#215 New urban-townships landing: a shift from ‘apartheid’ planning

RANKUWA AGAIN— There’s no secret, just bricks and mortar without the mortgage in between. Houses in townships are growing in size and scale. The “Big-house” at the corner will eventually be far from unique. Yet, will these townships floating around their cities ever grow their own commercial, industrial and service hubs? This is a choice, someone has to choose this question over the alternative.

In this cold winter, ‘apartheid spatial planning’ is sometimes a blanket term to describe how transport infrastructure and the forced relocation of blacks between the 1930s through to the 1970s gave birth to townships. This is a vast over simplified description of patchworked quilt of anthropology, psychology, geography and industry oriented outcomes. The townships many of us identify with are closer to a warmth we’ve adapted to.

Distances to urban centres through industrial corrugated iron, inspire different types of choreographies to cope with that silver lining. It’s not a game of embrace, or comfort, but it used to be scarring. Lately it’s about extending townships and suburbs infinitely closer to each other but further from the city island they float around. Barely a genetic mutation. These townships.

Some townships have their historical industrial centres intact, like Rosslyn for Ga-Rankuwa, Soshanguve and Mabopane; while others remain hallowed out like what one sees in Hammanskraal. High proximity to industry served as an early buffer, but commutes remained anchored further down the electric lines not shocked by the volumes of people piled as trains pealed over each layer of the township->urban fabric.

ANNA KOSTREVA: “OBSTACLES”. African Cities Reader 2, pg 56

‘Spatial transformation’ is a bespoke response to describe how corridors of freedom will be introduced to connect people to the city, bring them closer to opportunities—why not incentivise opportunities closer to them and decentralise the metropolitan areas? That is probably what’s missing here, urbanites. It’s not just about compact cities and the economics of agglomeration they provide, this is for normal cities, new urban-townships, a modern claim to fortune—not fame. South African cities and towns are peculiar, unusual and very different. The townships turned suburbs sprawl as migration hovers between affordable tenure and a traffic-tense noose around a city’s neck.

The thinking is somewhere between the rural and urban divide. It’s noticeable. Apartheid spatial planning did not affect every settlement in the country the same way, but it had one principle: segregation. The railway line separates Mookgopong suburbia from the township, just like Sandton is split from Alexandra through transport infrastructure. These are lines that can be mended, but should they? 

Why not inspire urban-township forms, new anchors scattered across the sea. The real issue might just be that transport systems have no life jackets, and many commuters drown in this fact—the price paid for comfort, affordability, or predictability is time. As a result, if travel speeds do not rise, then the time to opportunities and activities should be much lower.

Who cares if you drive, really, owning a car is a financial-temporal burden with an opportunity cost so high that real estate seems artificial in social portraits (until now). Yet, without the kind of transport service that truly catches time for each trip it might be hard to call a poker-faced-benefit when it bluffs. Oh well, it spreads the sprawl, and minibuses don’t help because they follow it—they seek it out: following every new neighbourhood’s main road. It’s a centrefold situation we probably describe in spreads: ‘apartheid spatial planning’; ‘spatial transformation’; both of these are brand labels—one mass produced, the other locally made. If a rock-paper-scissors policy game does exist, I’m crossing my fingers to avoid the shortcut and play Morabaraba

Thank you for the visit, tune in for more.

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