Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Urban Studies Summer Fellowship 2014 – First Week in Johannesburg

Writing from Johannesburg, I am Stefan Norgaard, a rising senior at Stanford University in California double-majoring in Public Policy and Urban Studies. My academic work is shaped by my interests and passions: to find institutional and sustainable solutions to vexing challenges, particularly in urban settings. Originally from Boulder, Colorado, I am an avid hiker and mountaineer, and hope to bring my high-altitude energy and enthusiasm to my fellowship this summer with the Global Regeneration Initiative for Neighborhood Development (GRIND). After leaving Stanford for two quarters to study with Stanford in Washington and Stanford in Cape Town, I now return to South Africa to work at the level of community engagement just east of the city center.

This summer I am a Stanford Urban Studies Fellow at, GRIND (http://grindcities.com). GRIND is a nonprofit organization that seeks to start an inclusive conversation about urban regeneration at the local—and global—level. Locally, GRIND brings together various stakeholder groups and tries to ensure that urban development projects benefit indigenous residents and not just new community members. Globally, GRIND is working to create a network of urban neighborhoods across the world, and a platform where neighborhood leaders can share best practices in urban regeneration.

Other projects in GRIND’s Johannesburg Studio include an organic community walks initiative, a produce cooperative called the Urban Basket, a demographic and sociology project, work building an ICT resource and career development center, and a project called re:sort which converts a neighborhood recycling facility into an art gallery and more efficient recycling center.

I am honored to serve as a GRIND Studio Resident from June 23—August 23 of this year. My project is called the Maboneng Living Museum. I seek to dynamically document the history of Maboneng and Jeppestown while simultaneously providing a platform for community members and indigenous residents to chart a course for the precinct’s future. The museum will reflect on the district’s past, but not merely through static archival footage; residents will add their memories and shape a dynamic conversation about the rich and diverse history of what was once Johannesburg’s first suburb. As a living museum, this space will document present efforts in Maboneng and serve as a space for residents to envision their neighborhood’s future. Dynamic and participatory community maps, for example, will allow residents and local retailers to “tell their Maboneng” story, and the use of chalkboards, audio recording technology, and community meetings will allow residents to ensure that every story of the neighborhood is told. A space like Maboneng is home to a remarkably diverse set of communities—all of which interact with the space for different reasons and in different ways— and each and every one of these communities will have the chance to explain their neighborhood’s history, reflect on its current situation, and chart a course for its future.

Of course, I cannot (and should not) design and operationalize this museum on my own. Rather, I am seeking out key community leaders, respected by many and possessing intimate local knowledge, all of whom will help chart a course for this space. I have already had great success meeting remarkable community members and look forward to passing the baton to these individuals in the near future.

In the short term, the Maboneng Living Museum will be housed in the neighborhood’s Museum of African Design (MOAD). In the longer term, the museum will grow in size and ultimately be a key part of a neighborhood Community Hub. The hub will begin design and implementation in January 2015, and will be a comfortable and inclusive space for all residents. The space will also be located next to a new neighborhood school and a public skate park sponsored by a nonprofit called Skatistan. What better place to house an interactive site of memory and site of design than this community hub?

Through my work with GRIND, I hope to grow as an individual and as an aspiring urban planner. Personally, I am eager to embrace the challenge of working alone in a new environment. My hours are flexible as I will spend my time delving into this project, making community connections, and continuously reflecting on how the Living Museum can best serve the community’s interests. I am excited to make friends of different backgrounds from my own. I am also excited to engage with and better understand an urban neighborhood—the street blocks of Maboneng and nearby Jeppestown. Professionally, this summer residency builds on a lifelong interest in and passion for sustainable urban development. I am excited to work on my own urban project which will hopefully inform career plans in global urbanism or regional urban strategy.

Here are some pictures from Maboneng. The first is a view of Johannesburg’s skyline from my office.  GRIND is located on the top floor of the Situation East building just east of the city center and allows for unbelievable views of the city’s Central Business District, or CBD:


The second picture shows the proposed location of an eventual Maboneng Communtiy Hub and my living museum!  Originally occupied by MoTech Recycling, this space is now vacant:


Finally, I included a picture of a low-density residential housing complex in Maboneng.  GRIND has added street murals both to beautify the surrounding public spaces and to help create small private yards for local residents:


Over the course of my summer, I will be continuously reflecting on my own development and on the development of the museum. Please do not hesitate to reach out at any time!




SA, Mobile:  078-744-7453

Email:  stefann@stanford.edu


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