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  • Suburbanisation, segregation, and government of territorial transformations1
  • Alan Mabin (bio)

This paper chooses the example of suburban expansion in South Africa as a means of addressing the question of changing forms of segregation, particularly in relation to issues of government of the transformation of space. The South African suburbs became the place of residence of the mostly white middle and upper classes during, especially, the second half of the twentieth century - a period which, of course, also saw the entrenchment of apartheid. Whatever else apartheid may have involved, it saw a redistribution of resources from less favoured spaces and classes to the suburbs, which deepened patterns of segregation. Redistribution has in many respects continued to favour the suburbs since the formal end of apartheid a decade ago, but continued territorial transformation has seen new forms of segregation develop.

Suburbs and redistribution of real income in urban systems2

The ways in which cities expand are certainly matters of distribution of income and wealth. Simply stated, geography matters, since urban expansion has costs as well as benefits, and the distribution of those costs and benefits affects not only the nature of daily life, but also the redistribution of income through the state and its organs as well as the direction of income flows and the accumulation of wealth. These effects occur individually through transport costs and property markets (for owners as well as tenants) with taxation as an added component. Businesses experience the same effects. And the costs of urban expansion to the state can vary substantially according to the forms of development. In consequence, struggles can occur between diverse groups who perceive that particular types of change will affect them positively or negatively. [End Page 41]

Questions of distribution, particularly through the state, are once again rising in prominence, and affect not only the types of questions discussed by Castells (1977 for the English edition) some time ago concerning, for example, social housing - although such questions remain directly present in countries as diverse as France and Brazil (see for example Le Monde Argent 2003). Indeed the most obvious presence of these questions affects, in ways which are readily perceptible to individuals and civil society, such matters as pensions: witness the struggles over reform of the pension system in many social democracies over the last decade or more, in which the underlying issue is not merely the question of whether there are sufficient younger citizens to pay for the pensions of the retired, but the question of the way in which the state redistributes income, for example through tax cuts for the wealthy at the same time as requiring the low and middle income population to pay more over a longer period in order to qualify for lower pensions (Piketty 2003).

The ways in which the state regulates private development of land also directly impinge upon distribution of the social product - but there is much less consciousness of the relationships between the state and private developers which affect that distribution. At the periphery of many cities there is a movement away from a dirigiste state creating the spaces of development towards private interests shaping those spaces themselves. Increasingly, private developers prepare the plans, the ground and the infrastructure for such developments, as well as the buildings and their associated features, frequently connected with large entertainment facilities. In such cases, private developers and land owners have been finding new ways to make money at the periphery and in forms of redevelopment which the state attempts to shape through much more negotiation than in the past. A clear example can be found at the massive Bluewaters development in Kent, outside the M25 freeway encircling most of Greater London, where developers obtained permission to do something which not too long ago would have been considered literally beyond the planning pale, through negotiating investment in the public arena (road infrastructure, for example) in return for development rights. The consequence is a form of suburban commercial development on a scale previously unknown, with substantial consequences for various urban behaviours as well as public revenue. Even in France one finds tendencies in similar directions (Interview 2003); and similar processes can be observed in Brazil around the...


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pp. 41-63
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