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Conceptual commentary of public spaces in Durban, South Africa

Magdalena Cloete
Salena Yusuf


Within the context of African cities that are considered to have poor economic prospects and are failing its inhabitants, this article explores and assesses the quality of Durban’s open public spaces through a phenomenological lens, by applying the concept of the sociality of public space and drawing on different theorists’ ideas of what constitutes a good open public space. Various factors have led to the corrosion of open public spaces, including modernism and globalisation and their resultant effects as well as spatial apartheid in South Africa. The following theories are used to understand open public spaces: Jacob’s “eyes on the street”, which supports safer public spaces; Massey’s theory of thrown-togetherness, which advocates for a range of different elements present in public spaces, and Parkinson’s democracy of public space, which encompasses the way in which people express themselves in public spaces. The research methodology includes a literature review, phenomenological ethnographic observations, mapping, and drawing with written narrative. The spaces considered in the study include a range of Durban’s successful and less successful public spaces, including the beachfront, parks, gardens, and a public square. The article concludes that open public spaces are a necessity for quality civic life and are still considered a luxury in Africa.

Keywords: Durban open public spaces, sociality, thrown-togetherness, democracy of space