...  shouldn’t “global” be redefined to mean adequate and affordable housing for all income levels, good schools for all children, universal health care, a zero rate of homelessness and greater income equality? What if “global” was correlated with the Gini coefficient which measures equality?

City officials need to rely less on profit-driven, private developers and more on specific government policies to aggressively protect and create more low and middle-income housing in city centres.

Maboneng was carved out of Jeppestown, a working-class neighbourhood in Johannesburg’s CBD. It has developed rapidly since 2009. But surrounding Jeppestown is still mostly occupied by low-income black people. Maboneng is a distinctly hipster “cultural time zone” or microspace. Its upmarket bars, fashionable restaurants, creative work spaces and loft-style apartments have more in common with its equivalents in Euro-America than less developed local areas adjacent to it.

Maboneng represents one strand of the type of urban “development” that’s advocated for by the proponents of “global cities”. The problem with this type of development is that it often leads to cities becoming more spatially unequal as urban regeneration or gentrification displaces people.

The city’s core areas are occupied by the wealthy. Low-income residents are pushed to the urban peripheries in search of affordable housing. This trend is intensifyingaround the world: in New York, London, Sydney, Los Angeles and Vancouver as well as in globalising or emerging cities like Johannesburg, Accra, Beijing, Cape Town, Jakarta, Mumbai and Shanghai.

We have seen this model before. It was called the apartheid city.

Apartheid cities

South Africa’s apartheid architects wanted Johannesburg and nearby suburbs to be reserved for the white population. Economically disadvantaged black people, so-called “coloureds” and Indians were warehoused on the outskirts in segregated, under-resourced townships. They provided an underpaid labour force for white business.

Apartheid was also known to its critics as “racial capitalism”. It was a type of social engineering that both spatially and economically gave the white population an advantage to keep them wealthy.

In the era of globalisation since 1990, these same spatial dynamics have played out in cities around the world. They are no longer based on purely racial lines. Instead, they’re grounded in blatant socioeconomic segregation. Urban theorist Richard Florida wrote in 2008 that

the most successful cities and regions in the United States and around the world may increasingly be inhabited by a core of wealthy and highly mobile workers leading highly privileged lives, catered to by an underclass of service workers living farther and farther away.

Several scholars have warned that inequality is an inherent feature of the global city. Others, like Martin J. Murray, argue that post-apartheid Johannesburg has introduced “new patterns of social segregation that have further marginalised the largely black underclasses and urban poor.”

Yet many cities are striving to become more “global” – and ever more unequal. Why is this?