(Summer 18) Dasjon Jordan, G, Makers Valley Collective, Johannesburg, SA
Hi! My name is Dasjon Jordan and I’m starting my second year of the Master of City Planning program this fall. This summer I’ll be doing research and volunteering with the Makers Valley Collective (a nonprofit focused on creating makerspaces that improve community economic opportunities) in Johannesburg. I’m thrilled to travel to Africa for the first time but even more to be studying how creative industries (formal and informal) influence how cities are developed and how people survive. Hopefully this post and the forthcoming ones will serve as a vivid archive of my work in South Africa and bridge between the complexities of planning in the U.S. and South Africa.
The Valley (making up Bertrams, Troyeville, Lorentzville, and parts of Bezuidenhout Valley) is an area of low economic mobility but a socially and culturally vibrant neighborhood in the eastern region of Johannesburg. (MORE STATS ABOUT THE AREA: RACE/WEALTH/HISTORY). Though rapid investment is entering one of the world’s densest cities, the unemployment rate of Johannesburg is currently at 33% and even higher in areas like the Valley. I’m excited to work with the Makers Valley Collective to increase its partnerships with city government, creative collectives and other nonprofit organizations to exploring methods for alternative economic sustainability in the Valley.
Makers Valley Collective (MVC) is one of Johannesburg’s leading organizations attempting to demonstrate how fabrication technology should support alternative living and create a city where people of all racial and economic backgrounds come to learn how to work with their hands. MVC’s mission is to make accessible fabrication tools and materials, workshops and resource sharing, and potential clientele to the low-income population of “makers” living in the Valley. The diverse range of local makers include artisans, craftspeople, entrepreneurs, creatives and construction workers. Moreover, the organization is aiming to increase use of makerspaces to aid the provision of practical and local solutions to environmental, social or economic issues in Johannesburg and the greater South Africa region.
At the moment, my work with MVC has been extensively qualitative research and meetings with current employees, volunteers and partners of the organization to get a better sense of its progress, operations and perception from others around the city. A few days ago, I attended the Johannesburg Inner City Partnerships meeting (with the mayor and city council in full attendance) where I learned about similar projects in the creative economies, placemaking and community development that are grassroots but seeking political and economic support from city. What I quickly realized was that most of the initiatives were geographically located where Black South Africans were forcibly relocated to during apartheid and currently are in “hot areas” or spaces on the verge of gentrification currently. After the meeting, I had a debrief with Simon Mayson (a current Ph.D student in City Planning at the University of Witwatersrand and current director of MVC) and he made it clear that the organization is adamant about returning neighborhood agency through its convening work while figuring out how to attract outside investment despite the legacy of apartheid segregation. I’m intrigued and energized by the opportunity to help Simon and MVC figure out how to deal with issues of race, culture, development and community organizing within the South African context.
Having worked in similar spaces professionally back in New Orleans where I’m from, I believe that building relationships and creating a collective vision are more valuable than tradition planning tools initially. Though offering agency to creatives (especially historically and currently marginalized communities) may require financial and political resources, gaining some form of consensus about narratives, assets, and opportunities can make or break any grassroots initiative if it is not thought about sensitively and holistically. Brokering relationships with city government, developers like Victoria Yards and corporations like Nando’s, I’m optimistic about the MVC and what it could potentially do to empower the residents of the Valley.
Can’t wait to update you on the progress! Check in soon for my next blog posts!