This research explores the nature of spatial change and neighbourhood development in Johannesburg, South Africa, particularly pertaining to the sustainability, health and education outcomes in the city.

Using innovative analysis, it considers neighbourhoods in Johannesburg as a series of clusters that characterise the spatial landscape, but that are driven by class mobility as well as race and space.

Key findings:
  • Johannesburg is undergoing a profound transformation, which includes population growth, significant informal encroachment and far greater class fluidity across races than normally acknowledged.
  • Ranging between 2.63% and 3.24% per annum in recent years, population growth in Johannesburg has remained consistently high since democracy. This indicates the substantial stress placed on the urban fabric of the city.
  • Johannesburg continues to be profoundly shaped by apartheid spatial planning and neighbourhood demarcation. Yet class mobility, which is evident in clusters across the city, and informality provide a nuanced picture of neighbourhood fluidity in place of stereotyped tropes about race and space.
  • Formal dwellings have grown massively between 1990 and 2018, but informal land cover has grown fivefold. By 2018, informal land use had grown to the equivalent of almost a third of formal land use, which suggests that a profound set of changes have been taking place in the city.
  • Our methodology allows us to avoid easy assumptions about what is happening within informality, and instead reveals a considerable scale of service access and class structure.
  • Johannesburg’s Afropolitan populations have found innumerable ways of by-passing the barriers of space. Any fixed notion of settlement type determining the life chances of residents fails to recognise the new forms of connectivities, urban mobilities and neighbourhood transition in the city.