The Adaptative Nature of Neoliberalism at the Local Scale: Fifteen Years of City Improvement Districts in Cape Town and Johannesburg



Abstract:  By unravelling the adoption and adaptation of the North American Business Improvement District (BID) model in South African cities, this paper considers the way neoliberal principles are making their way in the post-apartheid context. Drawing on a comparative approach of BIDs in Johannesburg and Cape Town, we analyse the tensions and conflicts surrounding their implementation and unpack the resilience of this model. As unexpected as this resilience might be in such a context, that is, far away from the heartland of neoliberalism, we argue that this resilience is linked to the permeability of the local contexts and to the plasticity of the model itself at the city and neighbourhood levels, reflecting a capacity to adapt to inherited regulatory frameworks, patterns of territorial development and embedded socio-political alliances of the local terrains, as well as an ability to accommodate post-apartheid issues through the crafting of what we refer to as “local Third Ways”.