Cities and Transport relations in South Africa over the long-term

The aim of my study 1 is to understand the role of South African cities in the transport flux and networks, and how cities and transport are interacting, from colonization in the 17thuntil nowadays. If cities and transport interactions are a particularly interesting approach to understand the metropolisation process and the urban system building, the South African context makes it even more relevant. Indeed, South Africa is a young country and national transport networks such as the railway network, have been built while the urban system was formed.

Co-evolution of urban system and railway network in South Africa

The arrival of European settlers in 1652 to the Cape of Good Hope marked the beginning of South African modern history, in particular by initiating the urbanization process. Until then, no city, strictly speaking, existed yet (Coquery-Vidrovitch). The implementation of a settlement engaged the constitution of an urban system well connected with Europe, but not very well between cities (Vacchiani-Marcuzzo).

The discovery of the goldfields and diamond mines in the 1860’s overturned that system. In the heart of the mining region, Johannesburg faced a fast growth to become the biggest metropolis in the country. The emergence of this new centre deeply modified the urban structure by switching the country’s centre of gravity from the coast to the Witwatersrand. Indeed, the British Empire decided to experiment inner-city railways in Cape Town and Durban in the 1860’s. But given the mining revolution, the decision to extend it to the entire country was quickly made in order to dispatch the mining extractions from the Witwatersrand plateau to the shoreline before having them exported to Europe. Hence, in a bit less than 100 years, a 20 000 km railway network has been built.

The implementation of such a network whereas the urban system was formed enables us to talk about a co-evolution of urban system and transport network in South Africa. Citie’s growth has largely been influenced by their position on the railway network. Large cities benefitted from a better accessibility, which reinforced their centrality while small towns had to deal with the simplification of urban hierarchy. As in many other countries, we can notice the strong interaction between cities and transport and its effect on the process of cities selection, particularly reinforced  by the railway network in the South African example.

I started my research by focusing on the railway network given it seemed easier to start with an historical approach at the larger scale. To observe and study this co-evolution we decided to cross two databases created in Geographie-Cités. The first one, built in the research program Harmonie-Cités, gathers data about the evolution of South African cities (of more than 5 000 inhabitants) over almost a century. To create this database, South African censuses have been used. The second one, made up in the frame of Geodivercity research program, contains data about the railway network’s development in South Africa and has been built thanks to the SARH archives. By crossing these databases, we created maps over 60 years which show the concomitant evolution of the urban system and railway network.

Now, I intend to deepen my analysis and enlarge my focus to the implementation of transport in metropolitan areas on one hand, and the position of South Africa in global networks on the other.

Solène Baffi

Notes:

  1. PhD project of Solène Baffi, under the supervision of Anne Bretagnolle, Olivier Ninot, Denise Pumain and Celine Vacchiani-Marcuzzo (founded by ERC GeoDiverCity)

Is there a system of Russian cities? Generic properties and specificities in the description and modeling of Russian cities’ interactions

In the context of GeoDiverCity, generic properties of city systems are looked for as stylized facts that apply to these particular objects over the world and over time. Examples of those properties lay in the hierarchy of city sizes (expressed by Zipf’s law), or the process of urban growth (as described by Gibrat in 1931). Using those regular patterns, modeling of the co-evolution of cities becomes possible and useful.

Russian cities oppose several obstacles to the observation of such regularities. The spatial limits of the system varies over time, which complicates  the choice of urban definition, and the collection of reliable data. Moreover, the historical object of Russia and the Soviet Union exhibits strong specificities related to its (supposed absolute) control over urban definition, development, interactions and inner organization. Our work aims at distinguishing the specific from the generic behavior of the Russian system of cities from the urban transition up to now, in order to model its evolution and propose possible projections with the help of Multi-Agent Models.

This project 1 begins with the harmonization of urban definitions. Theoretical and data collection constraints led us to consider agglomerations of 10.000 inhabitants and more between 1840 and 2010. Agglomerations have been composed of administrative units which take part in the same built-up area in 2010. Since the boundary of the system is not obvious over the XIX and XXth centuries, its larger extension (the Former Soviet Union) is tested along with its present configuration (the Russian Federation).

Generic models (Zipf, Gibrat) are tested and compared with the results obtained in other geographical contexts. Europe, North America, South Africa, India, China and Brazil are represented in the research fields of GeoDiverCity, sharing the same principles of data harmonization, which helps us in the process of comparison. Other tools are used to explore and explain the specificities of the system of Russian cities (analysis of urban trajectories and financial links between cities with the ORBIS Database produced by Bureau van Dijk, 2010 and augmented by C. Rozenblat).

The characteristics of the Russian system learned from these studies, coupled with the experience accumulated within Géographie-Cités and GeoDiverCity will help modeling the system and simulating its possible futures.

Clémentine Cottineau

Notes:

  1. PhD project of Clémentine Cottineau, under the supervision of Denise Pumain (founded by University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

How to explore the future of cities? An evolutionary theory including urban dynamics and territorial history

Within the framework of the GeoDiverCity programme we are attempting at modelling the future evolution of cities. As cities are very complex systems, any exact prediction is impossible. However, the exploration of plausible futures is possible, with an increasing approximation according to the length of time duration.

The theory behind our modelling is that cities have to be considered not as isolated entities but as interdependent systems being embedded in complex situations summarised by three major aspects:

–       the system of cities with which they have most of their interactions

–       the territory to which they belong

–       the historical period under consideration

Cities are depending on multiple interactions that occur with other cities in multiple networks for all kind of urban activities from local to global scales – that is why we always consider them as part of systems of cities; cities also are rooted in administrative and political territories that generate specific rules and constraints for their development, at local, regional, national and international levels; during the about ten thousands years period of their existence, the type of relations that cities have had with their environment has changed and despite its rather massive common features the urbanisation process has taken a wide range of variations in different parts of the world.

Analysing the evolution of systems of cities from large urban data bases, we suggest recognising that they share many common features but also exhibit a fundamental geo-diversity that is the expression of path dependence in their development. We can model the common dynamics of systems of cities from the interactions between cities, but for understanding and predicting their differentiated evolution we have to take into account their history.  This does not mean building a narrative of successive events but a careful selection of a few specific historical regimes that contextualise the development of systems of cities all over the world (including for instance quality of natural environment, steps of the demographic transition, or relative situation in innovation networks), as well as a restricted set of events that may have more specifically occurred during the history when trying to predict the evolution of any individual city.

Denise Pumain