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Cities

A tale of two cities

Experience life for an ordinary resident in a Johannesburg township and the Brazilian city of Curitiba. Use the bar below to explore different aspects of urban life in the two cities.
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Map showing Alexandra, Johannesburg
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The city of Johannesburg mushroomed almost overnight following the discovery of gold in 1886. The majority of the city’s first citizens were white prospectors and developers from all over the world, but black and mixed-race people soon followed, drawn by the lure of work.

The “native township” of Alexandra was proclaimed in 1912 on the outskirts of Johannesburg, and soon became a valuable pool of labour feeding the burgeoning mining city. It was one of the few areas in South Africa where black people could own their own land. With the advent of apartheid in 1948, racial divisions dictated government policy at every level, including the provision of land, housing, education, health and essential services.

As Johannesburg grew and prospered, so Alexandra stagnated, becoming an overcrowded urban hell for its residents. There was no electricity, or running water in the houses, and most of the township’s unemployed residents lived in shacks. Today Alexandra houses about 350 000 people out of an estimated total population in Greater Johannesburg of some three million.

In 2001 South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki announced a seven-year plan, costing R1.3 billion to upgrade and renew Alexandra township – the single biggest urban renewal project in South Africa.

Map showing Curitiba
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With extensive green space, a huge, fast, bus system, low pollution levels and slumdwellers given food in return for collecting their rubbish, Curitiba is lauded worldwide as an example of a sustainable city.

Unemployment, slums and congestion became pressing concerns as it grew with industrialisation. Its 1940 population of 120,000 had virtually quadrupled by 1965 – since when it has trebled to its current level of nearly 1.5 million.

In the face of strong public opposition to a 1960’s plan for a large new highway, a competition was held for ideas for a different strategy. The winner was the Curitiba Master Plan, which focused around a mass transit system spanning out on axes from the city centre. It was implemented by architect Jaime Lerner, who became mayor in 1971.

The city, in the southern state of Parana, was established by colonialists in the late 17th Century. It has seen trade in the South American tea, mate, give way to modern industry, including car manufacturing - much of which is based in an industrial zone 10km west of the city.

Innovative planning is now a key part of Curitiba’s identity, but several challenges still remain.

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