Current projects by theme
Government, governance & intergovernmental relations
The foundational idea behind the Gauteng City-Region concept was that ‘we need to cooperate internally to compete better externally’. Building a city-region is fundamentally about getting the sometimes fragmented architecture of government, with different parts responsible for different areas and functions, to cohere around agreed development plans. A dynamic city-region also depends on more positive relations between government and communities; the ability of government to forge productive partnerships with a range of other organisations in the public, private and civil society sectors; and the capacity to define credible plans that anchor sound decisions whose impact can tracked over time. Projects in this research theme look at: the factors supporting or detracting from sound intergovernmental relations; information required to track government performance; the role played by higher-education institutions; the expectations that citizens have of government and how these are accommodated; and the political-economy implications of infrastructure and financing choices being made by government.
Future regional economies
The GCR’s regional and local economies remain trapped in structural conditions set by past development paths. Despite government’s best efforts to date, and fairly healthy growth in the mid-2000s, our economy remains largely uncompetitive, vulnerable to sudden future shocks, profoundly inequitable, and ultimately unsustainable in its reliance both on growing consumption of consumer-goods and on increasingly scarce and costly resource inputs. This theme considers the prospects for a different economic future, with projects on: the urban space economy of the region; the role and potential of cross-border trade, especially that conducted by small-scale entrepreneurs whose activities are usually hidden from view; the GCR’s regional systems of innovation; and the sustainability and inclusivity of our current growth path choices.
Life and people in the GCR
It is frequently said that a city’s greatest asset is its people. In theory, large cities, and city-regions, are magnets for people not only for the work opportunities they provide, but because they are places that foster art, culture, creativity, social innovation and cosmopolitan lifestyles. In turn, an ever-increasing diversity of new people adds further to their social and economic dynamism. While this may also broadly be true for the towns and cities making up the Gauteng City-Region, it is also the case that the GCR’s people remain deeply marked by a divided, racialised, inequitable society that is unforgiving of perceived weakness and social difference. If the Gauteng City-Region is to function as a cosmopolitan, creative, socially innovative place, attracting more and more innovators and entrepreneurs with its diversity and cultural appeal, quality of life for millions of its people must be dramatically improved. Projects in this thematic focus aim to investigate: the dynamics of poverty and inequality; the social fabric of the GCR including the aspects that divide us, such as race and class, as well as the prospects for social cohesion; the inclusions and exclusions that structure our fast-changing neighbourhoods. Projects in this area will also look at creative ways to visualise the city-region, and document the lives of its inhabitants.
Sustainability in the city-region
The last few years have seen a significant uptick in research interest and policy concern over the sustainability of the development path we are on. There is a growing awareness of the probable development impacts of climate change and variability (Gauteng is likely to see increased disaster vulnerability and growing water scarcity in the years ahead). We have a more sophisticated understanding that routinely externalising environmental costs to other places and to future generations will rebound on our economy as suffocating constraints at unexpected moments (witness South Africa’s now dramatically rising costs of electricity and fuel and the pressing matter of acid-mine drainage). On the other hand there is also a growing recognition that a society that invests wisely in maintaining green assets and enhancing ecological systems services, and that proactively exploits opportunities in the production of green goods and services, may turn the sustainability challenge into a ‘competitive advantage’. Projects in this area examine: the prospects for an infrastructure transition to reduce metabolic flows or resource inputs and waste outputs in the region; dimensions of a green economy; the state of green assets and how the region can begin to plan effectively for green infrastructure; and key disaster related vulnerabilities in the GCR (such as settlements built on dolomitic ground or areas prone to flooding).
Space and mobility
Despite the considerable progress that has been made over the last 15 years in bringing decent shelter and basic services to communities, it is fair to say that the spatial inequalities and settlement distortions left us by apartheid remain as scars on the urban landscape. It also needs to be acknowledged that some of these distortions have been exacerbated by poor state-led housing policies, as well as weak public-sector strategic spatial planning that has allowed the private production of space in unsustainable forms (such as artificially separated lifestyle estates and incongruously located office parks and retail centres) on the urban periphery. A fragmented public transport system, and the drift of jobs away from mining and industry to tertiary activities almost always located far from townships, has compounded spatial dislocations, and in turn poverty and inequality. Projects in this area consider the spatial changes reshaping the region; changing patterns of commuter mobility; demographic and space-economy dynamics in the GCR’s peripheral areas; and the different spatial imaginaries and planning capabilities in different parts of government.
Data collection and visualisation
For the GCRO systematic data collection, the generation of new data, and more creative ways to visualise and disseminate data, are, when viewed collectively, an area of substantive work that cuts across – indeed underpins – all the other thematic areas. It represents a terrain of work in which GCRO aims to distinguish itself, ideally developing over time a solid reputation for rigour and innovation. Projects in this area include: a regular quality of life survey; the development of indicators and benchmarks by means of which the GCR can compare progress against developments in other city-regions; the design of interactive web- and cellular-based tools for presenting useful geo-spatial data; and the production of a bi-annual State of the GCR Review, amongst others.