By Margo Weimers, Maximilian Vogt, Terence Smith, and Esther Wegner
In South Africa, historical shortcomings in city planning by the apartheid regime, rapid urbanisation, and a lack of economic opportunities have increased inequity and social exclusion. Faced with high rates of violence and crime, citizens are getting involved in enhancing safety in public spaces. Margo Weimers and her co-authors present an example from the city of Johannesburg.
When talking about shaping, developing and managing our cities and urban spaces we should keep one thing in mind: Cities will never stay the same! The concept of a city, a defined geographical space in which generations, beliefs, cultures and interests of thousands, sometimes millions, of people intersect and interact, is not a static notion. As people, technology and our priorities about the economy, environment, popular culture and globalisation change constantly; so too will the way we live and how we arrange our cities spatially.
Challenges and difficulties ranging from spatial planning, service delivery, urban decay, social ills, and economic development amongst others inevitably arise in densely populated urban areas. The task is not to shy away from addressing the constant need for adaptation but to tackle it in order to avoid challenges from accumulating to the point where they are no longer manageable.
Challenges for creating a safe city: The example of Johannesburg
In South Africa’s biggest city Johannesburg, a myriad of problems have manifested over many decades. The apartheid regime built and designed cities consisting of fragmented, inefficiently used and poorly functioning spaces. In addition, the first two decades of South Africa’s democracy saw significant changes as part of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), including mass delivery of low income housing mainly located at the periphery of the city, providing much needed accommodation. Unfortunately, this development process was not holistic and did not include the necessary social amenities, jobs and critical bulk infrastructure.
Additionally, rapid urbanisation, paired with a lack of economic opportunities amidst widespread poverty and growing unemployment, have exacerbated issues of spatial and economic inequity and the lack of social inclusion. This has also created a fertile ground for even more urban governance and development challenges. One of the most prominent amongst these is the problem of violence and crime.
Today, a young person growing up in Hillbrow, in the inner city of Johannesburg, or in Westbury, one of the low-income suburbs, or even in Diepsloot, an informal settlement near the city edge, faces a multitude of risk factors that could contribute to potentially drive her or him into a life of crime or violent behaviour. The lack of a permanent support base i.e. parents, older siblings or caregivers, no permanent home or residence and the exposure from a young age to violent crime, physical and social disorder as well as substance and drug abuse are often a reality for children and youth in many neighbourhoods of Johannesburg.
The impacts of deprivation weigh heavily on the development of a young person. Many children and teens may be forced into illicit and/or sexual activities to obtain money for independence, food, rent, or material gain i.e. clothes or drugs. Pro-social morals and values one might take for granted are often not taught and considered important due to the lack of a constant dependable positive adult or role model who verbalises what is right and wrong and demonstrates it through living the example1. Faced with these risk factors, many young people have little or no space to escape to – if home is not a protected space, the street might be the only (public) space where you can go. For many institutions such as schools, it is usually too late to effectively mitigate these risk factors.
Homicide rate six times higher than global average
Whilst there are several risk factors that may influence the youth trajectory regarding violence and crime, trends in crime statistics in South Africa provide a glimpse into possible future scenarios. Over the past five years, numbers of murder and attempted murder have been rising. While in 2011/2012, 15 554 people were killed nationwide, the number rose to 18 673 victims of murder in 2015/2016 (SAPS crime stats release September 2016). For South Africa, this results in a homicide rate of 31 in 2012 and 34 in 2016 per 100 000 people. This is about six times higher than the global average (6.2 murder per 100 000) (UNODC, Global Study on Homicide, 2013 and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime database at https://data.unodc.org/).
While numbers vary between cities, they also vary highly within the same city. Johannesburg as a metropolitan municipality accounts for a homicide rate of 30 per 100 000 while some police stations within the municipality battle with rates above 70 (UCT Centre for Criminology for SACN 2016). In many urban areas, violence and crime have become part of daily life, with a devastating impact on social cohesion. Public spaces such as streets, parks or transport hubs, which should be spaces that facilitate social cohesion and inclusion, are actually heavily affected by crime and violence and perceived as unsafe.