The Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act II – Case study: The Johannesburg Spatial Development Framework

The first brief considered the framework established by the Act and implementation challenges. This brief describes a case study of a spatial development framework in a metropolitan municipality.
The Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act  II – Case study: The Johannesburg Spatial Development Framework


Spatial inequality in the city of Johannesburg is one of the most prominent characteristic of this city. There is a mismatch between where jobs are located and concentrated and where people live.  The mismatch contributes significantly to spatial inequality in the city, and access to economic opportunities is restricted by the fact that people have to travel long distances from their homes to their place of work.  The most deprived areas in the city of Johannesburg, mainly the townships are located far from areas where economic opportunities are accessible. Other spatial discontinuities are the mining belt which is a symbol of the north-south segregation; as well as zones where land is unutilised or undeveloped in the North-East of Johannesburg (these are Glen Austin/Austin View and Modderfontein).

The settlement pattern is such that houses are built in areas that are far from economic activities, the reason being the availability of land in such areas. This spatial segregation is worsened by the fact that private sector developments (for instance gated residential estates, malls, and office parks) are mainly car-oriented, and these types of developments intensify the existing spatial and socio-economic differences, putting more pressure on the natural environment as well. 

The challenges facing the city of Johannesburg can be summarised as follows:

  • Urban sprawl
  • Job-housing mismatch
  • Spatial disconnection
  • Limited land use diversity

The Johannesburg Spatial Development Framework of 2040 seeks to address the spatial challenges facing the city of Johannesburg by transforming the city to a compact polycentric city where the Inner City would form the strong urban core linked by efficient public transport to dense, mixed use (residential and commercial) sub-centres, situated within a protected and integrated natural environment.  High housing densities will surrounding cores and gradually lower densities further away from cores. 

In addition, the future polycentric Johannesburg will bring jobs to residential areas and housing opportunities to job centres rather than just transporting people from these residential areas to the work place. This will create complete nodes where people can live and work and these nodes will be efficiently connected by public transport leading to a more spatially just city.

Key elements of the framework

A strong, accessible and generative metropolitan core

Issues of fragmented developments, crime, bad buildings and lack of affordable housing need to be addressed to strengthen the metropolitan core. The strategy in this spatial development framework intends to create compact areas with inclusive residential densification close to public transit and economic activities, as well as to consolidate the Inner City through a public space and street network.

The compact city implies that development is prioritised within the urban core and radiates outwards with high concentration of jobs, residents and services. This needs to be spread across the whole urban area, rather than just in some parts of the city. The Inner City is expected to accommodate from 15 000 to 60 000 people/km².  Residential densification should focus in areas that are close to commercial activities and linked with high accessibility, thereby increasing mixed land use (connected city). For instance, Westgate, Park Station and Doornfontein, are surrounded by multiple modes of public transport and range of economic and educational facilities.

The inner city also has to be inclusive in the sense that it should provide essential services to urban newcomers, for example affordable housing, access to work and access to public transit. Since it is a great housing location for the urban poor, it should also be a place where most vulnerable groups are able to exercise their right to the City. In terms of economic inclusion, a significant part of economic activity in the inner city is informal, so mechanisms that enable micro enterprise and informal trading activities to generate incomes for those excluded from the formal economy.

The corridors of freedom

These start from the corridors of freedom linking Soweto, through the Inner City, to Sandton (along Empire-Perth and Louis Botha Avenues), and linking Turffontein into the Inner City.

The main idea behind the corridors of freedom is to consolidate growth and development opportunities around existing and future public transport nodes. They will include a focus on transit oriented development to achieve compactness and competitiveness, through an affordable and accessible mass public transit system that includes both bus and passenger rail, and that provides mixed income housing, schools, offices, community facilities, cultural centres, parks, public squares, clinics and libraries in its vicinity.  The corridors of freedom will be a mixed land use type dominated by high-density accommodation opportunities, offices, social facilities, retail and commercial development as well as opportunities for leisure and recreation. The intention is that residents of the city will live closer to their workplace and be able to go work, without necessarily having to use private transport.

Safe, affordable and convenient modes of transport such as buses, cycling and pedestrian activity will reduce the domination of carbon-intensive private vehicles. Public transportation is the major focus and redeveloping high intensity neighbourhoods around public transport stations will give the opportunity to reorganise the urban form and to create walkable neighbourhoods. This will therefore address the poor walkability within Johannesburg in general.

Unlocking Soweto as a True City District

The main idea is to develop mixed land use, mainly in terms of job creation, economic productivity and social services, and to transform Soweto into a compact Principal Metropolitan Sub-centre, following the Compact Polycentric Urban model.  The intended outcome is to create a strong secondary economic centre, with strong links to the main economic centre (Inner City), and once again a place where people and jobs are close to each other. This approach will also address the remaining areas of deprivation within Soweto.

The development of Soweto will directly affect 40% of the population of the city of Johannesburg. However, Soweto is highly dependent on the inner city for jobs, with many residents travelling long distances to get to their workplace. It is a segregated township that is largely medium to low density residential with limited jobs and economic activities. The area still experience poor living conditions with overcrowding in places, high unemployment and insufficient infrastructure. Soweto lacks diversity in terms of mixed use activities, social infrastructure and consolidated public spaces.

Physical interventions such as improved public transport facilities and services, more direct road linkages, improved walkability, improved infrastructure and upgraded public environments, are very important since most of the key mixed-use nodes, which are already located near railway stations do not operate efficiently. In addition, an economic strategy should support existing economic activities, diversification of job opportunities and increasing land productivity. Small businesses should be supported, including informal businesses, and this would allow the money generated to remain and get re-invested into Soweto. Deprivation areas in Soweto, mainly informal settlements should also receive great attention in terms of upgraded public transport and other urban services.

Soweto’s connection to the metropolitan core and other sub-centres, including the mining belt development corridor should be improved. These include a direct link to the Roodepoort node, the N17 extension westwards and improved highway access from the N1 on the eastern side. There are limited east-west regional routes and poor north-south linkages between major existing regional links, such as the Golden Highway, Chris Hani Road, and the Soweto Highway. Internal connectivity linking key nodes (for instance from Jabulani to Kliptown and Bara Central to Nancefield station) should be supported.  .

Developing a Randburg-OR Tambo Development Corridor

This requires a connection between the northern parts of the city (that is, Randburg, Sandton and Alexandra) and Ekurhuleni, to the OR Tambo Airport and its surrounding Aerotropolis, including Modderfontein, Frankenwald and surrounding areas. Alexandra has to be transformed into an intensive, mixed-use area that is well-connected into the surrounding urban facilities.

The purpose of the Randburg-OR Tambo corridor is to create a strong east-west development corridor in the north of the city for a broader city region, as well as making use of undeveloped land along this corridor. The corridor would also intersect with the north-south Corridor of Freedom, strengthening connectivity to the metropolitan core and other principal metropolitan sub-centres.

The spatial development framework suggests that, in the western part of the corridor (from Randburg to Sandton), there should be a transit corridor with development located around Bus Rapid transit (BRT) and Gautrain stations. Randburg could be another location for a future Gautrain station. In the eastern portion of the corridor, developments are to take place around BRT and Gautrain Stations, and in strategic areas.

Unlocking the Mining Belt

The rationale is to connect principal and secondary metropolitan sub-centres to one another and the metropolitan core by creating new road connections across the mining belt. This includes creating a direct road connecting Soweto to Roodepoort allowing various modes of transport; improving connections between the Inner City and the Turffontein Corridor of Freedom and protecting and enhancing future north-south connections with the extension of the N17.

Economic diversification is the primary focus of development in the mining belt and should provide jobs and economic activities. All development strategies should be directed towards optimising the economic potential of the mining belt, which includes continuation of productive and viable mining activities (for example the extraction of gold from and removal of tailings) and the strengthening of industrial and commercial sectors. The strategy includes consolidating current industrial activities and growing the potential for real job creation in the primary economic sector in accessible locations. The mining belt can accommodate a significant proportion of low income and affordable housing.


The dominant objectives of the Johannesburg spatial development framework of 2040 are:

  • to transform the city into a compact polycentric urban model where various residential options and economic opportunities are in proximity, the opposite of what the city presents currently;
  • to create corridors of freedom to connect townships with the suburban areas through strong modes of public transport while at the same time developing economic activities in areas of deprivation;
  • to provide affordable housing and improving existing infrastructure in the city.
  • Reducing motorised transport by creating walkable neighbourhoods could reduce pressure on the environment.

Agathe Fonkam