Urban Forum

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 333–350 | Cite as

Conceptualizing ‘the Urban’ Through the Lens of Durban, South Africa

  • Catherine SutherlandEmail author
  • Dianne Scott
  • Etienne Nel
  • Adrian Nel


Contemporary urban theory raises many questions about how ‘the urban’ is being conceptualized in a fast changing world that is approaching an urban epoch. Evolving debates about what it means to be urban, including the similarities and differences between so-called northern and southern cities, the future of cities, the way to manage and sustain cities, and cities’ relationships to the new Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, reveal the need for urban theory that can explain and provide insights into contemporary urban governance, processes, and outcomes. This special issue uses Durban as a lens to provide insight into the changing nature of cities in the Global South and Africa in particular, which encapsulate and reflect both formality and informality; tradition and modernity; uneven and unequal growth and social transformation; environmental crises and ‘resilience and sustainability’. This paper reflects on the dominant processes shaping the development of the city, revealing the challenges, tensions, and opportunities that emerge as the city assembles new ways of being urban, through the rationalities, knowledge, experiences, practices and actions of the state, citizens, and the private sector.


Urban governance Urban assemblage Southern urbanism Urban geography of Durban South Africa 



  1. Abu-Lughod, J. (1965). Tale of two cities: The origins of modern Cairo. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 7(4), 429–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Appiah, D. O., Bugri, J. T., Forkuo, E. K., & Boatend, P. K. (2014). Determinants of peri-urbanisation and land use change patterns in peri-urban Ghana. Journal of Sustainable Development, 7(6), 95–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Badiou, A. (2012). The rebirth of history: Times of riots and uprisings. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  4. Barnett, C., & Scott, D. (2007). The reach of citizenship: Locating the politics of industrial air pollution in Durban and beyond. Urban Forum, 18(4), 289–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bass, O., & Houghton, J. (2018). Street names and statues: The identity politics of naming and public art in contemporary Durban. Urban Forum. (this issue).Google Scholar
  6. Beeckmans, L. (2013). Editing the African city: Reading colonial planning in Africa from a comparative perspective. Planning Perspectives, 28(4), 615–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bond, P., & Mottiar, S. (2018). Terrains of civil and uncivil society in post-apartheid Durban. Urban Forum.
  8. Cobbinah, P. B., Giasie, E., & Owusu-Amponsah, L. (2015). Peri-urban morphology and indigenous livelihoods in Ghana. Habitat International, 50, 120–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Conley, P. (2015). Empowering Market Traders in Warwick Junction, Durban, South Africa, Women in Informal Employment. Globalising and Organising, WIEGO, Accessed 18 Aug 2018.
  10. Davis, M. (2006). Planet of slums. London: Verso.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Desai, A. (2018). Race, place and everyday life in contemporary south Africa: Wentworth, Durban. Urban Forum.
  12. Dobson, R., & Skinner, C. (2009). Working in Warwick: Including street traders in urban plans, UKZN School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal. In Durban.Google Scholar
  13. Dupont, V., Jordhus-Lier, D., Sutherland, C., & Braathen, E. (2016). Urban informality in Brazil, India, South Africa and Peru. In V. Dupont, D. Jordhus-Lier, C. Sutherland & E. Braathen (Eds.), The Politics of Slums in the Global South. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. eThekwini Municipality. (2010). Northern spatial development plan, final draft, 2010/11 review. Durban: eThekwini Municipality.Google Scholar
  15. eThekwini Municipality. (2014/2015). Spatial development framework. Durban: eThekwini Municipality.Google Scholar
  16. eThekwini Municipality. (2016/2017). Spatial Development Framework. Durban: eThekwini Municipality.Google Scholar
  17. eThekwini Municipality. (2017). Durban resilience strategy 2017. Durban: eThekwini Municipality.Google Scholar
  18. Fanon, F. (1961). The wretched of the earth. New York: Grove Press.Google Scholar
  19. Freund, B., & Padayachee, V. (Eds.). (2002). (D) Urban vortex: South African city in transition. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press.Google Scholar
  20. Gough, K. V., & Yankson, P. W. (2000). Land Markets in African Cities: The case of Peri- urban Accra, Ghana. Urban Studies, 37, 2485–2500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hannan, S., & Sutherland, C. (2015). Mega-projects and sustainability in Durban, South Africa: Convergent or divergent agendas? Habitat International, 45, 205–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Harvey, D. (1989). From managerialism to entrepreneurialism: The transformation in urban governance in late capitalism. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 71(1), 3–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Houghton, J. (2011). Negotiating the global and the local: Evaluating development through public private partnerships in Durban, South Africa. Urban Forum, 22(1), 75–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Houghton, J. (2013a). Entanglement: The negotiation of urban development imperatives in Durban’s public private partnerships. Urban Studies, 50, 2791–2808.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Houghton, J. (2013b). Global influences on project-led urban renewal in Durban, South Africa. In M. Leary & J. McCarthy (Eds.), A companion to urban regeneration: Global constraints, local opportunities. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. Joshi, A., & Houtzager, P. P. (2012). Widgets or Watchdogs?: Conceptual explorations in social accountability. Public Management Review, 14(2), 145–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Karvonen, A., & Brand, R. (2011). Technical expertise, sustainability, and the politics of knowledge. In G. Kütting & R. Lipschutz (Eds.), Environmental governance : Power and knowledge in a local-global world. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. Kennedy, L. (2015). The politics and changing paradigm of megaproject development in metropolitan cities. Habitat International, 45, 163–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. King, A. D. (2009). Postcolonial Cities. Binghamton, NY, USA: State University of New York, Binghamton.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mabin, A. (2017). Grounding southern city urban theory in time and place. In S. Parnell & S. Oldfield (Eds.), The Routledge handbook on cities in the global south. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. Mail and Guardian. (2015). City of Durban on the rise, 21 may. In 2015.Google Scholar
  32. Martel, P. (2015). An examination of the knowledge production process in a spatial planning exercise: The Case of Study of the Back of Port Project in Durban, South Africa, unpublished Masters thesis, School of Geographical and Environmental Science, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.Google Scholar
  33. Martel, P., & Sutherland, C. (2018). Durban’s back of port project: A local spatial knowledge production process framed by urban entrepreneurialism. Urban Forum. (this issue).Google Scholar
  34. Memela, S., & Maharaj, B. (2018). Refugees, violence and gender. The case of women in the Albert Park area in Durban, south Africa. Urban Forum.
  35. Meyers, G. (2011). African cities. Alternative visions of urban theory and practice. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  36. Nel, E. L., Hill, T. R., & Maharaj, M. (2003). Durban’s pursuit of economic development in the post-apartheid era. Urban Forum, 14(2–3), 223–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Njoh, A.J. (2017). “The right-to-the-city question” and indigenous urban populations in capital cities in Cameroon. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 52(2), 188–200.Google Scholar
  38. Obeng-Odoom, F. (2011). Special issue of African review and finance editorial: Urbanity, urbanism, and urbanisation in Africa. African Review of Economics and Finance, 3, 1–7Google Scholar
  39. Oldfield, S. (2017). Critical urbanism. In S. Parnell & S. Oldfield (Eds.), The Routledge handbook on cities in the global south. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Pillay, U., & Bass, O. (2008). Mega-events as a response to poverty reduction: The 2010 FIFA world cup and its urban development implications. Urban Forum, 19, 329–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Robbins, G. (2015). The Dube TradePort-King Shaka International Airport mega-project: Exploring impacts in the context of multi-scalar governance processes. Habitat International, 45(3), 196–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Roberts, D., Boon, R., Diederichs, N., Douwes, E., Govender, N., Mcinnes, A., Mclean, C., O’ Donoghue, S., & Spires, M. (2012). Exploring ecosystem-based adaptation in Durban, South Africa: “Learning-by-doing” at the local government coal face. Environment and Urbanisation, 24(1), 167–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Robinson, J. (2006). Ordinary cities: Between modernity and development. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  44. Robinson, J. (2017). New geographies of theorising the urban: Putting comparison to work for global urban studies. In S. Parnell & S. Oldfield (Eds.), The Routledge handbook on cities in the global south. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  45. Roy, A. (2009). The 21st century Metropolis: New geographies of theory. Regional Studies, 43(6), 819–830.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Roy, A. (2011). Slumdog cities: Rethinking subaltern urbanism. Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35(2), 223–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Roy, A. (2017). Worlding the south: Toward a post-colonial urban theory. In S. Parnell & S. Oldfield (Eds.), The Routledge handbook on cities in the global south. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  48. Scott, D., Oelofse, C., Scott, K., & Houghton, J. (2006). Social impact assessment for the proposed small craft harbour, Durban point waterfront, prepared for the environmental impact assessment for the proposed small craft harbour, Durban Point Waterfront. Durban: Durban Point Development Company.Google Scholar
  49. Scott, D., Sutherland, C., Sim, V., & Robbins, G. (2015). Pro-growth challenges to sustainability in South Africa. In A. Hansen & U. Wethal (Eds.), Emerging Economies and Challenges to Sustainability. Theories, Strategies, Local Realities. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  50. Sigler, T. J. (2013). Relational cities: Doha, Panama City, and Dubai as 21st century Entrepots. Urban Geography, 34(5), 612–633.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sim, V., Sutherland, C., & Scott, D. (2016). Pushing the boundaries - urban edge challenges in eThekwini Municipality. South African Geographical Journal, 98(1), 37–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sim, V., Sutherland, C., Buthelezi, S., & Khumalo, D. (2018). Possibilities for a hybrid approach to planning and governance at the interface of the administrative and traditional authority systems in Durban. Urban Forum. (this issue).Google Scholar
  53. Simone, A. (2004). For the City yet to come: Changing African life in four cities. NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Skinner, C. (2011). Challenging city imaginaries: Street traders' struggles in Warwick junction. Agenda, 23(81), 101–109.Google Scholar
  55. Steinbrink, M., Haferburg, C., & Ley, A. (2011). Festivalisation and urban renewal in the global south: Socio-spatial consequences of the 2010 FIFA world cup. South African Geographical Journal, 93(1), 15–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sutherland, C. (2016). Society, space and environment: ‘Environmental spaces’ in Knysna, southern cape, South Africa, unpublished PhD, University of KwaZulu---Natal, Durban.Google Scholar
  57. Sutherland, C., & Scott, D. (2009). Social assessment for the development of a Back of port zone in the South Durban Basin. Durban: eThekwini Municipality.Google Scholar
  58. Sutherland, C., Hordijk, M., Lewis, B., Meyer, C., & Buthelezi, B. (2014). Water and sanitation delivery in eThekwini municipality: A spatially differentiated approach. Environment & Urbanisation, 26(2), 469–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Sutherland, C., Scott, D., & Hordijk, M. (2015a). Urban water governance for more inclusive development: A reflection on the ‘waterscapes’ of Durban, South Africa. European Journal of Development Research, 27, 488–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Sutherland, C., Sim, V., & Scott, D. (2015b). Contested discourses of a mixed-use megaproject: Cornubia, Durban. Habitat International, 45, 185–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sutherland, C., Sim, V., Buthelezi, S., & Khumalo, D. (2016a). Social constructions of environmental services in a rapidly densifying peri-urban area under dual governance in Durban, South Africa. African Biodiversity and Conservation, 46(2), 1–12.Google Scholar
  62. Sutherland, C., Braathen, E., Dupont, V., & Jordhus-Lier, D. (2016b). Conclusion. In V. Dupont, D. Jordhus-Lier, C. Sutherland, & E. Braathen (Eds.), The politics of slums in the global south. Urban informality in Brazil, India, South Africa and Peru. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  63. Sutherland, C., Hordijk, M., & Scott, D. (2016c). Emerging practices of community adaptation within innovative water and climate change policies in Durban, South Africa. In M. Roy, S. Cawood, M. Hordijk, & D. Hulme (Eds.), Urban poverty and climate change. Life in the slums of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Oxon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  64. Sutherland, C., & Sim, V. (2017). The non-paper. Durban’s resilience strategy. Durban: eThekwini Municipality.Google Scholar
  65. Swyngedouw, E. (2005). Governance innovation and the citizen: The Janus face of governance-beyond-the-state. Urban Studies, 42(11), 1991–2006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Swyngedouw E. (2018) Promises of the political: Insurgent cities in a post-political environment, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  67. Vogel, C., Scott, D., Culwick, C., & Sutherland, C. (2016). Environmental problem solving in South Africa: Harnessing creative imaginaries to address ‘wicked’ challenges and opportunities. South African Geographical Journal, 98(3), 515–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wood, A. (1998). Making sense of urban entrepreneurialism. Scottish Geographical Magazine, 114(2), 120–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Built Environment and Development StudiesUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalDurbanSouth Africa
  2. 2.Environmental and Geographical ScienceUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  3. 3.Department of GeographyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  4. 4.Department of GeographyUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalDurbanSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations