Gina Ziervogel

Nationality South African
Year of selection2016
InstitutionUniversity of Cape Town
CountrySouth Africa
RiskEnvironmental risks

Type of support

AXA Awards

Granted amount

250 000 €


3 years

What is considered progress by some, may be considered a step back by others. Within a city, several actors coexist and their idea of what resilience should be can vary greatly. Prof. Gina Ziervogel’s project sets out to acknowledge and understand the diverse perspectives on urban resilience, from academics and practitioners to residents, in the South African city of Cape Town. Giving a voice to everyone, especially to those often voiceless, will help capture the complexity of what urban resilience entails. Her ultimate objective is to inform current and future responses on how urban resilience might be better addressed.

 « People see the trajectory of resilience differently », Dr. Gina Ziervogel points out. « Usually, city level actors of resilience have very different perceptions from residents, for instance ». « Our goal is to understand where these perceptions are commensurable and where they are not ». « Two perceptions are commensurable when their trajectories support each other and incommensurable when their trajectories are incompatible », she explains. « Those supporting social justice in the city and those supporting economic growth, often have incomensurable views on social housing, for example ». By working with urban residents, particularly in the poorer areas of Cape Town, as well as with city officials and practitioners, the project’s aim is to develop an understanding of the commensurability between ideas, hence highlighting potential opportunities for strengthening urban resilience collaboratively. « Often in urban governance, marginal communities’ voices and views are not privileged, leading to dissatisfaction and frustration », Dr. Gina Ziervogel reports. « Surfacing disparities can start to shift how actors see the problem and how potential solutions might be differently defined and implemented ».

 Commensurability and incommensurability : capturing the complexity of urban resilience

« Cape Town offers a particularly interesting case study for studying the diversity of trajectories when it comes to urban resilience », Dr. Gina Ziervogel explains. « South Africa is a country with a lot of resources and a lot of inequalities. People living in Cape Town, one of the country’s three capitals, are likely to have very different experiences and trajectories ». The project will have three main points of areas of focus : resilience and justice, water and cross-scalar governance. The first phase of the project will focus on understanding the local realities, what resilience means to different actors and where incommensurability lies. The second will consist of a more applied and engaged phase, supporting emerging initiatives and the identification of urban governance policies that have enabled or undermined resilience.

 « Commonalities are good, but we also need to accept that there are trade-offs. Not everybody can have what they want, but it can’t always be the same people », Dr. Gina Ziervogel presses, adding that « not everyone has the same weight when it comes to urban governance ». Her project aims to recognise those without a voice. « We don’t need to all be on the same page, but we need to find solutions that capture the complexity of the issue and acknowledge which groups were prioritised in the past ». And this is precisely what the project aims to do: help fill a gap, both in the academic field as well as in the field of practice, « with the goal of finding better alignment where possible and of surfacing problematic conflicts more explicitly ».