about narratives of home and neighbourhood line

The Narratives of Home and Neighbourhood project (2017 – 2019) broadly examines how state housing models shape the social landscape of South Africa, focusing on the city of Durban. In doing so, it aims to critically explore the paradigms and pedagogies within the disciplines of the built environment. The broad disciplinary field of the built environment has not been as transformative as hoped in creating equal and socially just urban spaces. This project explores what urban planning could do better through using a participatory action research framework. The data focuses on the perspectives of the people who live in state housing units, providing a much-needed qualitative micro-level focus in a field that has existing rich literature on the macro economic and social debates around housing.

Various models of state housing provide locations for investigating not only what it means to make a place a home, but how these built forms shape ideas of self, neighborhood and broader social belonging. This project draws from data from nine research sites in the Durban area. Research at each site experiments with creative and participatory methods, and is run by teams of multidisciplinary members from the fields of sociology, planning, architecture, public art, dance and drama, among others.

key research questions:

  1. What are the meanings residents attach to home and neighbourliness in specific types of state-delivered housing?
    • How do residents in state-funded housing create places that are understood and experienced as home?
    • And how are the concepts of neighbourliness and neighbourhood understood and shaped in clusters of housing units?
  2. What kinds of place identities develop in these spaces and why?
  3. How does the design of the built environment in these spaces enable or constrict social relations, and in turn shape peoples’ sense of home, belonging and neighbourhood?
  4. How do residents transform the built environment through everyday livelihood practices and ways of belonging?
  5. What are some of the intended and unintended social consequences of living in state delivered housing?Narratives of Home and Neighbourhood #2 white

research site

social housing model


Flamingo Court Ex-municipal rental stock Dr Rachel Matteau Matsha (DUT) / Rafs Mayet / Tiny Mungwe
Quarry Road West Informal settlement undergoing in-situ upgrades Vicky Sim / Ashling McCarthy / Dr Cathy Sutherland (UKZN) / Sibongile Buthelezi (UKZN) / Duduzile Khumalo (UKZN)
Cornubia Mega human settlement Dr Miranda Young-Jahangeer (UKZN) / Doung Anwar Jahangeer (dala) / Jabulani Buthelezi / Ongezwa Mbele / Gcina Shange / Princess Sibanda
Municipal Block of Flats, Alabama Road, Wentworth Provincial subsidized housing Prof Ashwin Desai (UJ)
Thokoza Women’s Hostel Hostel Angela Buckland / Joanne Lees / Melinda Silverman (UCT)
TAFDA Dr. Marc Kalina (DUT) / Elizabeth Ampofo
Westrich, Newlands West RDP housing Russel Hlongwane
Blackburn Village Informal settlement undergoing in-situ upgrades Sophie McManus (ODD)/ Abigail Kemper (ODD)/ Russell Hlongwane / Wandile Mthiyane / Richard Gevers (ODD)
Port View (Albert Park) and Valley View (Hillary) Social housing complexes Laura Alfers (Urban Earth) / Amanda Botes (Urban Earth) / Fezile Matandela (Urban Earth) / Margaret McKenzie (Urban Earth)

The research from the different sites has been used for a comparative case study of the various housing forms. Specifically, we aim to ask what we can learn in relation to reimagining urban planning when we start listening to people’s narratives of home and belonging. Housing developments intimately shape peoples sense of self and belonging in the social landscape of South Africa. Places, it is worth remembering, become part of people’s identities. Here we aimed to deliberatively draw on the experiences of how people make homes and neighbourhoods out of places to question what this means the planning disciplines.