Electricity Access and Urban Form in a racially Divided City - The case of Johannesburg, South Africa

Authors: Hsi-Chuan Wang*,
Topics: Africa, Energy, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: Electrification, Urban Form, Informal Settlement, South Africa, Social Equity
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Gallier A, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Electricity has been considered a precondition for sustainable development and human well-being (Daioglou et al., 2012). However, throughout many of the world’s urban areas the distribution of electric infrastructure remains starkly unequal. In Johannesburg, South Africa, the inequity in electric service falls along racial lines (HDA, 2013). This research investigates how electrification can happen in this racially divided city, and develops insights that other cities can learn from. Studying the impact of electrification on urban form and sustainability in Thembelihle, an informal settlement in Johannesburg, this research began with a general policy review on electrification, and followed by focus group interviews with households in the settlement. This research indicates that electrification has not only improved the physical environment, but also fostered its social cohesion for equity. Four types of change on urban form were identified regarding socioeconomic impacts: (1) streetlighting in night, (2) identifying household boundaries, (3) clarifying street structure, and (4) upgrading home through self-built process. The emergence of these changes came from two pathways: (1) the preliminary implementation from the government, which lead the clarification of household boundary and street structure, and (2) the following upgrading by the household themselves, which conducted the durable housing throughout the self-building process. The findings demonstrated that electrification could stabilize urban form in an informal settlement and highlighted the benefits of prioritizing the development of electric infrastructure among other infrastructures. It suggests the need to generate an acceptable roadmap for infrastructure improvements among stakeholders, and gradually mediate its racial inequality.

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