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The Remaking of Inner City Johannesburg and the Right to the City: A Case Study of the Maboneng Precinct

  • Author(s): Vejby, Caitlin Emily
  • Advisor(s): Darian-Smith, Eve
  • et al.

Dreams of a fully integrated and equitable South Africa have not been realized in the twenty years since the fall of apartheid. Inequality, spatial segregation, and economic and social exclusion within the country now highlight the limitations of the new democratic government and the incompleteness of South Africa’s formal racial desegregation. These forces are articulated across Johannesburg’s urban landscape, where: (1) wealth is concentrated in the northern suburbs, (2) peripheral townships continue to suffer from inadequate access to housing, service provision, and a lack of economic opportunity, and (3) inner city Johannesburg is dominated by the competing forces of urban degeneration and gentrification; interest in regenerating and reclaiming the inner city for wealthy suburbanites has grown in the last fifteen years, and now threatens to displace the inner city’s low-income population. The Maboneng Precinct, a regenerating neighborhood on the eastern side of the central business district (CBD), is rapidly transforming the inner city into a home for the city’s elite and well-to-do youth. The Maboneng Precinct has successfully branded itself as an inclusive and integrated alternative to the exclusive northern suburbs, thereby allowing the neighborhood to successfully distance itself from accusations of gentrifying the inner city and displacing low-income residents. But despite a well-developed narrative of inclusivity, Maboneng is actively engaged in gentrifying urban space: the neighborhood functions as a fortified enclave within the inner city, where it caters exclusively to middle- and upper-income people seeking to “take back the city” from the urban poor. These actions erode the rights of ordinary individuals to inhabit, appropriate, and move within urban space. This study is the result of two months of fieldwork conducted in the Maboneng Precinct; interviews were conducted with Propertuity staff, including Jonathan Liebmann (CEO of Propertuity Development), Alice Cabaret, the firm’s urban strategist, as well as inner city residents, businesses, and South African nongovernmental organizations. This study ultimately aims to expose the under-discussed, central aspects of the neighborhood’s design that act to reinforce class divisions and contribute to the displacement and marginalization of low-income residents throughout Johannesburg.

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