Gentrification I touched upon some of the general challenges in South African housing and urban development. The last three weeks I have been talking to several experts and I have attended two conferences (Social housing and municipalities & Department of Design). I noticed that I missed one challenge in my previous post: design. This doesn’t mean interior design or art, rather it means architecture, infrastructure, use of materials, human capital and local factors. So how does design fit in with social housing and urban planning? Continue reading