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Mixed Evidence on Ownership and Management of Public Space: Cases from Inner-city Johannesburg


Year published: 2022
Categories: Journal Article
URL Link: https://www.trialog-journal.de/en/journals/trialog-139-just-cities/

Author / Authors:

  • Temba John Dawson Middelmann



While much public space literature situates privatisation as a key threat to publicness and justice, the discourse is shifting to accommodate the contributions of privately managed public spaces in a more balanced way. Multi-levelled and multi-scaled interactions between public space and spatial (in)justice mean that multiple factors determine different outcomes and procedures of publicness and justice at the level of individual public spaces. These go beyond the blurred distinction between privately and publicly owned or managed spaces that are publicly used, notwithstanding the importance of power or control over shared space. Global North critiques of privatisation show a focus on ‚clean-and-safe‘ at the expense of broad social inclusion. Given the conditions of relative unsafety in cities in the Global South, however, these critiques are not entirely appropriate in many parts of the world. This paper builds on this discourse by looking at public space beyond the dominant discourse of high-income, Global North models. It draws on evidence from three publicly used open spaces in Johannesburg’s inner city, collected through a mix of qualitative methods that focussed on ethnographic observation and expert interviews, to argue that publicness and justice do not necessarily stem from particular models of ownership or management. Evidence suggests that contingencies of history, design, perception, management, use, ownership or control as well as broader spatial dynamics all shape any one space in an interplay that determines aspects of publicness and justice. By reporting on three public places of different typologies with varying models of ownership and management, and utilising a spatial-justice lens, the paper contributes to understanding the complexity of how publicness is produced in the same spaces that produce exclusion. This suggests a need for appreciation of paradox and contradiction for dialectical analysis of public space.

Trialog - A Journal for Planning and Building in a Global Context #139 “Just Cities”. Volume editors: Alexander Jachnow, Els Keunen, Dorcas Nthoki Nyamai


  • Journal Article