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  • Confronting Fragmentation: housing and urban development in a democratising society
  • Alan Mabin (bio)
Philip Harrison, Marie Huchzermeyer, and Mzwanele Mayekiso (eds) (2003) Confronting Fragmentation: housing and urban development in a democratising society. Cape Town:University of Cape Town Press

The idea of fragmentation stalks images of the city in South Africa, and indeed in many other parts of the world. It is a spectre, apparently, which needs to be confronted and overcome. It leads to a great deal of sound and fury - but results seem to be wanting. This book sets out to show that 'fragmentation' can be confronted in as difficult a place as urban South Africa - but actually results in portraying a broad failure of policy and planning to shift the conditions of life in the cities, with some intriguing exceptions.

The book has 17 chapters in addition to a short introduction which mostly summarises the content of the subsequent and very diverse contributions. One type of chapter, such as those of Patrick Bond or Mzwanele Mayekiso present arguments that post-apartheid urban policy is on a deteriorating slope resulting in an 'enduring' urban crisis. Other authors present cases of more specific issues (hardly easing the urban problem), such as Richard Tomlinson on the impact of HIV/AIDS. Some offer cases of specific planning or implementation approaches, as in Vanessa Watson's and Sarah Charlton's intriguing pieces - neither of which really raises hopes of great accomplishment.

From a policy perspective,the most provocative chapters are the two Brazilian contributions, by Edesio Fernandes and Raquel Rolnik and Renato Cymbalista, as well as Marie Huchzermeyer's call for a very wide range of interventions through taxation, land markets, quotas and so on to [End Page 106] address the form of the city and, supposedly, access to it. The South African housing minister and department have more recently, and controversially, moved in the direction of these instruments, though whether the capacity and will exist to employ them effectively remains to be seen. And why the remarkably different approach offered by 'mutiraõ' (mutual aid) in Sao Paulo is possible in Brazilian contexts but apparently not South African ones, is the type of explanatory question which the book does not explore.

Intellectually, the most provocative of the chapters is probably that which follows the introduction, written by Phil Harrison. It tries to establish the terrain of discussion around the theme of urban fragmentation. This is the most useful essay on the subject in the South African literature to date, but - perhaps like the book as a whole - it does not provide a clear focus for discussion: fragmentation seems to refer to any and all features of urban life. How fragmentation relates to segregation; what the relationship might be between institutional and spatial fragmentation; the degree to which physical changes have influence (if at all) on social fragmentation; these enormous questions are not answered or, generally, even addressed in this volume. We are left with general statements such as 'some types of fragmentation (for example, related to social diversity) may be positive and should be actively promoted, but other forms may be associated … with the suffering of many marginalised people' (2003:2). But how do we know, and who decides, when fragmentation is 'positive' or not? Is integration its opposite? Although Edgar Pieterse raises some such issues in his chapter, we may have to wait for more of his work to take the discussion further.

In consequence, the main theme of the book is the issue of geographical fragmentation: the division of urban space into areas which are poorly linked, sometimes far flung, and which are highly distinct in terms of who lives in or uses them, the standards of service or maintenance prevailing, their appearance and feel, and so on. Of course the idea is that apartheid caused extreme degrees of such fragmentation but the book lacks a clear and critical historical account which might interrogate this shibboleth. What is more, what specific aspects of this spatial fragmentation really make a negative difference and whether 'overcoming' them would help people to enjoy better city lives, is little debated, with the exception of some paragraphs in the Harrison, Todes and Watson...


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pp. 106-108
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