Population density in the post-COVID-19 development era: Realities for the Gauteng Province

Authors: Christian Hamann*, Gauteng City-Region Observatory, Alexandra Parker, Gauteng City-Region Observatory, Christina Culwick, Gauteng City-Region Observatory, Yashena Naidoo, Gauteng City-Region Observatory
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Geography and Urban Health
Keywords: Population density, COVID-19, Gauteng, South Africa
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 44
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As we come to grips with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, various urban forms and functions, including population density, are being examined critically. Government officials and scholars across the world, including South Africa, are re-examining the benefits and drawbacks of dense urban settlements in the context of COVID-19. Gauteng, the most densely populated province in South Africa, has recorded the most COVID-19 infections. Various government strategies were devised to mitigate the spread of the virus in densely populated urban areas, including de-densification. In this paper we interrogate various dimensions of population density in Gauteng at different geographical scales and. We explore what it would take to reconfigure the current patterns of population density. The analysis highlights that Gauteng’s population distribution is a product of social and political factors, and is shaped by a range of urban dynamics. Our analysis also shows that de-densification plans will have a very limited impact. We argue that population density in itself is not a problem, but rather that it holds various benefits and drawbacks in different contexts. Instead of pursuing de-densification, population density should be appropriately facilitated to draw the most benefit. The misdiagnosis of density as a problem negates urban planning efforts and current policies that advocate for higher density in certain parts of Gauteng overlooks Gauteng’s problems of urban sprawl, and ignores the complexity of intervening in urban environments. It is imperative to develop a holistic and proactive approach to facilitating population density, rather than reactively trying to re-shape the city.

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