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street level

This project sits at the nexus between communities affected by street level use, the users themselves and the various institutions responding to drug addiction in the city of Durban. It is a trans-disciplinary research project, bringing together those trained in sociology, criminology, education, art, public health, addiction medicine, and drama. As a participatory action research project it will also include city officials, police officers and civil society actors in designing the research and in developing strategies. The purpose of this initiative is to gather nuanced narratives from all those affected and begin investigating appropriate responses both at grassroots and policy levels. A key aim of this project is to provide the very human and embodied face of this drug, and enabling a more enriched and grounded way of coping with drug use, and exploring what interventions are best suited for dealing with problematic drug use in a South African urban context.


While this project will focus on Whoonga (low grade heroin) use and its harmful effects on individuals and communities in Durban, the results of this project will have very real outcomes for other cities dealing with the dilemma of the harmful effects of street level drug use. Ways of reducing harm for all affected persons is a fundamental of this project. This project has an important innovation and engagement component. In April 2017 the Urban Futures Centre together with TB/HIV Care Association launched South Africa’s first low in come Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) Demonstration Project. 50 low income heroin users, mostly smokers, are beneficiaries of this project. The project is an important research base for testing out harm reduction locally, and for advocating for better policies and interventions in regard to drug use disorders. Funding for this demonstration project comes from: the National Institute of Humanities and Social Science; Mainline; and Open Society Foundation. Equity Pharmaceuticals have provided an opioid substitute, Methadone, at no cost to the project.



To learn more about the OST programme please click here to visit the project website. For more information on drug policy in South Africa please click here to visit the SA Drug Policy Week 2018 website.


Project Partners: TB/HIV Care Association, King Edward Hospital; KZN Department of Health; Centre of Criminology, University of Cape Town; HIV/TB Care; Durban Metropolitan Police; Safer Cities Department, eThekwini Municipality; Dennis Hurley Centre; Big Brotherhood Community Theatre Group; Central Drug Authority; UNODC (Pretoria Office); doctors in private and public practice.


Principal Investigator: Prof. Monique Marks (moniquem@dut.ac.za)




The Imagining a City Without Walls project was initiated in April 2014. The aim of this project is to bring together key network actors to interrogate the relationship between home security and defensive boundaries, particularly walls. Through working closely with policing actors as our key partners, the roles that walls play in suburban spaces is being investigated. This has already opened pathways for fresh deliberations and imaginings about suburban boundary design. The approach of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design is critical in framing this project and its design outcomes. The basic assumption and dominant design ‘imperative’ that high walls make suburban residents safer will be questioned through a process of conversations, ethnographic explorations and incident reports.


Arguably the most exciting part of this project is the real time urban ‘experiment’ that has begun. The Alliance Francaise in Durban has decided, as a result of this project, to break down their boundary wall and in its place create a boundary that is more transparent, welcoming, aesthetically pleasing while at the same time optimising safety through natural surveillance. In 2016 an architectural competition was held to find the best possible alternative design to the boundary wall. An excellent set of designs were provided. Three designs were shortlisted. The competition was won by Durban architect and urban designer, Paul Wygers. We aim to have the new boundary structure in place by December 2018. This project is viewed as catalytic. Breaking down the wall of an iconic cultural institution, we believe, will send a strong message to other suburban dwellers about the importance of natural surveillance and of human connectivity in the quest for a safe and socially coherent city.


Project Partners: Alliance Francise Durban; DUT Architecture Department; Council for Scientific and Industrial Research; Blue Security; ADT; Durban Metropolitan Police; SAPS Umbilo and Westville; Morningside Residents’ Committee; dala Architects; eThekwini Safer Cities.


Principal Investigator: Prof. Monique Marks (moniquem@dut.ac.za)


This project broadly examines how state housing models shape the social landscape of South Africa, in this study in the city of Durban. In doing so it aims to critically explore the paradigms and pedagogies within the disciplines of the built environment, namely those involved in urban planning such as town planning, architecture and urban design. The broad disciplinary field of the built environment has not been as transformative as had hoped in creating equal and socially just urban spaces. This project explores what urban planning could do better through using a creative and participatory action research framework. The data focuses on the perspective of the people who live in state housing units, providing a much-needed qualitative micro-level focus in a field that has existing rich literature on the macro economic and social debates around housing. Various models of state housing should be locations for investigating not only what it means to make a place a home, but how these built forms shape ideas of self, neighborhoods and broader social belonging. Five research sites have been selected within the Durban area. Research at each site experiments with creative and participatory methods and is run by a team of multidisciplinary members from the fields of sociology, planning, architecture, public art, drama, film and photography amongst others.


Partners: Miranda Jahangeer, Doung Jahangeer, Vicky Sim, Cathy Sutherland, Ashling McCarthy, Russel Hlongwane, Joanne Lees, Angela Buckland, Tiny Mungwe, Rachel Matteau Matsha, Urban Earth, Open Data Durban and Marc Kalina


Principal Investigators: Prof. Monique Marks (moniquem@dut.ac.za) and Dr. Kira Erwin (kirae@dut.ac.za)


Funder: National Research Foundation (NRF) Blue Skies Grant




Dreaming the Port City project aims to create a space for constructive engagement and dialogue around the port and its role in the city of Durban. Dreaming workshops retain the focus on future visions and imaginings on Durban as a Port City, but critically enables engagement with multiple visions with specific objectives in mind. The Port City Dreaming Workshops are facilitated by the Urban Futures Centre, a space that is conducive to listening, thinking and problem solving. The project is designed as a process of bringing together a group of people who will continue to engage, share information and visions, as well as identify areas of tension and how best to work with these.


Partners: Urban Future Centre, the eThekwini Strategic Planning Department, Logistics and Freight Companies, Civil Society Activists and Transnet,


Principal Investigators: Prof. Monique Marks (moniquem@dut.ac.za) and Dr. Kira Erwin (kirae@dut.ac.za)


Completed Projects


The history of South Africa is a history of migratory flows; in the long view of history we are in one way or another all migrants to the modern geographic borders of South Africa. Under apartheid discriminatory segregation policies created a large black migrant labour force to supply the urban areas, radically shaping the urban landscape and rural and urban networks. Partly due to past colonial and apartheid ideology, there is in democratic South Africa a continued emphasis on different social, cultural and even moral spheres associated with spatial geographies and categories of people. The most recent of which is the discriminatory discourse around the flows of migrants, immigrants and refugees coming into South Africa from other African countries. There have been a spate of violent xenophobic attacks in South Africa and yet we still lack a responsive local policy framework or proactive educational and awareness campaigns. This project uses a gendered lens to collect the oral history of migrant women in Durban. This project moves the diverse stories of women and other migrants in Durban directly into strategically planned educational dialogues and a strategic research report that offers policy framework suggestions for key stakeholders. The project brings together experienced academics, civil society activists as well as a collective group representing migrants from 15 African countries that live and work in Durban. It is innovative in that it uses creative methods of storytelling (oral histories, radio scripts, short documentaries and community participatory theatre) to directly influence government knowledge on their own practices and policy discussions around social integration and inclusion of migrants in the city. The full project website, including all the oral histories, is available here.


Partners: Democracy Development Program (DDP); African Solidarity Network (ASONET); Refugee Social Services and the Denis Hurley Centre


Principal Investigator: Dr. Kira Erwin (kirae@dut.ac.za)



This research projects aims to explore how young people, in this case Grade 11 students in Durban, imagine a socially just and more equal future South African society. Specifically, in this project we are interested in how young people imagine a future society in relation to ideas of race, racism and non-racialism. Existing studies on non-racialism indicate that for many older South Africans the realisation of non-racialism is best left to the younger generations who do not carry the historic baggage of their own generation. Romanticising ‘untainted’ youth as able to transcend a troubled past is not an unusual response in transitional societies. However we need to be cautious of displacing responsibility for change onto the young in society particularly given the various ways in which inequality is reproduced in South Africa. Acknowledging this we do think it is important to listen carefully to the imaginings of young people’s dreams of a more socially just world. To do this we use a methodology of Dreaming Workshops, these sessions not only offer a space for utopian dreaming but importantly then use these dreams to identify and reflect on practices and power relations in the present that create obstacles or enablers to these future trajectories.


The project website gives full details of the project and offers a downloadable PDF for those who wish to use the Dreaming Workshop methodology, click here to visit the website.


Principal Investigator: Dr. Kira Erwin (kirae@dut.ac.za)


Co-investigator: Dr. Kathryn Pillay (pillaykat@ukzn.ac.za)


Funder: Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies


This three year project supports full time PhD students across three institutions through a collaborative supervision process. The project focuses on the South African urban context with eight PhD topics exploring a variety of interlocking themes that address questions of resilience and spatial justice from social, economic, environmental and socio-political dimensions at a range of scales.

For more information on this project is available here.


Principal Investigators: Prof. Monique Marks (moniquem@dut.ac.za) and Dr. Kira Erwin (kirae@dut.ac.za)



Kenneth Gardens Community Project is a joint DUT/Community partnership that focuses on the Kenneth Gardens estate, Durban’s largest municipal subsidised low-cost housing estate. The project has both research and community engagement components, and sees these components as integral to each other rather than as separate spheres of interaction. The primary research components include a 3 year Oral History project that will cumulate in a book titled: Voices of Resilience: A Living History of the Kenneth Gardens Municipal Housing Estate in Durban South Africa. Research project also include evaluation on engagement activities as well as a range of smaller research projects on various aspects of the community life such as youth narratives and Health. The established engagement projects include a free homeopathic and food nutrition clinic run every Wednesday in the estate, as well as capoeira, dance and digital media programmes for younger residents and youth.

Partners: Senzokuhle Community Based Organisation (NPO); Carrots and Peas (NPO); DUT Homeopathy and DUT Food and Nutrition, Glenridge Church; Glenmore Primary School; Rotary Club Morningside and Isipingo; Turquoise Harmony; Flatfoot Dance Company, Maria Cristina Giampietri


Principal Investigators: Prof. Monique Marks (moniquem@dut.ac.za) and Dr. Kira Erwin (kirae@dut.ac.za)


Funder: National Research Foundation (NRF) Community Engagement grant


Research Outcomes:

  • Marks Monique, Kira Erwin and Tamlynn Fleetwood (2018)Voices of Resilience: A Living History of the Kenneth Gardens Municipal Housing Estate in Durban. UKZN Press: Durban.
  • Erwin, Kira (2017) “You make a home out if it, you make a place of it”: some unexpected narratives from a social housing estate in Durban”. Transformation 93 68-90.
  • Marks, M. and Erwin, K. (2016) “Interfering politicians: the underbelly of ‘coproduction’ within a South African community engagement context”. Community Development Journal. doi:10.1093/cdj/bsw021.
  • Marks Monique, Erwin Kira and Mosavel Maghboeba (2015) The inextricable link between community engagement, community based research and service learning: the case of an international collaboration Building Global Bridges project. The South African Journal of Higher Education, 29(5) 214–231.
  • Erwin Kira (2015) Race, place and identity in Kenneth Gardens: narratives from a low-cost housing estate in Durban. Urban Forum 26(2) 187-201.
  • Erwin Kira, Marks Monique and Couchman Ingrid (2014) Homeopathic health care in a low-income housing estate in Durban: possibilities for a plural health care model in South Africa. Journal of Health, Wellness and Society 3:3.


Blue skies

With increasing urbanization and increasing levels of poverty and disparity within urban spaces there is no better time than the present to ask how we can do better in regard to urban planning and design? This project brings together a diverse range of scholars and practitioners to deliberate on unexplored and alternative practices of urban design and planning within the context of South African cities.

The DUT has already completed the process of putting together a proposed Master plan for creating an educational precinct around the university that incorporates neighbour city spaces. The proposed plan links its various city campuses in a walking corridor through the Curry’s Fountain and Warwick Junction. This DUT proposal acts as a live testing site for three small pilot projects that incorporate and make use of alternative methodological practices that lead to design proposals. Once completed the data and findings from the pilots will be contrasted with the original Masterplan to see whether these findings raise critical questions about how we go about planning and design spaces. The pilot findings will present alternatives that work with and enhance everyday livelihoods and experiences rather than design them out of the plan. The pilots will enable reflection on, and possibly redevelopment of, the methodologies we imagine would benefit students and staff practicing in the field of urban design and planning. In this way the first year of the project becomes a laboratory for developing radical new concepts within a disciple and for testing these alternatives within a live project.


Partners: Glen Robbins; Peter Robinson; Soobs Munsamy; MILE; Bridget Horner (UKZN); Miranda Young-Jahangeer (UKZN); Doung Jahangeer; Abigail Knox; Jonathan Edkins, Vicky Sims


Principal Investigators: Prof. Monique Marks (moniquem@dut.ac.za) and Dr. Kira Erwin (kirae@dut.ac.za)


Funder: National Research Foundation (NRF) Blue Skies Grant