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Small Atlas of Johannesburg

Karen Lévy


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1Thanks to these maps, we can visualise the main features of Johannesburg as a unique city:

  • The sprawl of the urban area;

  • The importance of the highway and road infrastructure corresponding to car-oriented societal choices;

  • The fragmentation into suburbs, at the limit of social sustainability;

  • The general “enclosure” movement applicable to housing, offices and even shops, enclosing major urban functions in spaces with controlled access. The rules and practices of private security apply throughout the city;

  • The unequal access to basic services.

2But these maps inform us also about the very high constraints facing the city:

  • A complex and fragile natural environment;

  • The rapid and radical change, during the 1990s, in the right to urban space, establishing the freedom of access for all to property ownership, movement as well as economic and social activity;

  • The acute perception of the need for security;

  • The economic conversion of a mining and industrial city into a mainly tertiary-sector city;

  • Finally, the pressure of migration from rural areas and the rest of the continent.

3The urban development of the last twenty years has been characterised among other things by the uncontrolled expansion of urban areas, the progressive intensive building of houses and envelopment of agricultural and natural areas, an increase in mobility and car travelling, and the explosion of the forms of housing. All these phenomena have greatly contributed to increasing consumption in energy and greenhouse gas emissions.

4Indeed, densification processes, through their repetitive and serial nature, high level of closure, low accessibility and disconnection from employment areas, imply on the one hand very low efficiency in resource utilisation and high carbon intensity, and on the other high sensitivity to energy costs.

5One of the main challenges for Johannesburg is to organise processes for the densification of the metropolitan area, to channel them and use them as a lever to remodel, in the long term, the urban morphology of the metropolis. The longer the city waits, the more regressive processes are being established, leading to the amplification of spatial and social inequalities, and to the continuity of urban fragmentation.

6In order to solve the extent of the challenge and to reach the status of efficient city, Johannesburg needs to transform its urban space. While there is political will from the Municipality, let us hope that the maps of 2040 will testify to it.


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