Defining spatial concepts toward an African urban system

Research paper by Rod Lloyd

Indexed on: 22 Dec '03Published on: 22 Dec '03Published in: URBAN DESIGN International


Urban society in South Africa has two major cultural streams, overlaid by international ‘norms’. Historically, colonial settlement in South Africa (as elsewhere) imposed a European, metropolitan culture of cities. This included exotic flora and fauna, but most important a very different view about space, and division and ownership of land.Urban ‘racial’ demography is increasingly reflective of the country as a whole. Rapid urbanisation is overlaid by serious social and physical pathologies and widespread alienation. Proactive central city densification, as a viable solution, requires particular sensitivity to peoples' psychical and cultural values. This calls into question the lack of enquiry in this regard. ‘Normative’ planning prevails, and any synthesised urban system, responsive to African urban society has not been conceptualised.Cities are an invention of society, of what that society believes itself to be, in space and time. We experience cities, primarily through our ‘sense’ of space; ‘All our consciousness is bound in space’ (Kant). We have complex ways in which space is both felt and imagined, and while some spatial imagination is universal and ‘hard wired’ (increasingly verifiable through neural science), more is learnt, growing in specific social, cultural and physical environments.Beyond that, a ‘world view’ encompasses our whole self, as social being and individual, both physically and metaphysically.European cultural tradition is never free of ‘ordering devices’, refined, in modern history during the Enlightenment. It is further infused by doubt; validation is through material, aesthetic experience. African culture validates itself through personal and humanist values. Certain confluences occur where Greco Roman origins of Western European culture replicate African values. The potential exists to synthesise compatible urban spatial systems.Human spatial sensibilities, and the way in which African and European cultures perceive this are examined to this end.