Alexandra Appelbaum

Researcher, SA Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of fundamental human rights.” There are the words of Nelson Mandela, who said that, like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural.

Alexandra Appelbaum hopes to put these words into practice, and has dedicated her academic skills in urban planning to shaping cities that work for people, particularly the poor and marginalised.

Appelbaum realised her passion for cities at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was an exchange student from the University of Cape Town, and upon her return to UCT, she focused her BA and honours (both achieved with distinction) on urban history.

While at UCT, Appelbaum ran the Thetani Debating League, an educational nongovernmental organisation focused on fostering critical thinking skills in underprivileged school learners through debate. She also sat on the board of Ubunye, an educational development agency.

She was recognised by the South African Washington International Programme for excellence in servant leadership and had an opportunity to intern in the US Congress.

Now a researcher at the South African Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning at Wits University, Appelbaum manages a project funded by the French Development Bank that provides action-based research to the City of Johannesburg on the Corridors of Freedom Project.

This is an ambitious initiative undertaken by the City of Johannesburg to repair some of the spatial imbalances inflicted on the city by apartheid.

Appelbaum sees great potential for Johannesburg to become an equitable city that connects people easily, welcomes migrants, empowers the marginalised, and enables all to live with dignity.

“I have interrogated the constructs of African urbanism at the heart of academic and development discourse, and worked to aid local governments globally, through research, about how best to serve the poor and marginalised. My passion for cities and equality, together with my belief in the power of ideas and the importance of knowledge, guide my work in civil society.” — Linda Doke

Twitter: @Ali_Apples