Exposing gated cities

By Gemma Todd

Upon exploring how just and inclusive cities can emerge, a key component of analysis is social life — how people act in cities, the complex character of sociability, and the factors designing urban life. Multiple concepts have been raised to define what a city is — and has become, and further, what kind of life materialises within urban spaces. Over time, cities have been conceptualised as 'misanthropic', expressing disorganisation, violence, and a dense concentration of people whom adopt different mentalities and motives. Such urban personas are expressed through space. As Teresa Caldeira has identified, cities have become 'fortified enclaves' — designed along a basis of segregated and controlled spaces. Exclusionary boundaries have been constructed, justified through fear, identity, and the desire to create new aesthetics for security. In modern cities, space articulates inequalities. Fragmented cities have formed with dire consequences for our cities' social life. The future of building inclusive and just cities first requires exploring what justifications are made within the cities' social life.

A clear articulation can be found in South Africa. Recently headlines have publicised the lifestyle of inhabitants from Nklanda, an exclusive gated community in KwaZulu-Natal where residents include the nation’s current president, Jacob Zuma. The expose was directed at the recurring issues of government corruption and signalled a call for transparency. Built from taxpayers' money, in a country of high inequalities, Nklanda articulates a reality of undermined democracy. However, Nklanda also indicates an underlying truth as to how cities have become redesigned around a series of exclusive landscapes. Consumed by the elite, Nklanda has hindered a relation to the city through its fortress architecture and criminalisation of the 'un-civil' outsider. The need for an inclusive urban space has become sidelined by elite desires to buy into a utopia ideal, whereby space is privatised and life structured around a theme. Gated communities are spreading fast across African cities with the Nklanda case one of many. Several questions need to be raised with the rise of exclusive spaces. Who, and what, is funding gated communities? What defines the right to such spaces? Fundamentally, how will inclusive cities emerge in face of growing inequalities?

Public space needs to be re-claimed. Interesting solutions have emerged across the Global South through social movements and anti-privatisation campaigns. The Anti-Privatisation Forum in South Africa is a positive example. The Forum was established in 2000, and represents a movement broadly opposing the privatisation of services, community space and workplaces. The Forum operates across South Africa. Demands of the APF include the transfer of decision-making power from national governments to local anti-eviction campaigns, and promoting change in policies. The APF classify the ANC as working for the 'capitalists' and failing to meet the promises to the people. Over time, activists and members have organised a number of movements to get government attention and call for change. The movements promote a vision of creating social cities; cities whereby equality is prioritised; and the privatisation of space, and services, no longer a lived reality.

Cities are social spaces; theatres promoting interaction, and urbanity is a way of life of which cannot be planned around a concept of utopia. We live in a reality of 'splintered urbanism' (Graham and Marvin, 2001), which needs to be exposed and opposed for justice.

Photo credit: Ikhlasul Amal

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