1st Edition

City-making, Space and Spirituality A Community-Based Urban Praxis with Reflections from South Africa

By Stéphan de Beer Copyright 2024
    304 Pages 55 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book is about the soul of the city, embodied in its spaces and people. It traces dynamics in inner city neighbourhoods of South Africa’s post-apartheid capital, Pretoria. Viewing the city through its most vulnerable people and places, it recognizes that urban space is never neutral and shaped by competing value frameworks.

    The first part of the book invites planners, city-makers, and ordinary urban citizens, to consider a new self-understanding, reclaiming their agency in the city-making process. Through the metaphor of "becoming like children", planning practice is deconstructed and re-imagined. A praxis-based methodology is presented, cultivating four distinct moments of entering, reading, imagining and co-constructing the city. After deconstructing urban spaces and discourses, the second part of the book explores a concrete spirituality and ethic of urban space. It argues for a shift from planning as technocracy, to planning as immersed, participatory artistry: opening up to the "genius" of space, responsive to urban cries, and joining to construct new, soul-full spaces. Local communities and interconnected movements become embodiments of urban alternatives – through resistance and reconstruction; building on local assets; animating local reclamations; and weaving nets of hope that will span the entire city.

    Providing a concrete methodology for city-making that is rooted in a community-based urban praxis, this book will be of interest to urban planning researchers, professional planners and designers and also grass-root community developers or activists.

    Preface: stories, being storied, re-storying  Introduction: why embark on this journey?  Part 1: Epistemology – Identity – Methodology  1. "To know as we are known": towards a contextual-narrative planning epistemology  2. "Becoming like children": identity and urban praxis  3. A praxis-approach to city-making: critical moments in the journey  Part 2: Doing the city together First Moment: Entering Urban Space  4. Personal and Community Narratives: Berea-Burgers Park and Tshwane’s inner city  Second Moment: Reading Urban Space  5. Planners, Participation, the Poor  6. What has become of city-making? Between fallacy, deficiency, commodity and conspiracy  Third Moment: Imagining Urban Space  7. Discovering an alternative imagination: towards a spirituality of urban space  8. Embodying an alternative imagination: practicing an ethic of urban space  Fourth Moment: Constructing urban space  9. Communities and movements of hope: between resistance and reconstruction  10. Fostering an integrated community-based urban praxis  Conclusion


    Stéphan de Beer is an urbanist-theologian, passionate about cities that are radically inclusive, both socially and spatially. Previously, he led a community-based organization in the inner city of Tshwane, focusing on vulnerable people and places, and creating responsive social and housing infrastructure. Currently, he is Professor of Practical Theology and director of the Centre for Faith and Community at the University of Pretoria. With doctoral qualifications in theology and urban planning, he seeks to traverse disciplines and boundaries in undoing the apartheid city. He convenes the Urban Studio and the Unit for Street Homelessness, connecting scholarship, neighbourhoods and the streets. He believes that spirituality made concrete can help transform urban places.

    "This book offers refreshing new methodologies for engaging with the city. The retelling of stories, the capturing of lost voices and a spirituality and ethic of urban space underpin this important work. Planning practice is deconstructed, and in the process, decolonized, beyond a limiting technocratic, modernist understanding."

    Amira Osman, Professor of Architecture, Tshwane University of Technology & South African Research Chair in Spatial Transformation

    "Against the backdrop of post-apartheid South African cities, De Beer, through a trans-disciplinary lens, develops a welcome life-affirming ethic of urban space. City-Making invites urban professionals along with community stakeholders to co-embrace city-building process that are participatory, critical and liberating."

    Michael A. Mata, The Voices School for Liberation and Transformation, USA