chapter  2
22 Pages

Villas of the Highveld: A Cultural Perspective on Johannesburg and Its “Northern Suburbs”

This chapter examines the social and cultural ramifications of the builtenvironment in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, a wide swath of exclusive suburban development that is the residential base for a significant proportion of South Africa’s political and economic elite. The main interest here is to describe and analyze the constitution of these suburbs in terms of architecture, space, and the built environment, and to do so with respect to the relevance of a sense of civic community for the city as a whole. What does the end of apartheid mean to urban South Africans today, especially for the residents of its major city? In what way can Johannesburg be considered a postapartheid city? To what extent do its iconoclastic northern suburbs reflect the country’s past as much as its future? Does their seemingly exponential growth represent a specific response to contemporary shifts in the urban fabric? These and other questions will be addressed through a discussion that draws together the threads of apartheid-era urban planning, postapartheid suburban development, and the more elusive aspects of locality and identity in contemporary South Africa.