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Social Segregation in Cities: Gentrification in Johannesburg Assignment

Gentrification can be described as the restoration and upgrading of deteriorated urban property by middle-class or affluent people, often resulting in displacement of lower-income people. Gentrification generally occurs when an older neighborhood is rehabilitated or revitalized. Professional groups such as teachers, doctors, and lawyers are attracted by the character of the housing and its greater accessibility to the center. Sociologist Ruth Glass coined the term in 1964, which she defined using London districts such as Islington as her example.


Johannesburg is the most populous city in South Africa. The city is the provincial capital of Gauteng Province (the wealthiest province in SA) and the city is also one of the 40 largest metropolitan areas in the world. According to 2001 data, the population of the city is more than three million, with a population density of only 1,962/km2. The city is often mistaken as South Africa’s capital. Recently there has been a large scale migration of business and commerce away from the CBD and southern suburbs into the now favored northern suburbs. Johannesburg is notorious for its incredibly high crime rates, serious traffic congestion and inadequate public transport. There is currently a large scale Inner City Revival project under way to try and return many businesses back to the inner city. The city is often regarded as Africa’s only “global city”.

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Johannesburg’s Ethnicity and Economy:

Black Africans account for around 70% of the population followed by whites (16%), colored South Africans (6%) and a small portion of Asians (4%). Around 40% of the population is under the age of 24, while only 6% are above the age of 60. Of all the residents, one third are unemployed, and 9 out of those 10 are black. Christians are the dominant religious group with more than 50% of the residents, another 25% are atheist. Although only 6% are of the population are what is known as “colored”, the city and the country has seen many problems associated with the ethnicity.

The city is known to be a great economic center of South Africa, producing around 1/6th of the countries GDP. Mining was originally the main economic foundation, however gold mining no longer takes place within the city limits (but office headquarters are still there). The city has a very vast economical industry, with many banks are companies residing in the center. The CBD is very rich in office, retail and shopping, making it very appealing.

Gentrification in Johannesburg:

The Central Business District is one of the main business centers of Johannesburg, South Africa. It is the most dense collection of skyscrapers in Africa, however due to white flight and urban blight, many of the buildings are unoccupied as tenants have left for more secure locations in the Northern Suburbs. There are significant movements to revive the area for gentrification. The current CBD of Johannesburg has been the center of the city since the cities birth.

Only until recently was the CBD considered a “white” area. As blacks began to move in around the 80’s, buildings were overfilled and conditions became unacceptable. Crime waves swept the city and left the CBD a very dangerous place. This of course was unappealing for offices and retailers, so they completely abandoned the area. By the late 90’s, the CBD was an unsafe no-go zone.

Recently there have been significant movements to improve and redevelop the city. The local government installed CCTV cameras all around, which helped combat the crime. Historical buildings have become new condominiums, which are attracting residents. The situation is improving as several large banks and government offices are returning to the center.

What exactly is happening?

An economic boom is transforming South Africa’s old reputation as a city with crime and decay into a growing metropolis. Squatters are being replaced by nice apartments and renovated skyscrapers. Real estate values are skyrocketing as a result. Rooftops with swimming pools and helipads are appearing all over the city – a feat that many never imagined. As a result of an 80% reduction in crime, expensive cars can be parked in the city and people no longer fear using cell phones in public. The key to the gentrification process was making the city a safer place.

A square meter that would sell for around 10 back in 2000, now can cost up to as much as 350 and is predicted to rise even further to 3,500. The city is becoming increasingly appealing, and with the World Cup to be hosted in South Africa in 2010, things look to be even better.

Why is this happening?

The local government has put substantial effort into turning around the CBD. Thanks to extensive policing, crime rates have fallen, and because of a combination of quality properties and low rents, investment has increased and confidence increased. A campaign cleverly entitled Pikitup, the city’s waste collection utility, has returned cleanliness and order to the city. There are still plans to develop the area around the market square into a government area.

The goal of the governments Inner City Regeneration Strategy is to raise and sustain private investment in the inner city, causing a rise in property values. Part of this strategy is to improve service quality, by managing taxis and informal traders. Also to upgrade and maintain infrastructure and make it attractive for businesses and residents has been the programs goal. Support has been given to economic sectors with the potential to thrive, in order to encourage growth. This will hopefully lead to a ripple effect that would bring around even more investment.

There have also been three major initiatives to improve the safety and security of Johannesburg: Central Improvement Districts, Closed Circuit Television, and the Metropolitan Police Department. CID encourages property owners to take charge of security and cleaning, and consequently there has been an enormous drop in muggings in these areas. Crime has significantly fallen because of these efforts, and as a result, gentrification has been smoother. By talking the crime first, the city has created a platform for investment.

What are the implications for social segregation?

Much has been criticized about the evicting of the squatters, who must pay most of the price of gentrification. Just recently a court ruled these evictions illegal, which some argue would hinder the gentrification process. This case drew attention to the critical housing shortage faced by South Africa’s poorest people, 12 years after the end of apartheid.

The problem of social segregation seems to be getting bigger. Under apartheid, the government not only ignored the black majority, but also pursued policies that kept the blacks out of the city. Now the poorest people, often the blacks, are finding it impossible to find affordable housing close to where their work is. As poorer people where thrown out, they go and occupy another building and cause even more slums. For all of Johannesburg’s growth and booming property prices, not everyone is cashing in. There are 200,000 shacks in the city with between 250,000 and 300,000 people on the housing waiting list.

Evaluation and Conclusion:

This case study provides a great example of how gentrification has welcomed development and investment greatly, but still has small grey areas of controversy with regards to the social segregation. Although the gentrification has helped revamp Johannesburg, something should be done to ensure that everyone benefits from the process, and not only the rich and middle-class newcomers. If the government does more to provide adequate housing for the evicted poor, then perhaps there will be less controversy. The great thing about this case study is that the cost was relatively low to renew the city, however the benefits were outstanding.

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