Formal versus Informal Perceptions of Safety in Public Space: Part 2 – Johannesburg + Summary


This article is a continuation of previous research undertaken in Berlin during June 2013, and serves to clarify the hypotheses and findings of both spatial research exercises.

The premise of both papers rests on the contrasting backgrounds of the researchers, as during the initial pre-project logistics it quickly became clear that both members of the tandem brought very different perceptions of public space and its use; most notably the contrasting views on what determines safety in public spaces.

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The research in Germany aimed to understand safety perceptions of both the tandem members as well as the different user groups of Görlitzer Park in Berlin. From the beginning the tandem agreed that it would be necessary to repeat the exercise in South Africa to develop it into a larger investigation of a comparative study in a public space in Johannesburg (JHB) – in order to gain a broader understanding of different safety perceptions of users in both contexts.


For a final comparison of safety perceptions in Berlin and JHB it was important to find a site which would be similar to Görlitzer Park and which would allow the tandem to use similar methods.

Informal City_Presenttion_Jhono&Hanna - Johannesburg10 joubert small

The tandem chose the site of Joubert Park in JHB. Joubert Park is situated in the Central Business District (CBD), which was established in 1906 and went through a period of neglect between the 1990’s and early 2000’s, now being one of the largest and busiest green spaces in the Johannesburg CBD.

Both sites are contentious green spaces and both are located in central areas of the city and are used by many different user groups which share the park. The fact that Görlitzer Park und Joubert Park are both associated with crime/danger but at the same are used as a leisure space for families made the comparison very interesting to the tandem in regard to the perceptions of safety.

Hanna wanted to discover how public spaces are used in Johannesburg compared to Berlin due to the issues of safety, while Jhono wanted to contrast his findings in Berlin with his understanding of public space on JHB and South Africa.

The exercise in JHB was conducted under the same research questions as in Berlin:

  1. What are the different user groups of the park?
  2. What are their perceptions of the park?
  3. What are similarities and contrasts of the perceptions?
  4. What is our own perception of the park and how did it develop over the week?


To ensure that the findings in Joubert Park are comparable with the findings from Görlitzer Park, the tandem used the same methods:

  1. Transect walks / Flaneur(ing): Every day and at different hours the tandem walked through the park taking different routes.

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The aim being to develop a subjective and experiential idea of the area and see how the user groups change during the day.

  1. Field diary: Both tandem partners wrote a personal diary after ending the site visits every day.

The aim was to find out how the personal perception of the park changed from day to day; the tandem partners were not allowed to talk about the diary entries, in order to make sure that the German and South African perceptions did not influence each other.

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  1. Media screening: The tandem searched through media (newspapers, blogs, tourist web pages and forums), looking for articles or stories on the park.

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The aim was to find out how the park was perceived not only by user groups and the tandem, but also Berlin and the rest of Germany.

  1. Mental Maps: Users were given a blank map and were asked how they use the park and where they felt safe.

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Johannesburg Findings

The user stakeholders the tandem considered to be most important were:

  1. The Johannesburg Art Gallery
  2. Lapeng Child and Family Resource Center
  3. The Joubert Park Clinic
  4. The Green House Project
  5. Photographers

The most evident finding was that the four institutions play a crucial role for the security in the park. After being part of Joubert Park for many years, the institutions established an loosely defined safety network. All four organizations are in regular contact and hold meetings to discuss the latest developments in the park.

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The institutions also work together for example by sending children from the Lapeng Center to work shops in the Art Gallery or in the Garden Center. Especially Lapeng Child and Family Resource Center has played a central role in transforming Joubert Park from a dangerous no-go area to a place for community recreation and an inner-city green space.

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A very interesting “institution” within the informal safety network are the photographers situated mostly at the entrances of the park. The fact that there is many of them and that they are “armed” with cameras makes them very important for the parks security. They watch the people entering and leaving the park and as some of the interviewees informed the tandem, as soon as crime happens they inform the police and the gates are being closed.

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The second important finding was that there are large differences between the “offcial” perceptions of the park such as the media reports, official documentation by local governance structures on their websites and the informal perceptions, found in the investigation through discussions with the different users groups and personal perception of the tandem.

In the beginning both members of the tandem were worried about spending a whole week in Joubert Park; Jhono due to his experiences in public spaces in various cities in South Africa and Hanna due to the many negative and frightening stories she heard about Joubert Park.

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The daily transect walks, the field diary and the final mental map revealed how quickly the perception of safety of both tandem members changed during the week.  Knowing about the informal safety network in the park, Hanna felt safe and described Joubert Park as a “green island” in the inner city, comparing it to green spaces in Berlin.

Jhono was also surprised how relaxed the atmosphere in the park is. His Mental Map results showed that he felt more unsafe than Hanna who’s mental map showed a very different perception of space based on her background.

Informal City_Presenttion_Jhono&Hanna - Johannesburg46 Informal City_Presenttion_Jhono&Hanna - Johannesburg47

Other park users agreed with the tandems experience and confirmed that they feel safe in the park and use is as green space in their lunch breaks or to play with the kids. The only areas neither the park users nor the tandem felt safe was the western edge of the park facing the Johannesburg Art Gallery. It is rather used by big groups of men, most likely drug dealers. But as in Görlitzer Park where drug dealing was obviously a part of the parks activity none of the park users felt threatened.

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Comparison of results Berlin-JHB

  1. There are large differences between the “official” perceptions and the informal perceptions of the park especially concerning the feeling of safety.
  2. Informality in Görlitzer Park (drug dealers, vagrants) is experienced negatively. Informality in Joubert Park (informal safety network / photographers) is experienced positively.

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Overall Conclusion

After comparing the findings in both parks the understanding of formality and informality broadened. It became very clear that informality is a wide term, impossible to define. Discussing it around an example helped to make it more comprehensible.

The method mix was very helpful, in that it allowed for a variety of answers to the research questions from many different points of views. This shows that perceptions of space and safety are irrevocably interlinked to people’s backgrounds, understanding of local norms and their own experience.

Having come from such different backgrounds the effect of the method mix proved even more valuable. Each tandem had the possibility to get an insight into the work of an architect / a geographer. This was seen most critically in the beginning of the process, as it became clear that both tandem partners use different approaches to investigate space and place – an important finding in order too develop better future methods of working inter-disciplinarily

Gardens, the Inner-city and Informality: what we learnt about Johannesburg

Pic1by Olumuyiwa Adegun and Hector Rojas Careto

The field trips that formed part of the Johannesburg phase of the Johannesburg-Berlin (In)formal City exchange programme were revealing. We visited a 12-storey Johannesburg inner-city building, where a small garden exists on the roof top. The garden is known called ‘Centre of Attraction’ (CoA). As a community enhancement program, the garden was conceived to provide a space where the building’s residents interact and learn about gardening. Products from the garden are intended to in some way meet the residents’ nutritional needs through consumption of the garden produce and boost income through sale. The CoA garden is the 3rd project of this nature owned and promoted by Makulong a Matala, under the umbrella of Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC), and with service provision by Food & Trees for Africa (F&TA). JHC is a municipal agency in charge of publicly-owned residential buildings in the inner city of Johannesburg, while FTA is a popular NGO dealing with environmental and food security issues in South Africa.   Continue reading

Working with the urban poor – organizations between formality and informality – Part 2

P1060544by Sylvana Jahre und Tursha Mitha

For Part 1 of the blog entry read here


These organizations working with the urban poor and especially with migrants and refugees in the inner city of Johannesburg are only fragments in the wider landscape; therefore this study is not able to provide general claims. However, the interpretation of the empirical data reveals important results. The main question throughout this study was how different organizations relate to governance and how marginalized communities Continue reading

Working with the urban poor – organizations between formality and informality – Part I

P1060562by Sylvana Jahre und Trusha Mitha

This case study focuses on organizations in the inner city of Johannesburg working with disadvantages communities, especially migrants and urban poor. In the frame of community power theories, it is believed that those organizations are able to provide a platform to give voice and power to marginalized groups of people. Therefore formal and informal networks of these organizations and the dependence or independence from government and government funding become crucial variables for the analysis. Continue reading


Abysiniaby Tilman Versch

(for part 1 of this blog entry see here)

It’s not that easy being the first time in Southern Africa, and then in a city like Johannesburg. The city mirrors the South African society and its sharp and wide inequalities and segregation patterns. It shows all the effects of these inequalities in the streets, the structure of housing and also in the bodies of the people. A huge racial gap between black and white still seems to exist, but the clear line between the races has disappeared. Furthermore, migration is also a big issue in Johannesburg, with a lot of people from the countries north of South Africa moving to the city to live the dream of a better life – which often just seems to be a dream. The life of these people often ends in poorly paid street jobs on the lower bottom of society Continue reading


Text 1by Claudia Mogado

“For Johannesburg was still busy growing out of a mining camp, like it will to the end of all time still be growing out of a mining camp.”

Bosman H C (1986:87)

With its well-developed communications systems, efficient yet pliable banks, and relatively easy access to daily comforts, Johannesburg would appear to have more sophisticated parallel (though often illegal) economies than other African cities. What the inner city provides is an intersection where different styles, schemes, sectors, and practices can make something out of and from one another. In these respects, inner-city Johannesburg is the quintessential African city. Johannesburg becomes a launching pad not only for better livelihoods within the inner city but also for excursions into a broader world, whether Dubai and Mumbai or the pool halls of Hillbrow and the white suburb of Cresta only a few kilometres away. On the other hand, the density of skills, needs, aspirations, and willingness brought to work in the inner city makes it a sometimes brutal place, where everything seems to be on the line.

Simone, A. (2004: 427-428)

Continue reading

Decoding Operation Clean Sweep: The Place of Street Traders in the ‘World Class African City’


No hawkers sign in the Johannesburg CBD. Photo by Martin Schinagl

No hawkers sign in the Johannesburg CBD.
Photo by Martin Schinagl

by Tshanda Mbuyi and Martin Schinagl

Wide and empty sidewalks. Fewer pedestrians on the pavements than cars on the roads? Such was the result of the eviction of thousands of street traders form the Johannesburg CBD. This was an opportunity to gain insight into the interaction between space, politics, economics and in/formality in the Johannesburg inner-city.

At the beginning of October 2013, the City of Johannesburg embarked on a drive to curb “illegal trading; illegal dumping and littering; land and building invasions and other by-law contraventions; illegal connection of infrastructure including theft of electricity and the lack of a sense of civic pride and ownership‘( By mid-November, around 7000 traders were without any means to support their families, their suppliers (from the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market ) saw their sales drop drastically and their customers had no place to buy the affordable goods they were used to.

The move was at odds with the city’s policy direction regarding informality and local economic development and elicited reactions from many actors with an interest in the issue: street traders associations, socio-economic right advocacy organisations, academics, professional planners, trade unions and other activists.

  Continue reading

The Gray Area:The Case of Hillbrow in Johannesburg, South Africa ( Part 2)

Precinct delimitation eKhaya Neighbourhood Source: Savage Dodd Architects 2011-2012

Precinct delimitation eKhaya Neighbourhood
Source: Savage Dodd Architects 2011-2012

by Natalia Garzón Arredondo and Nicolette Pingo*

(For part 1 of this blog entry read here)

The eKhaya neighbourhood system is a consortium of various state, private sector and civil society actors. Each private sector stakeholder- private property companies, individual building owners, social housing initiatives and the very active NGO MES contribute towards the neighbourhood management system.

The private property owners contribute financially towards the precinct in order to maintain private security and cleaning services. The precinct has also developed a wonderful park together with a City of Johannesburg subsidiary, The Johannesburg Development Agency. In working with the city of Johannesburg the precinct has sought formal recognition to collect additional taxes from businesses and residential buildings, which are spent directly within the area itself. The City of Johannesburg provides special concessions to such areas and are registered as City Improvement District[2] (CID). In other parts of Johannesburg- these privatised CIDs have negative consequences such as limiting usage by those not deemed to belong through the use of private security services. However in Hillbrow the stakeholder configuration is different and with the aim of making a safe, clean environment for some of the city’s most impoverished residents as a key mechanism for ensuring better businesses for property owners it is different.

Continue reading


Coexistence between a Hijacked Building and an eKhaya Building in Hillbrow Source: Authors

Coexistence between a Hijacked Building and an eKhaya Building in Hillbrow
Source: Authors

by Natalia Garzón Arredondo and Nicolette Pingo

“Up close, the tower is obscured by tightly packed apartment blocks, many dirt-streaked and dilapidated. The tower’s pink advertising ball sits low and heavy on the horizon. This one kilometre square piece of land, one of the densest in Africa, is the stuff of nightmare and legend.

Hillbrow is where you get hijacked, raped and murdered. It’s where uncontrolled revellers drop fridges from high-rises on New Year’s Eve and the middle class dare not tread[1].”

Verashni Pillay (Mail and Guardian, 20/09/2013) 


Neighbourhood management governance systems are key sites of city making across the globe. This is true in Berlin, Germany and Johannesburg, South Africa. This is the starting point at which we explored the eKhaya neighbourhood management system in Hillbrow, Johannesburg.

This was the second part the collaborative research project, which began with looking at neighbourhood management structures in Berlin- Gropiusstadt. (See the Blog entries here: and here: )

There were various critical aspects in each case study, which allowed for interesting contrasts and observations. Both Gropiusstadt and Hillbrow were developed as Architects’ dreams for modernist cities. Both areas were representative of high-density urban, residential living. The areas have followed cyclically patterns both had heydays in their early development, as rising middle class flocked towards these areas as the epitome of contemporary comfort and style, however Gropiusstadt and Hillbrow have also experienced periods decline and are currently in different ways and processes undergoing regeneration. Continue reading


A loaded trolley and the investigated buy-back depot “Remade” (own picture)

A loaded trolley and the investigated buy-back depot “Remade” (own picture)

 Malve Jacobsen & Tebogo Ramatlo

(Part 1 focused on the recycling system in Johannesburg and its links within formal and informal structures whereas Part 2 has a closer look on one local buy-back centre in central Johannesburg and the collectors’ perspective.)

Ill. 2: Area of Research (maps modified by Tebogo Ramatlo)

The recyclable waste is collected from different places all around the city. Collectors told us that the most common practice is to collect waste from households’ and public bins in the street. Some collectors even have arrangements with shop owners or other trades which produce a lot of waste. The persons we spoke to collect most of their daily waste from different neighbourhoods closed to the buy-back center and the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. After having finished collecting, they pull their goods on trolleys along the main roads all the way to the buy-back center. There, they line up outside the center at noon every day. The waste is then sorted out into its different categories and weighed on the scales and charged per kilo. Since it is the only depot in the precinct the owner has no direct competition. The resulting power makes it difficult for the collectors to negotiate (sometimes very low) prices. We were told that 80% of the waste collected by that buy-back station comes from waste collectors and only 20% from collecting vehicles. Continue reading