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Incidental great public spaces and the role of urban design in South Africa

Dario Schoulund
Karina Landman


Urban Design in South Africa as a formal profession has a relatively short history. However, in practice, there have been many examples of what must be considered both good and bad Urban Design. There have also been numerous debates at universities and conferences on what Urban Design should be. However, in the constant making and re-making of urban and rural space, Urban Design has a tenuous and weak presence. This article interrogates the rather low profile of Urban Design in the country and why it is not growing or better positioned compared to other countries. This is done through a discussion of three cases that illustrate the often incidental making of great public spaces in contrast to the thoroughly planned approach. The article argues that spontaneous projects of high quality, rather than over-planned projects, where shortcomings result from this preoccupation to rationalise, often have a greater potential to strengthen the role and value of Urban Design. Such an approach would favour incremental, flexible and sensitive proposals and interventions where spontaneity and adaptation are recognised and celebrated, as well as support the notion that urban design should set a framework for many role players to respond to in shaping the city.

Keywords: Built environment, incidental public space, South Africa, urban design