Joburg Joburg

In 2014, after moving into Johannesburg’s inner city, I became involved with a group of artists who had started a very interesting project around engaging ‘positively’ with Johannesburg’s inner city, commonly known as the ‘Joburg CBD’.
They called their project Joburg Joburg,  reference to the South Africanism of repeating a word to add emphasis to its meaning:
Person 1: So Johan, where are you staying theses days?
Johan: I’m living in Joburg.
Person 2: Oh, I hear Sandton is very nice.
Johan: No, I’m living in Joburg
Person 2: So like Parktown?
Johan: No, like Joburg Joburg – downtown CBD.
This adage has a base in the other more popular South Africanism of Now Now: see here for more details.
This scenario holds a seminal message of why the Joburg Joburg was conceived – many people don’t see the inner city Joburg as Joburg, instead they see it as a dangerous no-go zone of unnaccessible spaces occupied by a crime syndicate bent on murdering everyone who crosses it’s threshold.
This stigma, which is endemic of many South African public spaces, is the very thing the Joburg Joburg team and myself were looking to understand and explore through our various projects under Joburg Joburg.
See more details on the website here: https://joburgjoburg.wordpress.com/

Image: Johan Stegman

The Joburg Joburg story starts with Johan Stegman, and engineer/artist moving into an unoccupied rooftop space owned by a large down town Joburg developer at their flagship property of Corner House.

Image: Johan Stegman & Allen Laing

Through a set of chance circumstance and a burning desire to engage with the city, Johan with Allen Laing, a sculptor working in the inner city, set up an extensive and highly successful multi-artist exhibition exhibition to engage with this question of ‘responding to the centre’.

Image: Johan Stegman 

See the full Joburg Joburg origin story here:  https://joburgjoburg.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/the-joburg-joburg-story-finding-the-center/

At this point I was living in the building across from Corner House and assisted the Joburg Joburg team with some minor installation work. This relationship developed as I began assisting the team with some spatial design support towards what they called the Kingdom Hideaway Partnership Rooftop Vision. A strategic design initiative to bring together the various actors at the Corner House building around a common vision of ‘productive’ inner city use.

As part of the arrangement was that I was allowed stay on the roof at corner house for a nominal fee where I took up residence in the Apartheid planned ‘domestic quarters’.

These spaces were the logistic outcome of the Group Areas Act that did not allow black people to live in the same structure as white people which in the suburban areas manifested into what we see today as the ‘maid’s room’ a separate room on the boundary of suburban properties.

But in the city these spaces were placed on the roof’s of building and carefully designed with shared (under serviced) ablutions, lockable areas (to keep people in, not out) and windows that are too high to see out of, but provide the minimal amount of ventilation to pas regulation.

My quarters

These spaces are still in use all over Johannesburg, and hold amazing potential to allow mixed income housing as well as developing a more integrated urban culture – but continue to be used to house a a portion of the labour sector in quite unfair conditions.

Rooftop Socio-Spatial Planning 

This initial task was to design and strategies a way to maximise the use of the rooftop space, which is currently underutilised and create a shared environment that only brings the various stakeholders on the roof together, but creates a space for others to access city from.

A phased, multi use strategy was proposed that included light scale rooftop gardening, venue spaces and a potential creative residence that would link with existing functions and support the vision held by the developers for the building.

Rooftop Garden Proposal

This strategy wasn’t met with a completely negative response, but due to the various factors involved with a development in the city certain stakeholders were not willing to make the initial investment of time or commitment, but instead chose to pursue ‘safer’ development investments and options.

Beyond Corner House I also provided spatial strategies, alongside colleagues from Johannesburg, for other buildings which were met with a similar response.
 
Cross-CBD Engagement
View from the Roof Roof Roof
Although the my time with Joburg Joburg was not productive in shifting the perspective of those I worked with I managed to conduct many interesting projects with the city spaces I worked on and used on daily basis.

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Rooftop & Basement Measuring Mission
Documentation of measuring and rooftop exploration of downtown buildings
 
City Storms
Capturing the iconic summer storms that makes define a high veld summer
Minimal Mass
Small scale social cycling trips headed by Blanca Calvo
 
 

Braamfontein

Unfortunately my time with Joburg Joburg has come to an end, and I am know residing on the edge of the inner city in the vibrant and interconnected Braamfontein District.

Vie from Civic Towers to Inner City

I am still conducting other research into the city of Joburg through my work with the University of Johannesburg’s Architecture Department as well as other initiatives that I am involved in.

PublicActs/Joburg ACT # 5 & # 6 Socio Spatial Action Research within Mai Mai Market

This project was initiated by the PublicActs/Johannesburg (www.publicacts.org) programme, conceived and curated by Katharina Rohde & Thireshen Govender, under interventions (Act #5 and Act #6) of the greater PublicActs/Johannesburg Project:

Mai Mai Market in the morning (ImageJhono Bennett)


“Focusing on new and emerging public spaces PublicActs/Johannesburg aims to investigate and showcase its many different manifestations and potentials.

Producing a catalogue of urban public conditions based on criteria that respond to the contemporary reality of our city and represent its diverse geographies, six sites are identified for their critical value. These meander between the New Imaginaries, the Everyday, the Grand and Spectacular, the Ephemeral and Politics, Power and Protest.

Acknowledging different interpretations of publicness, six creative collaborators alongside local actors are invited to produce a series of actions, site-specific interactions or performances in defined sites, to provoke discussion and the imagination around future public spaces in Johannesburg.

The project culminates into 24hour choreographed Public Acts which invites spectators to playfully engage and interact with the creative interpretations on site. Additionally to the artistic outputs, the festival program will engage local stakeholders and a greater public to critically reflect and comment on the projects findings, speculations and provocations. This will allow for thought about the conditions and production of public space in Johannesburg

With the research and experiences generated we aim to challenge urban actors and decision-makers to engage and construct public spaces in Johannesburg in innovative and democratic ways. Our findings and creative outputs shall function as a guide on how to approach, use, misuse, appropriate and imagine public space in African cities”. (text taken from www.publicacts.org)

The Kwa-Mai Mai socio-spatial action research intervention was the 6 week culmination of a critical process of engagement with the Kwa-Mai Mai Committee and the Mai Mai users. This article explains the process undertaken by those involved and summarises the experience highlighting the key findings and discoveries along the way.
 
 
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Through a series of discussions, informal workshops and mapping exercises fellow PublicActs provacateurs, Liliania Transplantor and WayWord Sun of AMBush Gardening Collective and myself began investigating the complex and layered qualities of the socio-spatial dynamic of the Kwa-Mai Mai Bazaar (referred to locally as the Mai Mai Market and the entire area as Mai Mai) in Johannesburg’s Central Business District. 
What was amazing was not in the fact that they were taken, but that as the day progressed the chairs were slowly returned to the site as the extended leadership from within the Mai Mai Market exercised its control over the entire Mai Mai site, and through co-ordinated movements all chairs were returned back to their original placement.
Mai Mai Food Court before the Act began – with chairs re-appropriated (ImageJhono Bennett)
Mai Mai Food Court before the Act began – as the chairs began returning (ImageJhono Bennett)
Mai Mai Food Court before the Act began – as the chairs began returning (ImageJhono Bennett)
Mai Mai Food Court before the Act began – all chairs returned (ImageJhono Bennett)
This finding eluded to a much more complex and organised form of leadership and governance that exists in Mai Mai. Simultaneously, more intricate territories amongst the food court users were revealed as the chairs became a symbol of territorial control as users claimed ownership over various arrangements.

Findings

While the experiment did not meet the original aim of constructively provoking forms of seating and gathering it revealed many of the intangible connections and controls that allow the Mai Mai Food Court to work as a highly successful and productive democratic public space in appearance, but a deeply territorialised and governed space in the public realm.
(ImageJhono Bennett)

Looking Forward – and Back

Working Draft of Process of Engagement – see completed version at www.whatdoesmaimaimean.blogspot.com
(ImageJhono Bennett)
This initial engagement was the first step in a much longer envisioned engagement from both 1to1 – Agency of Engagement and AMbush Gardening Collective with the Kwa-Mai Mai Committee and its users in their own goals of developing Mai Mai into their collective vision.
What the process revealed to us, and our project partners, was how crucial the delicate and negotiated process of trust building that is required through critical engagement to even begin to uncover important social and spatial relationships areas such as the Mai Mai Market.
More so, how important it is for city planners and spatial practitioners to understand that not all systems reveal themselves at face value and often in such complex and rich public spaces, one needs to more engaged and critical when interrogating public space towards an understanding or an intervention.