South Africa | journey intro: Johannesburg

Johannesburg | December 24, 2010

We’re back! With updates, text and snapshots.
After 24 hours of traveling, MovingCities arrived on December 23, 2010, in Johannesburg, South Africa. It signaled the commencement of a five-week travel through South Africa and Mozambique.

In the coming weeks we’ll be posting our impressions of an approximately 5,000-kilometer-journey that brought us to cities such as Johannesburg, Port Elisabeth, Mosselbaai, Capetown, Maputo and many more.

When traveling, being on the move and on the road, the first impressions of cities and landscapes seem always random. Cities become a theater of aleatory architectural impressions, a public stage for shops, tourist spots, churches, restaurants, governmental buildings, educational institutes, highways and squares. While traveling, we travel with eyes wide open, feeling like we are on a city safari; trying to decipher what constitutes local economies, habits, cultures and laws. Shops, signs and scenic spots have all been photographed, documented and captured. At first seemingly without logic, but as time and space have been passed these fragmentary impressions start forming an image of what – a part of – the African urban territory is about.

Spending only a few days in Johannesburg, we limited our urban exploration to an afternoon drive with Nii Commey Botchway – a designer from Ghana, who we met during the City Move InterDesign Workshop [in Sweden in 2009] and who is currently living in Johannesburg. As one can see from the snapshots below, we crisscrossed the city, leaping from downtown to Soweto and the suburbs, passing along a football stadium, shantytowns, office buildings and shopping malls.

For those interested to know more about the urban and architectural development of Johannesburg, it is advised to check out the content, line-up and program of the 2006 Urban Age-conference in Johannesburg :

Johannesburg’s push to acquire “world-class African” status is mired with controversy along the way. While the city and pockets of visionary private developers aggressively pursue inner-city re-development (after the dramatic near collapse of the inner-city Central Business District in the 1990s), suburban building projects, replete with pseudo-Tuscan moats and escapist Balinese themes, increase in velocity and geographic spread. Does the city require a re-developed inner core modelled after European urban centres or do Johannesburg residents prefer the overt capitalism, excess, covered car-parks and sprawl of Sandton and its northern satellite towns as an alternative suburban-urban centre?

As we’ll move forward with our impressions of South Africa, we’ll give particular attention to the housing situations and developments we encountered while being on the road. For now, a good introduction to this is provided by Teke Ngomba in “Challenges of Urban Housing Provision in Lagos and Johannesburg“:

According to UN-Habitat, Johannesburg, South Africa’s economic hub, currently has a population of about 3.670 million and by 2015 the city’s population is expected to be about 3.867 million (UN-Habitat, 2010:53). With visible “scars” from the apartheid era, Johannesburg, as Bollens (1998:739) noted, is a city of “enormous economic and social contrasts” where sky scrapers co-exist with “townships and shanty towns of intentionally degraded living environments”.

Our only post about Jo’burg is rather fragmented as we’ve omitted long distances between different areas in the city and opted to provide a broad view. Not visible though, is the high degree of protection and security systems [fences, cctv’s, barbwire etc…] that surround the larger parts of the residential and other developments in Johannesburg.

Johannesburg, South Africa | December 24, 2010

Pictures by

thanks Nii Commey Botchway
thanks Solam Mkhabela & Kirsten Dörmann

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