Urban upgrading for violence prevention in South Africa: Does it work?

Urban upgrading for violence prevention in South Africa: Does it work? – Research

Duration: 01 Apr 2013 – 29 Apr 2016

Topics: Public spaces, Safety planning, Urban safety

Location: Western Cape

Website: http://www.idrc.ca/EN/Programs/Social_and_Economic_Policy/saic/Pages/107329.aspx

Funding sources: Safe and Inclusive Cities programme (IDRC, CRDI)


Research focus

This research project will assess the effectiveness of South Africa’s efforts to upgrade its urban centres, which include interventions to modify urban environments and public spaces, provide services to victims of violence, and directly involve affected communities in addressing violence. 

The challenge

South Africa has unusually high levels of interpersonal violence. Interpersonal violence is linked to income inequality and poverty. It is notable that South Africa is not only one of the most violent countries in the world, but also has one of the most unequal income distributions. Recent data has shown that homicide accounts for 13% of premature mortality and is the second leading cause of death after HIV/AIDS. In Cape Town, the Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) project was developed to deal with these alarming trends. VPUU has undertaken urban upgrading projects in the Khayelitsha township of Cape Town. Early evaluation shows that murder rates have dropped, and perceptions of safety in the township have increased. However, public authorities admit that the surveys used to measure safety perception are not reliable. This project will help address this issue by providing a detailed assessment of the effectiveness of this program in reducing violence.

The research

The research is designed as an observational and evaluative study that will examine the effects of urban upgrading on community safety. The project will also examine gender violence and will look at how male violence undermines the social fabric in South Africa and perpetuates the intergenerational cycle of violence in affected communities.
Specific objectives are:

  • assess the effectiveness of infrastructure interventions in reducing interpersonal violence in low-income communities
  • assess the effectiveness of urban upgrading in reducing certain types of interpersonal violence for particular at-risk groups
  • examine if investment in urban upgrading is associated with improved outcomes for HIV, tuberculosis, diarrhea, and mental health, factors that also entrench poverty and inequality.

Expected outcomes

The project will produce journal articles and reports targeted at policymakers. Data is expected to be included in academic publications by students involved in the project. Findings will be used to guide interventions at community and policy levels.