Johannesburg: Confronting Spatial Inequality

This case study in the World Resources Report, “Towards a More Equal City,” examines transformative urban change in Johannesburg, South Africa, through transit-oriented development (TOD). The paper reviews the evidence on whether Johannesburg’s TOD strategy has helped reduce spatial inequality in the city—and if so, how.

In 2013, Johannesburg launched its flagship TOD initiative, The Corridors of Freedom (COF) program. COF was one iteration of a long-term policy process to overcome apartheid planning. Its aim was to extend the city’s public transit network to offer more economic and social opportunities to the urban under-served. In addition, the initiative increased public investments across the city that increased public space, offered social services, increased residential density, and integrated retail and commercial space into new development. It also aimed to reorient private investment towards the new public transport service.

Though progress has been slower than expected, COF has had a promising start. The city’s bus-rapid transit network has been extended and many areas have seen new or improved infrastructure for non-motorized transport, social facilities and public infrastructure. The project has also attracted a niche group of private developers and TOD generally has become part of the city’s long-term spatial planning. However, the case study illustrates that in order to achieve the spatial transformation envisioned with the COF, Johannesburg will need to adopt a more integrated approach that acknowledges the connection between informal and formal housing and transport markets.

Case studies in the World Resources Report, “Towards a More Equal City,” examine transformative urban change defined as that which affects multiple sectors and institutional practices, continues across more than one political administration, and is sustained for more than 10 years, resulting in more equitable access to core services. The goal of “Towards a More Equal City” is to inform urban change agents – government officials, policymakers, civil society organizations, citizens and the private sector – about how transformative change happens, the various forms it takes and how they can support transformation towards more equal cities.

Key Findings

Executive Summary

Since 1996, South Africa and Johannesburg specifically, have dramatically increased access to basic services through rights-based subsidy programs. Yet the provision of free housing and basic services did not create economic opportunity for the urban poor. Spatial inequality has prevented segments of the city from accessing jobs, social opportunities and high-quality education. The failure to radically transform the city led political leaders to change their approach to development. As a result, the City of Johannesburg adopted an integrated approach to invest in bus rapid transit and high-density mixed-use development along three critical corridors. The Corridors of Freedom (COF) program, launched in 2013, was one iteration of a long-term policy process to overcome apartheid planning. Its aim was to use the BRT to offer more equal economic and social opportunities to the urban under-served. The COF provided detailed site plans across the city that increased public space, offered social services, increased residential density, and integrated retail and commercial space into new development. It also aimed to reorient private investment towards the new public transport service. The COF was part of a systematic policy progression that moved away from focusing on access to basic services and towards a more strategic focus on the spatial barriers that prevent economic and social inclusion in the city. In addressing spatial inequality, the COF required coordination across local government to provide spatially detailed and integrated plans. This is a dramatic change from an earlier public housing program, which created large, monofunctional neighborhoods devoid of the dynamism necessary for economic development. This progression demonstrates that access to services alone does not help a city overcome unequal access to economic and social opportunities. The Corridors program—and its successor, Transit-Oriented Development Corridors (TODC)—hinges on shifting the type and location of private investment in the real estate market. Earlier programs contracted private sector entities to provide subsidized housing units on publicly owned land. Then the City of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) provided developers incentives to redevelop mixed-use buildings in the central business district (CBD). Through the CB program, the city provided market data and increased transparency to support private sector investment decisions. The Corridors program took the next step in working directly with investors to change the type and location of their projects because the City of Johannesburg recognized that it was the only viable way to achieve long-term integration. Several factors enabled and inhibited the progress of the Corridors program. The COF reflected the anti-apartheid urban policy focus on corridors to overcome racial segregation. When investment surrounding the World Cup in 2010 made it possible for Johannesburg to build the Rea Vaya BRT system, there was a huge opportunity to reorient the city’s development investments and policies. Local and international planning and policies bolstered this momentum by providing support for a transit-oriented approach to restructuring the city’s economy. Yet progress was hindered by entrenched inequality in land ownership that makes radical transformation incredibly difficult. Furthermore, the concept of mixed-income housing was untested in Johannesburg, making it difficult to achieve widespread and rapid market uptake. Institutional fragmentation and changing city leadership also made it difficult to maintain full support for the Corridors. Johannesburg’s experience demonstrates how critical it is to align various agencies within the local government. The Corridors program shows that coordinating around a vision for transformation is as important as working out the technical and financial details. Several key recommendations emerge from the Corridors experience that can be applied to cities across the globe. The first is that housing programs need to adopt an integrated approach that acknowledges the connection between informal and formal housing markets. One direct outcome of a more integrated approach is targeting social rental housing towards specific groups, such as young professionals and students, who seem more willing to be close to public transit. The Corridors experience also shows that increasing access to opportunities requires integrating BRT, and other mass transit systems, with the informal minibus system. Finally, a forum to support public, private, and civil society stakeholder engagement could create more civic ownership, improve transparency, and create wider buy-in, shielding long-term transformation projects from the political winds of change. --------- #### About This Paper This case study is part of the larger World Resources Report, “Towards a More Equal City,” which considers sustainability to be composed of three interrelated issues: equity, the economy and the environment. The series uses equitable access to urban services as an entry point for examining whether meeting the needs of the under-served can improve economic productivity and environmental sustainability for the entire city.  A series of sector-specific working papers – on housing, energy, the informal economy, urban expansion, water access, sanitation solutions and transportation – explore how cities can provide growing numbers of residents with secure and affordable access to core services. The case studies ask the question: Is it possible to learn from these cases and use this knowledge to help other cities usher in their own transformation? They examine transformative urban change defined as that which affects multiple sectors and institutional practices, continues across more than one political administration, and is sustained for more than 10 years, resulting in more equitable access to core services. The goal of “Towards a More Equal City” is to inform urban change agents – government officials, policymakers, civil society organizations and citizens, and the private sector – about how transformative change happens, the various forms it takes, and how they can support transformation towards more equal cities.