Urban utopia of exclusivity versus urban realism of inclusivity: Mall or Market Place?

Written by Tasmi Quazi & Richard Dobson

Warwick Junction
The 101 year old Early Morning Market that was proposed to be demolished and replaced with a Mall Picture by Dennis Gilbert

Since 1996, the example of the Warwick Junction urban renewal project in Durban (South Africa) has tested the relationship between public transport, the commensurate footfall and the opportunity that this has afforded to sustaining the livelihoods of nearly 8 000 street traders. In addition, there has been reciprocal benefit to the consumers amongst the 460 000 commuters that traverse the area every day, that have access to affordable and culturally relevant goods and services at appropriate times and quantities. In the post-apartheid South African context, this achievement has taken on relevance for its contribution to social equity and prosperity through the transformation of urban spaces, which were previously segregated and marginalised under apartheid.

Local community protests

Notwithstanding the litany of positive attributes that have been realised through Warwick Junction’s urban renewal project, in 2009, the city government partnered with a property developer to propose the demolition of the oldest informal market specialising in fresh produce to be replaced by a shopping mall. This was a contra-signal to the city government’s progressive support of the urban renewal project for nearly 15 years and the recognition of the valuable economic and social contribution of this inner-city district’s informal economy. The timing of South Africa hosting the FIFA World Cup and the mall proposal are consistent with numerous examples of host countries pursuing ‘world class’ aspirations in their endeavour to show-case their modern urban environments, often to the detriment of local communities.

Local community protests

Nonetheless, the community was well versed in the notions of development having participated in these processes since 1996, and because the mall proposal was contrary to their prior experience, there was large-scale resistance by the informal workers, urban practitioners, legal fraternity, social activists and academics. The resistance to the proposal was founded on a number of precepts; firstly, it was believed that there was inadequate consultation and participation even at the conceptual stages. Secondly, court papers highlighted that the ultimate impact of the development would affect between 70 000-100 000 workers and their dependents in exchange for 400 jobs to be created through the proposed mall development. Thirdly, the culturally responsive activities around the market would be displaced from their prime locations. Fourthly, economic research demonstrated that the costs of fresh produce to be purchased from the formal outlets would be 120-150% more expensive than the informal markets. Lastly, the recognised historic significance of the site and the activity would be lost to public memory.

Local community protests

Sadly, some of the public protests became violent which is indicative of the community’s assertions of their belief that the mall proposal was exclusionary. Subsequently, through a successful legal process, the mall proposal was abandoned. Click here to read an article which captures some of the reasons given by the city government for having retreated from the mall proposal. The consequence has been three years of deliberate underinvestment by the city government in the urban infrastructure and management of the area. Furthermore, the community has been stigmatised as being intransigent for not recognising the development opportunity offered.

In conclusion, this event is not exclusive to South Africa, as numerous other global examples demonstrate the blind pursuit of a modernist vision of urban development through the displacement of existing and thriving informal economies. However, this dualistic outlook to the formal or informal, first or second economies is not a battle to be won by either and detracts from the interconnectedness between the two. It should rather be an inclusive urban process that reflects a hybrid expression in which the diverse needs of all citizens are met. Warwick Junction has demonstrated that it is possible to implement an incisive and incremental developmental approach to progressively benefit the community at large without necessarily resorting to a destructive modernist approach. Instead of a single-minded pursuit of the urban utopia that is exclusive, adopting urban realism of inclusive development would contribute to the more extensive reach of equity and prosperity of cities. This would enable the realisation of multiple benefits in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability.

The images are of the existing fresh produce market which was proposed to be demolished and replaced with the mall, and includes images of the local community protests and the letters of discontent from the community. To see the images of the mall design that was proposed to replace the fresh produce market, click here: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=748510

In the same vein and for an elaborated account, click here to read an article written by Caroline Skinner titled “Challenging City imaginaries: Street Traders struggles in Warwick Junction”.

Letters of discontent
Letters of discontent

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