URO LAB 3: Governance, urban youth + transformation

The third URO Lab focuses on the dynamics involved in making the Johannesburg inner-city area, Braamfontein, a contested urban space.

This URO Lab works with one overarching research question: How does an urban area become contested? And, following from that: What are the required qualities for an area to become particularly prone for public contestation and discontent? This is examined through the first-hand dynamics of a particular street in an inner city neighborhood of Johannesburg – Jorissen Street in Braamfontein, which straggles the doorstep of the administration centre of Wits University, the recently renamed Solomon Mahlangu House and Braamfontein, the city.

Braamfontein has a wide range of stakeholders who relate to this story: the students, the university both as public institution and investor, local businesses, the developer firm Liberty, the BID-project team and others. They all have strong and different agendas that keep the space in a tense kind of equilibrium or “lock-in”, where any ordering process is highly contested among actors and agents. Braamfontein fluctuates between office park, hair saloons, student accommodation, the new hipster hang out and, most currently, as stage turned violent for the #FeesMustFall movement, which visualized the dispute and projected it media-wide into the world.

A contested area does not simply emerge out of nowhere and therefore we need to carefully examine the historical, social, cultural, economic and political aspects. During the workshop, we want to unpack these aspects and ask: what particular forms of contestation do we encounter particularly in Jorrisen Street? Is ‘contestation’ always to be considered as a critical stance in opposition to an already defined ‘other’ or opponent? Is ’celebration’ actually the other ‘flipside’? What urban orders make up this particular urban space? Who is in charge of ordering? And, following from that, what are the productive dynamics at play that essentially make for better and more vibrant cities?

Three days of fieldwork and discussion

The case provides the arena to observe active urban orders, how gentrification processes meet uprisings of the youth against the establishment and the momentary interweaving of the social, the economical and the political create a multilayered urban aesthetic of contestation.

The workshop takes place next to the epicentre on Jorrisen Street at the Origins Centre, which is at the edge of Wits University and the city, Braamfontein. 

The 3rd URO Lab focuses on three sub-questions as a way of fleshing out key issues that we need to deal with in order to respond to the overall question.

Day 1:

How does the space frame the contestation?

Urban spaces have always been at the center for popular contestation –a key site for the negotiation of citizenship, access to resources and basic urban civic rights. On day 1, we examine the historical and contemporary layers of the Braamfontein area to begin to think about how a particular space shapes popular contestations.

Day 2:

How does a form of contestation frame, condition, affect the space? 

Contestation goes on at multiple overlapping domains and scales. On day 2, we try to flesh out the different modalities of contestation – and also the multiple and often seemingly incompatible voices - and how they come to make a space.

Day 3

How is a contested area enacted, lived and transformed?

Forms of contestation and spatial properties are enacted and practiced through multiple and often inconsistent everyday practices. On day 3, we will explore the particular vibrancy and dynamics of Braamfontein’s everyday life and consider: Where and how does the vibrancy occur? What is required in order for a contested space to be enacted and lived? 

Finally, the workshop brings in perspectives from spatial planners, urban geographers, anthropologists and Wits custodians to address the following:

- What is the role and responsibilities of the academic institution, for instance to protect student interests?

- What are the initiatives purported by the current Braamfontein masterplan in the creation of inclusive places or events and the potential to have sustained input from within a transient community?

- What are the lessons learnt to work towards a more inclusive city? 

On several levels, this can lead to discussions of themes central to the Urban Orders focus: urban economic policies and the opposition responding to these; planned gentrification; spatial ex- and inclusion; rhythmic orderings; leaving and returning to the city core; classes and social groups over layering each other in space.

Local Project Group

Solam Mkhabela

Wits School of Architecture and Planning

solam.mkhabela@wits.ac.za