On 13 September, Dr Margot Strauss was invited to participate in a Roundtable Discussion on Just Cities, hosted by the Dullah Omar Institute for Constitutional Law, Governance, and Human Rights at the University of the Western Cape. The theme of the roundtable dealt with South African cities as intense microcosms where urban poverty, high economic potential, rapid in-migration, environmental degradation and diversity combine in a local state with constitutionally protected powers. In particular, the discussion focused on the challenges of South African cities to be ‘just cities’ in that they use their constitutional and economic clout in ways that enhance the wellbeing of all city dwellers in an inclusive and developmental manner. The event also considered access to public space and social justice as pillars for opportunities and democracy for citizens. The roundtable discussion provided an opportunity for academics, community based organisations, non-governmental organisations, policy makers and stakeholders to engage on various themes associated with the notion of ‘just cities’.
Dr Strauss contributed to the panel discussion with a presentation advancing an ‘Understanding housing, as if space and justice matter’. She shared the panel with Professor Jaap de Visser of the Dullah Omar Institute, who presented on ‘Just Cities and the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA): Business as usual?’, while Dr Rike Sitas from the African Centre for Cities, at the University of the Western Cape, shared practical, inter-disciplinary initiatives aimed at ‘Realising Just Cities’. Invited guests, participants from various fields and sectors, as well as members of the public contributed to a vibrant panel discussion on several cross-cutting themes and challenges. These included questions regarding practical initiatives aimed at challenging and overcoming spatial injustice in urban areas; the role of the courts and jurisprudence in advancing a principled understanding of spatial justice; the use of SPLUMA tribunals to reconcile the socio-economic realities of urban inhabitants living in different areas; the need to challenge existing discourses regarding the economic or use value of land and urban space; the need for greater understanding of the role of the law in perpetuating ambiguities in the lives of vulnerable inhabitants and informal traders in particular; and legal and practical means and examples of just cities in the South African context.