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.


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