Rhythm and connection on Rissik Street: Reflecting on public space research in inner-city Johannesburg

DOI: 10.1080/23323256.2019.1583063
Author(s): Temba John Dawson MiddelmannTown and Regional Planning, South Africa


This paper explores how entangled layers of use and contingencies of open spaces in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, relate to their structural, material and symbolic aspects. Reflecting on research at Pieter Roos Park, Constitution Hill and Gandhi Square, this paper emphasises the walking route that connects these three spaces, mostly along Rissik Street. It examines the rhythms of people’s navigation of the city, according to perceptions of fear and safety, opportunity and adversity, and offers an initial understanding of the continuous interaction between structure and agency. It reflects on reading about these spaces, and how this connects with walking and writing about the city, all acts with particular, overlapping rhythms. Interpreting these in relation to each other, and in relation to my own rhythms, provokes questions that unsettle linear and straightforward understandings of time and memory as well as the individual and their connection to the public. Whilst linear rhythms are predominant, subject to the working week, surprising and paradoxical practices frequently punctuate these rhythms. Both rhythms and their disruptions are influenced on a variety of levels, often linked to perceptions, which intersect with lingering histories and memory in layered, complex ways.

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