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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: April 2018

4 - The impact of policy and strategic spatial planning

from Section A - The macro trends


In 2013, the new mayor of the City of Johannesburg, Parks Tau, announced the city's commitment to ‘Corridors of Freedom’ in his State of the City Address. These Corridors, centred on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes across the city, would connect strategic urban nodes and attract high-density mixed-use development, shifting the city away from the sprawling urban form inherited from apartheid. The ‘Corridors of Freedom’, he argued, were central to the realisation of the ‘right to a spatially integrated and united city’ (CoJ 2013: 5), one of the five rights promised in his speech.

Those familiar with South African spatial planning will recognise that these ideas are not new. Indeed, the notion of restructuring South African cities through dense mixed-use public-transport-oriented routes goes back to the 1970s and 1980s, and has been taken up in many national and local spatial policies since the 1990s (Todes 2006). What seems to be new, however, is the political commitment given to these ideas. Studies have argued that planning ideas to compact and integrate cities have had little real impact on spatial patterns (Harrison et al. 2008; Todes 2000, 2006; Turok 2001; Watson 2002), and that spatial policies have been marginalised within municipal decision-making structures (Todes 2002; Watson 2003). Is this a new era for strategic spatial planning, where these ideas have a real chance of realisation?

Most studies of the impact of strategic spatial planning reflect the period prior to the establishment of consolidated metropolitan governments in 2000, when there was considerable flux and many councillors and officials were new and inexperienced. The post-2000 period in Johannesburg is interesting as several of these conditions have seemingly changed, and spatial planning is in a much stronger position than before. In this chapter I trace and explain the evolution of strategic spatial planning in Johannesburg, from initiatives in the early 1990s to the current spatial framework and its 2008 Growth Management Strategy (GMS) with related policies which attempt to link strategic spatial planning more directly to implementation. Much of the chapter focuses on the period since 2000, after the formation of a single metropolitan municipality, which enabled the gradual development of a far more coherent set of policies and much stronger political support for their implementation. I then reflect briefly on the impact of these and related policies over time, and consider their potential to influence spatial change over the longer term.