Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Vernacular Regeneration: Low-Income Housing, Private Policing and Urban Transformation in Inner-City Johannesburg

Aidan Mosselson




Vernacular Regeneration deals with urban change, specifically the urban regeneration project underway in Johannesburg’s inner city. The research, a combination of qualitative interviews and ethnographic evidence gathered over six months, focuses on urban processes – the policies, governance, agendas, ideologies, practices and approaches that shape urban interventions. The book draws attention to both the specificity of the context (i.e. its unique vernacular, formed out of a combination of distinct and shared histories, cultures, structuring forces and practices), and also broader shared processes and dynamics (i.e. wider geopolitical contexts). The interplay between specificity and generality represents an attempt to apply, and to explore the limits of, a comparative approach. Consequently, the book presents a nuanced and context-sensitive analysis of Johannesburg’s inner-city dynamics, with uncertainty and hybridity at its heart.

The author, Aidan Mosselson, selected Johannesburg as the site of interest because it is, all at once, a city of extremes and yet an ordinary city just like any other. There are numerous issues in post-apartheid Johannesburg that, although not unique to the city, are present in intense forms (e.g. increasing inequality, urban segmentation, violence and racial divisions). Yet Johannesburg is also the home of ordinary citizens, who despite all these issues go about their everyday lives. Thus, Mosselson contends that insights gained from Johannesburg allow us to understand the dynamics of other cities.

The book draws on two broad schools of thought in urban policy literature: the rise of neoliberal governance and policy in the post-apartheid period and the developmental imperatives of contemporary governance. The book incorporates both schools of thought to depict a hybrid form of urban governance. It argues that although neoliberal pro-market agendas dominate the regeneration project in Johannesburg, these imperatives are nevertheless entangled with commitments to redistributive and socially progressive goals, in line with South Africa’s post-apartheid laws.

The book is intended as a provocation, urging scholars to reevaluate dated concepts in urban studies and to adopt an alternative, adaptable approach. “Theorising urban change from a vernacular perspective means employing a variety of vocabularies and conceptual registers and allowing for varied, unexpected findings and outcomes to emerge. It also means being attuned to the uncertainties, multiplicities and constant forms of becoming which define urban spaces.” (page 164)


Related PhD thesis available from: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1472020/1/Vernacular%20Regeneration%20Final%2...


Book note prepared by Kate Goh

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