Current Project

South Africa’s Cities and Growth

In collaboration with the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), we are facilitating new research into urban economics in South Africa. By using economic tools to analyse urban issues such as crime, education, public infrastructure and local government efforts to enhance economic performance, in both metros and "township economies", this research will be able to contribute to the debate around urban policy in South Africa.

By bringing together and applying insights from both international and local experts in urban economics, this research project will inspire and encourage both academics and policy makers with an interest in the subject of cities, growth and household inequality, to reflect and pull together research on critical topics:


  • What does international literature say about the relationship between high levels of crime; the mix between various forms of criminality and violence; and the urban economy?
  • What data currently exists on South African cities? What are the limits thereof?
  • What are place-based growth policies and what is their impact on cities in the developing world? Do these policies generate, or fail to generate, net growth or alter distributional outcomes, especially in cities in the developing world?
  • What can luminosity data reveal and not reveal about South Africa's urban economies? Has this changed over the past three decades?
  • What is the real growth potential of South Africa’s cities? What economic benefits have been generated by the rapid urbanisation in sub-Saharan Africa, and how does this compare to other parts of the world?

We are completing some research papers and will conduct a series of workshops. As the project unfolds, we will share information on the policy papers and associated workshops, which will be of relevance to policy reform in South Africa.

Learn More about the Authors

Edward Glaeser is the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics and the Chairman of the Department of Economics at Harvard University, where he has taught microeconomic theory, and occasionally urban and public economics, since 1992. He has served as Director of the Taubman Centre for State and Local Government, and Director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. He has published dozens of papers on cities economic growth, law, and economics. In particular, his work has focused on the determinants of city growth and the role of cities as centres of idea transmission. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1992.

Sebastian Galiani is Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland. He obtained his PhD in Economics from the University of Oxford and works broadly in the field of Development Economics. He is also a Fellow of the NBER and BREAD. Sebastian was Secretary of Economic Policy, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Treasury, Argentina, between January of 2017 and June of 2018.

Harris Selod is a Senior Economist in the Sustainability and Infrastructure Team of the Development Research Group. His current research focuses on urban development, including issues related to transport and land use, as well as land tenure, land markets and the political economy of the land sector in developing countries, with a specific interest in West Africa. His publications cover a variety of topics in urban and public economics including theories of squatting and residential informality, the political economy of transport infrastructure, the effects of residential segregation on schooling and unemployment, or the impact of land rights formalization and place-based policies.
Claus Rabe is a Director at PDG, responsible for the Urban Economies Practice Area. He holds a dual major in Policy Studies and Economics, a master’s in city and Regional Planning, and a Master of Science in Urban Management. Claus is an urban policy analyst with over 14 years’ experience in the field of spatial planning, forecasting, infrastructure, and urban economics. Prior to joining PDG, Claus was a principal planner at the City of Cape Town where received the SAPI National Planning Award for his ground-breaking work on data-driven urban diagnostics.

Takwanisa Machemedze is a researcher at DataFirst at the University of Cape Town. He holds a PhD in Sociology and an MPhil in Demography both from the University of Cape Town, and a BSc Hon in Statistics from the University of Zimbabwe. His research interests include demography, remote sensing, and small area estimation.

Prof Ivan Turok holds the Research Chair in City-Region Economies in the Department of Economics and Finance and the Centre for Development Support at the UFS. He has authored more than 150 peer-reviewed publications and 11 books/monographs. He holds an NRF B1-rating and is the former Editor-in-Chief of the top international journal, Regional Studies. He is currently Executive Director: Economic Performance and Development at the Human Sciences Research Council and was Chairman of the Durban City Planning Commission. He was formerly Professor of Urban Economic Development, and Director of Research: Department of Urban Studies at the University of Glasgow. Prof Turok was also a Mellon Fellow at the University of Cape Town and Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Strathclyde. He is an occasional adviser to the United Nations, OECD, African Development Bank, UNECA, and several national governments. His recent books include Transitions in Regional Economic Development (2018, Routledge), Value Chains in Sub-Saharan Africa (2019, Springer), and Restoring the Core: Central City Decline and Transformation in the South (2020, Elsevier). He has a PhD in Economics from the University of Reading.

Dr Justin Visagie is a Senior Research Specialist in the Inclusive Economic Development (IED) research programme at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). Dr Visagie has expertise in microeconomic data analysis and has worked on a wide array of cross-sectional and longitudinal household datasets. His recent research projects cover issues of regional economic development, city-region economies, tradable services, spatial inequality and inclusion, social mobility, urbanisation, housing, and migration. Alongside his solid quantitative training as an economist, Dr Visagie finds it rewarding working within a multi-disciplinary environment such as the HSRC. Dr Visagie assumed a position at the HSRC in 2017 after serving as the Director of Economic Planning and Research at the Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism in the Eastern Cape from 2012 to 2016. Before this he was finishing his Master and PhD studies where he lectured at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Dr Visagie completed his PhD in Economics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal where he won the prestigious Founders’ medal from the Economic Society of South Africa (ESSA) for his thesis on the development of the middle class in South Africa. Dr Visagie also received ESSA awards for his Master and Honour level research dissertations.

Dieter von Fintel is an associate professor in the Department of Economics at Stellenbosch, as well as a research affiliate of LEAP, RESEP and IZA. He is an applied micro-econometrician seeking to understand long-run and short-run effects of policies on development, labour markets and households in Africa, as well as spatial and generational persistence.

Related upcoming events

26 January, 2023
Virtual CDE Workshop on SA Cities and Growth

Discussion Documents

Discussion documents are generally solicited pieces on topical issues of relevance to the national economic debate. The intention is to provide a summary of the issue, accompanied by a discussion about its relevance, importance, and way forward in South Africa. Generally, these are narrative driven contributions, relying on existing work and high-level analysis.
We provide the opportunity for contribution from all relevant perspectives, and therefore these papers do not represent a position by ERSA, its associates, or funders on the identified issues.