Using Participatory Action Research to consider social dynamics in urban regeneration in Marabastad, Kroonstad
Van der Merwe, Soné
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This dissertation aims to explore the use of Participatory Action Research (PAR) to consider social dynamics in urban regeneration within the community of Marabastad, Kroonstad. Up until now not much research – especially in a South African context - has focused on how social dynamics can be used to inform urban regeneration by proactively including community members in the process. Social interaction is seen as a basic human need and is conclusively of dire need to keep public spaces in urban areas alive and vibrant. Thus, considering social dynamics is deemed to be crucial for the sustainability of urban environments. The creation of the city as sustainable social entity is therefore an important goal in spatial planning proposals. That being said, social dynamics are becoming increasingly complex to plan for due to high urbanisation rates, particularly in countries such as South Africa that is multi-cultural, and the fact that cities have become cultural melting pots and every context is unique. The literature review examines urban regeneration as an important initiative that can be used to optimise social vitality in cities together with the importance of social dynamics in urban systems. In the past, urban regeneration initiatives were mainly physical design oriented and imposed on residents while the social dynamics were not considered but throughout the years these initiatives underwent change from physical design to social transformation. The rationale for selecting the community of Marabastad (in Kroonstad, South Africa) as the focus of this study, is rooted in its deep history as one of many towns in South Africa that has been influenced by the Apartheid regime where communities were forcibly removed from one area and located elsewhere, resulting in the fragmentation of the spatial area as well as segregating communities socially. In many of these cases the original towns/neighbourhoods of the communities were destroyed to make way for modernistic suburban developments e.g. Sophia Town and District Six. In the case of Marabastad, the neighbourhood was not completely destroyed but people were relocated to surrounding areas such as Seisoville, Brentpark and Phomolong. Despite relentless efforts from the Municipality since 1999, to revitalise Marabastad, many of these efforts have failed. Some of the reasons being a lack of community involvement and top-down planning approaches that do not take into account the social interactions/dynamics within the community. These reasons motivated this study and guided the research on how the social dynamics within Marabastad could be used to regenerate the community. A qualitative research approach was selected and in this case is particularly useful as an inductive, naturalistic approach to investigate unfamiliar research topics where the focus is on social phenomena in spatial planning for which known variables do not exist. Participatory Action Research (PAR) is the chosen methodology as this active degree of community participation allows a community to be empowered in finding solutions to their own, unique and individual problems, inducing the development of partnership between the participants and in turn the participants and researchers and ultimately creating manifestations of change. A singular intrinsic case study of Marabastad was the chosen research design to ensure rich, in-depth and meaningful findings within a real-life setting. Entrance to the community was obtained through two key informants whereafter Snowball Sampling was used to further identify 12 research participants. Data was generated by means of focus groups, followed by collaborative community mapping. Interviews with key informants in the community who have had a prolonged involvement in this context indicated that the community has the need for regenerating the area and restoring the social vitality that once existed. Further findings indicated themes that relate to urban decay, social needs, regeneration and vitality. While the aim was not to generate solutions that can be generalised and applied in other contexts, the research contributed by drawing lessons for urban planners about including social dynamics in urban regeneration initiatives in a proactive manner. Based on the importance highlighted by existing research with regard to the inclusion of a social dimension in urban regeneration and the suitability of Marabastad as a South African research context for urban regeneration, the research aims to develop urban regeneration proposals by proactively including and empowering community members through the process of PAR.