City of Extremes

The Spatial Politics of Johannesburg

City of Extremes

Politics, History, and Culture

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Book Pages: 464 Illustrations: 19 photographs, 8 maps Published: June 2011

African Studies, Geography, Sociology > Urban Studies

City of Extremes is a powerful critique of urban development in greater Johannesburg since the end of apartheid in 1994. Martin J. Murray describes how a loose alliance of city builders—including real estate developers, large-scale property owners, municipal officials, and security specialists—has sought to remake Johannesburg in the upbeat image of a world-class city. By creating new sites of sequestered luxury catering to the comfort, safety, and security of affluent urban residents, they have produced a new spatial dynamic of social exclusion, effectively barricading the mostly black urban poor from full participation in the mainstream of urban life. This partitioning of the cityscape is enabled by an urban planning environment of limited regulation or intervention into the prerogatives of real estate capital.

Combining insights from urban studies, cultural geography, and urban sociology with extensive research in South Africa, Murray reflects on the implications of Johannesburg’s dual character as a city of fortified enclaves that proudly displays the ostentatious symbols of global integration and the celebrated “enterprise culture” of neoliberal design, and as the “miasmal city” composed of residual, peripheral, and stigmatized zones characterized by signs of a new kind of marginality. He suggests that the “global cities” paradigm is inadequate to understanding the historical specificity of cities in the Global South, including the colonial mining town turned postcolonial megacity of Johannesburg.


“[Murray’s] book is a careful and particular view of the make-up of these emblematic [Johannesburg] terrains, revealed through Murray’s productive combinations of architecture, the scales of market forces, property values and square footage.” — Suzanne M. Hall, Antipode

“This is a book that should be read with attentiveness. It traces the lines of a city in which profound daily violence and suffering coexist with theatrical excess. It shows in convincing breadth that although the living conditions of suburban enclaves and those who dwell in abandoned buildings of the inner city may be ‘worlds apart,’ they are also closely connected to one another, and part of the same historical and economic processes.” — Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon, Mail & Guardian

“Murray is a keen observer of postapartheid Johannesburg. . . .” — Dominic Thomas, Research in African Literatures

“The political, economic, and social tensions that have accompanied the city’s everchanging urban landscape are on display in this well-researched and penetrating work. . . . City of Extremes is a significant and helpful resource for the study of cities in an era of globalization and urbanization.” — Travis Vaughn, International Bulletin of Missionary Research

 “[A]n excellent addition to the literature on Johannesburg, and a must-read book for all serious scholars with an interest in the City of Gold.” — Keith Beavon, Comparativ

“In this meticulously researched account of Johannesburg’s socio-spatial history, Martin J. Murray gets beneath the surface of the city’s chaotic present to discover the inertia of long-term deployments. He finds that ingrained habits of urban planning and real estate entrepreneurship have always been mobilized in the city as twin mechanisms of change and renewal across moments of territorial mutation. This exposes post-apartheid transformation as a rearticulation of old orders and habits and makes an important contribution to revising the idea of a decisive historical rupture at the end of apartheid.” — Lindsay Bremner, Professor of Architecture, Tyler School of Art, Temple University

“Martin J. Murray navigates the slippery interfaces where mega-development, social progress, dystopian dread, racial enclaving, and mobilities of all kinds intersect, revealing both the alarming disposition of Africa’s most heterogeneous city and a rough-hewn humanity despite the odds. At each step, Murray is precise and impassioned in this no-holds-barred analysis of the lengths to which politicians, business people, planners, entrepreneurs, and developers will go to hold a city down.” — AbdouMaliq Simone, author of For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Martin J. Murray is Professor of Urban Planning at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and Adjunct Professor at the Center for African and African-American Studies at the University of Michigan. He is the author of many books, including Taming the Disorderly City: The Spatial Landscape of Johannesburg after Apartheid and Revolution Deferred: The Painful Birth of Post-Apartheid South Africa.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Maps vii

List of Illustrations ix

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xxvii

Abbreviations xxxi

Introduction. Spatial Politics in the Precarious City 1

Part I 23

Making Space: City Building and the Production of the Built Enivronment

1. The Restless Urban Landscape: The Evolving Spatial Geography of Johannesburg 29

2. The Flawed Promise of the High-Modernist City: City Building at the Apex of Apartheid Rule 59

Part II 83

Unraveling Space: Centrifugal Urbanism and the Convulsive City

3. Hollowing out the Center: Johannesburg Turned Inside Out 87

4. Worlds Apart: The Johannesburg Inner City and the Making of the Outcast Ghetto 137

5. The Splintering Metropolis: Laissez-faire Urbanism and Unfettered Suburban Sprawl 173

Part III 205

Fortifying Space: Siege Architecture and Anxious Urbanism

6. Defensive Urbanism after Apartheid: Spatial Partitioning and the New Fortification Aesthetic 213

7. Entrepreneurial Urbanism and the Private City 245

8. Reconciling Arcadia and Utopia: Gated Residential Estates at the Metropolitan Edge 283

Epilogue. Putting Johannesburg in Its Place: The Ordinary City 321

Appendix 333

Notes 337

Bibliography 423

Index 463
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc European Union

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Finalist, 2012 Herskovits Award (presented by the African Studies Association)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4768-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4747-7
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