Developing ordinary cities: city visioning processes in Durban and Johannesburg

Robinson, Jennifer (2008). Developing ordinary cities: city visioning processes in Durban and Johannesburg. Environment and Planning A, 40(1) pp. 74–87.



This paper adopts a perspective which views all cities as unique combinations of social, political, and economic configurations—which sees all cities as ‘ordinary’, and which resists attempts to determine hierarchical relations amongst cities as potentially damaging to rich and poor cities alike. While current urban theories tend to draw attention to the dynamism of globalising economic sectors, much urban policy directed at poorer countries is preoccupied with the delivery of basic services. Both urban theory and urban policy need to be reframed to address the diversity of activities and interests in cities, and to support a more inclusive and hopefully redistributive form of urban development. In the process of formulating citywide visions, urban managers in the two cities discussed here, although drawn to compete with other cities in a global arena, have also had to find ways to address diverse economies and unequal societies. This paper draws on the examples of city visioning processes in Johannesburg and Durban in South Africa to illustrate how developmentalist and growth-oriented urban policy agendas have been brought together in the complex political environments of these cities. These case studies suggest that the process of formulating a citywide strategy, and of thinking about the future of the city as a whole, required that policy makers attend to the many different and often competing demands in the locality. For urban theorists, this generates new kinds of research agendas—for example, considering how urban improvements can be spread across the different areas and constituencies of a city without sacrificing economic growth. Here, the benefits of supporting the generalised agglomerations economies of a city as opposed to specialised globalising clusters emerge as important. This paper suggests that urban theory can learn from the process of city visioning, despite the various problems associated with these exercises. In turn, theories which approach all cities as ordinary could reinforce policies which address both economic growth and inequality

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