Urban Upgrading for Violence Prevention in South Africa: Does it Work?

The Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) project, funded jointly by the German Development Bank and the City of Cape Town in South Africa, is a prime example of an evidence-based intervention for violence prevention that was designed to address all urban violence determining factors. The VPUU approach centres on three main interventions: -improving urban environments and public spaces; -providing services to victims of violence, including greater access to justice, neighbourhood watches, and educational opportunities; and, -creating consultation and engagement mechanisms to incorporate the views of affected communities on the kinds of investments and interventions needed to address urban violence. While the intervention has attracted much attention, we do not know if it actually works. This research project aims to assess the effectiveness of urban upgrading interventions based on VPUU's participatory approach to reducing violence and improving safety in selected areas of Cape Town. More specifically, researchers will: -assess how effectively infrastructure interventions can reduce interpersonal violence in low-income communities; -evaluate the impact of urban upgrading in reducing certain types of interpersonal violence for at-risk groups; -identify the extent to which urban upgrading might influence interpersonal violence enablers, such as access to alcohol, and supporting factors that improve safety, such as street lighting; -assess how effectively these interventions can address environmental factors, including access to social services, along with social and community factors (school enrollment and voter turnout); and, -examine whether urban upgrading investments can improve health outcomes, such as HIV/TB, diarrhea, and mental health. The project is grounded in the public health approach to interpersonal violence prevention. The research team will adopt a range of theoretical and methodological approaches, combined with participatory action-oriented research. This will allow the researchers to provide a thorough assessment of how effectively urban upgrading interventions worked to reduce violence, poverty, and inequalities in the city. The research will help to refine Cape Town's violence prevention policy. This project is part of the Safe and Inclusive Cities (SAIC) research initiative designed to build an evidence base on the connections between urban violence, poverty, and inequalities. Jointly funded by IDRC and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, the SAIC program also seeks to identify the most effective strategies for addressing these challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Friday, December 21, 2012


36 months

IDRC Officer

Jennifer Salahub

Total funding

CA$ 498,700


South Africa, United Kingdom


Governance and Justice, Safe and Inclusive Cities

Project Leader

Richard Matzopoulos

Project Leader

Rosina Mbobo


University of Cape Town

Institution Country

South Africa

Institution Website