My main areas of research are urbanisation/urbanism in Africa, urban policies and planning, housing/informal settlements, and urban health (particularly the relationship between the built environment and health). Although I am currently working on a wide range of topics, they all relate to two central themes: urban governance and urban policy discourses. Urban governance is essentially about how decisions are made regarding the shaping and management of cities/towns, and who makes these decisions. The concept of urban policy discourses is about how ideas relating to understanding or shaping cities/towns emerge, compete, and are adopted and adapted, and are used to construct problems and solutions, and then turned into policies and practices. An important strand of this work is how to create new policy-relevant knowledge around understanding and achieving more equitable and sustainable cities, for example, through bringing different stakeholders together to co-produce knowledge.

I have a Masters in City and Regional Planning and a PhD in Urban Planning from the University of Cape Town, and I have been a researcher on urban issues since 1993. I previously worked as a researcher at the Urban Problems Research Unit (UPRU) at the University of Cape Town (1993-1994), the Built Environment Support Group (BESG) at the University of Natal in Durban (1994-1999), and the Development Action Group (DAG) in Cape Town (1999-2007). I have worked as a researcher at the African Centre for Cities (ACC) since 2008. From 2010, I was the manager of the CityLab programme (ACC’s research programme on Cape Town), and since 2016 I have been the Research Manager for ACC, responsible for overseeing ACC’s research activities. I also co-ordinate the Healthy Cities CityLab (established 2009), and have been involved in the Mistra Urban Futures network since its inception in 2010 (I have been the Director of the Mistra Urban Futures Cape Town Local Interaction Platform since 2016). My publications include 19 journal articles, 2 books and 15 book chapters.



Journal articles

  • Culwick, C., Washbourne, C., Anderson, P., Cartwright, A., Patel, Z., & Smit, W. (in press). CityLab reflections and evolutions: Nurturing knowledge and learning for urban sustainability through co-production experimentation. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability.
  • Smit, W., & Tucker, A. (2019). Mapping the body: The use of the body mapping method to explore health and the built environment in Cape Town, South Africa. Technology | Architecture + Design, 3(1), 45-47.
  • Swinburn, B., Kraak, V., Allender, S. Atkins, V., Baker, P., Bogard, J. … Smit, W., Tootee, A., Vandevijvere, S., Waterlander, W., Wolfenden, L., & Dietz, W. (2019). The global syndemic of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change: The paramount challenge for humans, the environment, and our planet. Report of the Lancet Commission on Obesity. The Lancet, 393(10173), 791-846.
  • Okop, K. J., Lambert, E. V., Alaba, O., Levitt, N. S., Luke, A., Dugas, L., Dover, R. V. H., Kroff, J., Micklesfield, L. K., Kolbe-Alexander, T. L., Smit, W., Dugmore, H., Bobrow, K., Odunitan-Wayas, F. A., & Puoane, T. (2019). Sugar-sweetened beverage intake and relative weight gain among South African adults living in resource-poor communities: Longitudinal data from the STOP-SA study. International Journal of Obesity, 43(3), 603-614.
  • Smit, W. (2018). Urban governance in Africa: An overview. International Development Policy/ Revue internationale de politique de développement, 10, 55-77.
  • Simon, D., Palmer, H., Riise, J., Smit, W., & Valencia, S. (2018). The challenges of transdisciplinary knowledge production: From unilocal to comparative research. Environment and Urbanization, 30(2), 481-500.
  • Cirolia, L.R., & Smit, W. (2017). Fractured approaches to urban transformation: Analysing parallel perspectives in South Africa. Transformation, 95, 63-84.
  • Smit, W. (2016). Urban governance and urban food systems in Africa: Examining the linkages. Cities, 58, 80-86.
  • Smit, W., de Lannoy, A., Dover, R. V. H., Lambert, E. V., Levitt, N., & Watson, V. (2016). Making unhealthy places: The built environment and non-communicable diseases in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Health & Place, 39, 196-203.
  • Oni, T., Smit, W., Matzopoulos, R., Hunter Adams, J., Pentecost, M., Rother, H.-A., Albertyn, Z., Behroozi, F., Alaba, O., Kaba, M., van der Westhuizen, C., Shung King, M., Levitt, N. S., Parnell, S., & Lambert, E. V. (2016). Urban health research in Africa: Themes and priority research questions. Journal of Urban Health, 93(4), 722-730.
  • Ziervogel, G., Waddell, J., Smit, W., & Taylor, A. (2016). Flooding in Cape Town’s informal settlements: Barriers to collaborative urban risk governance. South African Geographical Journal, 98(1), 1-20.
  • Smit, W. (2014). Discourses of alcohol: Reflections on key issues influencing the regulation of shebeens in Cape Town. South African Geographical Journal, 96(1), 60-80.
  • Anderson, P. M. L., Brown-Luthango, M., Cartwright, A., Farouk, I., & Smit, W. (2013). Brokering communities of knowledge and practice: Reflections on the African Centre for Cities’ CityLab programme. Cities, 32, 1-10.
  • Smit, W., & Parnell, S. (2012). Urban sustainability and human health: An African perspective. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 4(4), 443-450.
  • Lambert, E., Kolbe-Alexander, T., Draper, C., Levitt, N., Naidoo, S., Tshabangu, E., Smit, W. & Dover, R. (2012). The ‘choice transition’ in relation to physical activity behavior: Need for a new model from the Global South perspective. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 15(S1), S266-S267.
  • Smit, W., Hancock, T., Kumaresen, J., Santos-Burgoa, C., Sánchez-Kobashi Meneses, R., & Friel, S. (2011). Towards a research and action agenda on urban planning/ design and health equity in cities in low and middle-income countries. Journal of Urban Health, 88(5), 875-885.
  • Tipple, G., Smit, W., & Majale, M. (2010). Furthering the urban agenda in developing countries: Guidelines for preparing national “State of Cities” reports. International Development Planning Review, 32(1), 71-92.
  • Smit, W. (2004). The urban development imagination and realpolitik. Development Update, 5(1), 53-80.
  • Smit, W. (1998). The rural linkages of urban households in Durban, South Africa. Environment and Urbanization, 10(1), 77-88.


  • Cirolia, L.R., Görgens, T, van Donk, M., Smit, W., & Drimie, S. (Eds.) (2016). Upgrading informal settlements in South Africa: A partnership-based approach. Cape Town, South Africa: University of Cape Town Press.
  • Smit, W., & Hennessy, K. (1995). Taking South African education out of the ghetto: An urban planning perspective. Cape Town, South Africa: University of Cape Town Press/ Buchu Books.

Book chapters

  • Smit, W. (2018). Current urban food governance and planning in Africa. In Battersby, J., & Watson, V. (Eds.), Urban food systems governance and poverty in African cities (pp. 94-103). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  • Smit, W., Cirolia, L.R. Görgens, T, van Donk, M., & Drimie, S. (2016). Conclusion: Reflecting on informal settlement upgrading experiences in South Africa. In L.R. Cirolia, T. Görgens, M. van Donk, W. Smit, & S. Drimie (Eds.), Upgrading informal settlements in South Africa: A partnership-based approach (pp. 466-479). Cape Town, South Africa: University of Cape Town Press.
  • Smit, W. (2016). Informal settlement upgrading: International lessons and local challenges. In L.R. Cirolia, T. Görgens, M. van Donk, W. Smit, & S. Drimie (Eds.), Upgrading informal settlements in South Africa: A partnership-based approach (pp.26-48). Cape Town, South Africa: University of Cape Town Press.
  • Cirolia, L.R. Görgens, T, van Donk, M., Smit, W., & Drimie, S. (2016). Upgrading informal settlements in South Africa: An introduction. In L.R. Cirolia, T. Görgens, M. van Donk, W. Smit, & S. Drimie (Eds.), Upgrading informal settlements in South Africa: A partnership-based approach (pp. 3-25). Cape Town, South Africa: University of Cape Town Press.
  • Smit, W., Lawhon, M., & Patel, Z. (2015). Co-producing knowledge for whom, and to what end? Reflections from the African Centre for Cities in Cape Town. In M. Polk (Ed.), Co-producing knowledge for sustainable cities: Joining forces for change (pp. 47-69). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  • Cirolia, L., Smit, W., & Duminy, J. (2015). Grappling with housing issues at the city scale: Mobilizing the right to the city in South Africa. In P. Herrle, A. Ley, & J. Fokdal (Eds.), From local action to global networks: Housing the urban poor (pp. 159-174). Farnham, UK: Ashgate.
  • Smit, W., & Pieterse, E. (2014). Decentralisation and institutional reconfiguration in urban Africa. In S. Parnell & E. Pieterse, E. (Eds.), Africa’s urban revolution: Policy pressures (pp. 148-166). London, UK: Zed Books.
  • Smit, W., de Lannoy, A., Dover, R.V.H., Lambert, E.V., Levitt, N., & Watson, V. (2014). “Good houses make good people”: Making knowledge about health & environment in Cape Town. In B. Cooper & R. Morrell (Eds.), Africa-centred knowledges: Crossing fields and worlds (pp. 142-162). London, UK: James Currey.
  • Pieterse, E., & Smit, W. (2014). Institutions, decentralisation and urban development. In S. Kayizzi-Mugerwa, A. Shimeles, & N.D. Yameogo (Eds.), Urbanization and socio-economic development in Africa: Challenges and opportunities (pp. 42-80). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Gotz, G., Pieterse, E., & Smit, W. (2010). Desenho, limites e perspectivas da governança metropolitana na África do Sul [Design, limitations and prospects of metropolitan governance in South Africa]. In J. Klink (Ed.), Governança das metrópoles: Conceitos, experiências e perspectivas [Governance of metropoles: Concepts, experiences and prospects] (pp. 127-156). São Paulo, Brazil: Annablume.
  • Smit, W. (2009). Isidima: Creating dignified communities. In S. Rosa, A. Groenewald, & S. Khoza (Eds.), State of the Province Western Cape 2008: An integrated approach for service delivery (pp. 73-85). Cape Town, South Africa: Provincial Government of the Western Cape.
  • Smit, W. (2008). Le grand project N2 Gateway: Une exclusion des pauvres  [The N2 Gateway mega-project: The exclusion of the poor]. In A. Dubresson & S. Jaglin (Eds), Le Cap après l’apartheid [Cape Town after apartheid] (pp. 23-44). Paris, France: Karthala.
  • Smit, W. (2006). Understanding the complexities of informal settlements: Insights from Cape Town. In M. Huchzermeyer & A. Karam (Eds.), Informal settlements: A perpetual challenge? (pp. 103-125). Cape Town, South Africa: Juta.
  • Smit, W. (2003). Housing finance policy in South Africa. In F. Khan & P. Thring (Eds.), Housing policy and practice in post-apartheid South Africa (pp. 166-191). Johannesburg, South Africa: Heinemann.
  • Smit, W. (2001). The changing role of community based organizations in South Africa in the 1990s, with emphasis on their role in development projects. In A. Tostensen, I. Tvedten, & M. Vaa (Eds.), Associational life in African cities: Popular responses to the urban crisis (pp. 234-249). Uppsala, Sweden: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet.

Other outputs

  • Smit, W. (2017). Reflections on urban governance. Blog post.
  • Sitas, R., & Smit, W. (2016). Reframing sustainability: Realising just cities. In H. Palmer & H. Walasek (Eds.), Co-production in action: Towards realising just cities (pp. 60-73). Gothenburg, Sweden: Mistra Urban Futures.
  • Waddell, J., Smit, W., Ziervogel, G., & Drivdal, L. (2013). The trickle-down effect, Cape Times, 24 June, p. 11.
  • Smit, W., & Watson, V. (2012). Creating healthier urban environments, Cape Times, 22 June, p. 11.
  • Smit, W., & Watson, V. (2011). The African Centre for Cities’ Healthy Cities CityLab: Understanding urban health in the global South. In: Cities, health and well-being: Conference compendium (pp. 17–18). London, UK: London School of Economics and Political Science & Alfred Herrhausen Society.
  • Adams, J., Bender, C., Avila Estrada, O., Ferro, J.C., Hendricks, M., Houston, A., Manie, S., Matthews, Y., Smit, W., Soeker, A., Tayob, H., & West, C. (2009). A place to be free: A case study of the Freedom Park informal settlement upgrade. Cape Town. South Africa: Development Action Group.
  • Ziervogel, G., & Smit, W. (2009). Learning to swim: Strengthening flooding governance in the City of Cape Town. Paper presented at the Conference on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change: “Earth system governance: People, places and the planet’, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2-4 December.
  • Smit, W. (2008). Are urban land markets working well for the poor? Exploring a practical method of assessment. Paper presented at the Urban LandMark Conference on “From land rights to property markets”, Midrand, South Africa, 27-28 August.
  • Smit, W., Tipple, G., & Majale. M. (2008). State of cities reporting: Good practice guide and toolkit. Johannesburg, South Africa: South African Cities Network.
  • Smit, W. (2008). Analysis of qualitative survey on accessing, holding and trading land: Synthesis report. Pretoria, South Africa: Urban LandMark.
  • Smit, W. (2008). Planning and transformation: Learning from the post-apartheid experience. Book review. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 51(3), 473-474.
  • Smit, W. (2007). Tackling the urban land question, Ndivhuwo: Journal for Intellectual Engagement, 1, 14-16.
  • Smit, W. (2007). Toward 2010 – a new strategy for the housing crisis. Cape Argus, 20 August.
  • Smit, W., Carey, S., Mayekiso, M., & Zondi, P. (2007). Voices of the poor: Synthesis and recommendations. Pretoria, South Africa: Urban LandMark.
  • Kingwill, R., Cousins, B., Cousins, T., Hornby, D., Royston, L., & Smit, W. (2006). Mysteries and myths: De Soto, property and poverty in South Africa. Gatekeeper Series 124. London, UK: International Institute for Environment and Development. Reprinted in 2007 in Are Hernando de Soto’s views appropriate to South Africa? (Graduate School of Public and Development Management, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg).
  • Smit, W. (2005). 10 things to remember about informal settlement upgrading. Cape Town, South Africa: Development Action Group.
  • Cousins, B., Cousins, T., Hornby, D., Kingwill, R., Royston, L., & Smit, W. (2005). Will formalising property rights reduce poverty in South Africa’s “second economy”? Questioning the mythologies of Hernando de Soto. PLAAS Policy Brief 18. Cape Town, South Africa: Programme on Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape.
  • Smit, W. (2004). International trends and good practices in housing: Lessons for South African housing policy. Paper presented at the Institute for Housing in South Africa International Conference on “Housing in the next decade: Quo vadis?”, Cape Town, 3-6 October.
  • Smit, W. (2003). Design options and delivery models for hostel redevelopment. Johannesburg, South Africa: Urban Sector Network.
  • Smit, W. (2003). Tenure options and management models for hostel redevelopment. Johannesburg, South Africa: Urban Sector Network.
  • Geerdts, P., Smit, W., Smith, T., Stanford, P. Poswa, S., & Govender, R. (2003). Evaluation of the National Housing Subsidy Scheme. Johannesburg, South Africa: Urban Sector Network.
  • Karam, A.H., Smit, W., & Boaden, B. (2000). Analysis and evaluation of the City of Cape Town’s housing initiatives 1996–2000. Cape Town, South Africa: Housing and Community Development Unit, University of Cape Town.
  • Smit, W., Smith, H., & Samaai, S. (2000). Investigation of the various types of tenure applicable to affordable housing in the Cape Metropolitan Area. Report prepared by the Development Action Group and Legal Resources Centre. Cape Town, South Africa: Cape Metropolitan Council.
  • Smit, W. (2000). Adequate housing for all, Rights Now, 8, 1-5.
  • Smit, W. (2000). The impact of the transition from informal housing to formalized housing in low-income housing projects in South Africa. Paper presented at the Nordic Africa Institute Conference on “The formal and the informal city: What happens at the interface?”, Copenhagen, 15-18 June.
  • Smit, W. (1999). Towards the right to adequate housing. Durban, South Africa: Built Environment Support Group.
  • Smit, W. (1999). Upkeep of local areas: Jobs for the community – models for local area maintenance, In Focus Forum 6(4), May 1999, pp. 34-37.
  • Smit, W. (1998). Evaluation of the housing consolidation project in Luganda and Zilweleni, Southern Pinetown 1996-1998. Durban, South Africa: Built Environment Support Group.
  • Smit, W. (1998). No place like home, Democracy Watch, 3, 8-9.
  • Smit, W. (1998). Assisted mutual help housing delivery in South Africa. Johannesburg, South Africa: Urban Sector Network.
  • Smit, W., & Walker, N. (1997). Community involvement in local area maintenance. In Pickford, J. (Ed.), Water and sanitation for all – Partnerships and innovations: Proceedings of the 23rd WEDC Conference, Durban, South Africa 1-5 September 1997. Loughborough, UK: Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC), Loughborough University.
  • Smit, W. (1997). Community involvement in infrastructure maintenance and environmental management. Human Sciences Research Council’s Human Needs, Resources and the Environment Programme Report No. 67. Pretoria, South Africa: Human Sciences Research Council.
  • Smit, W., & Mbona, D. (1996). Low-income housing consolidation processes in metropolitan Durban. Supporting People’s Habitat Initiatives Series No. 1. Durban, South Africa: Built Environment Support Group.
  • Watson, V, Behrens, R, Hennessy, K., & Smit, W. (1994). Subletting: Towards an appropriate policy response. Working Paper No. 52 (Occasional Paper No. 39). Cape Town: Urban Problems Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
  • Smit, W. (1994). Towards a housing strategy for metropolitan Cape Town. Working Paper No. 51 (Occasional Paper No. 38). Cape Town, South Africa: Urban Problems Research Unit, University of Cape Town.