Since 2001 there has been a significant acceleration of regeneration in Johannesburg, with major interventions around Constitution Hill in Hillbrow, Newtown, the so-called fashion district, the financial district, the Main street upgrade, the Metro mall, Mary Fitzgerald square, the Faraday taxi rank and of course the iconic Nelson Mandela bridge.
These initiatives have all been designed to start reassuring the citizens of greater Johannesburg that the city is a place where one can safely live, work and play once again.
It has been estimated that during the 2001/6 period, about R9-billion has been invested in the city centre, by both the public and the private sectors. From now until 2010 there are plans to scale up that effort with expectations of a further R10-billion investment, and this excludes development directly associated with the 2010 soccer World Cup.
"Johannesburg's inner city rejuvenation has taken off and is progressing at a considerable pace, but it happens building by building, and we still have a huge amount to do," Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) CEO Lael Bethlehem tells Engineering News.
South Africa's economic expansion, fuelled by the country's historically low interest rates environment has led to a nationwide property boom, and some pioneering developers have decided to take a flyer not on boomed-off townhouse complexes or gated clusters, but on the cheaper property available in the inner city. Property from which others beat a hasty retreat as crime and grime encroached.
"A huge amount of money has gone into residential developments, and that has been a substantial part of urban renewal, with new developments, refurbishments and conversions adding about 10 000 residential units to the city in the period between 2001 and 2007. And this tempo looks as though it is going to increase, despite certain barriers, such as lengthy processes regarding plan passing and rates clearances, to contend with," states Neil Fraser, an urban consultant who has been at the forefront of the rejuvenation effort for decades.
READY, SET, DEVELOP
As the opportunities become more visible, the race to accommodate and gain from investments has gathered steam. The property owner profile is also changing, although still largely white, it is not only the public and corporate sectors investing in property, but a growing number of small-to-medium sized private organisations.
One such group catering for the high-end luxury market is Urban Ocean Property Developers, which owns a number of buildings within the inner city and is currently busy with construction at four residential units (The Franklin, The Cornerhouse, Shakespeare Place 1, and Shakespeare 2) and various other mixed-use developments.
The development company admits it is not all plain sailing. Commenting on the challenges of working in the inner city from a construction point of view, Urban Ocean project leader Chris Botes tells Engineering News that spatial confinement is one of the major constraints facing developers.
"Particularly with conversions of office blocks and heritage buildings, you have a very limited amount of space to work with and must be innovative with design and construction in the parameters set out," he adds.
Getting materials in and out of the building is also a struggle at times, as no hoists or cranes can be used near heritage buildings, because potential damage of a fa�ade is not an option.
Development of The Franklin was the first project of its sort in the inner city, and construction stared three years ago. The project consists of six phases and the company is currently completing phase three and is half-way through phase four. Occupation of the building is expected in June this year.
Being at the vanguard, there was a substantial amount of market hesitancy and the company also had to tackle various redundant systems within the construction and banking industries, as well as the changing and updating of regulations regarding sectional title buildings.
Interestingly, Botes says that crime in the inner city has not been a particularly challenging issue, and is in fact easier to control than in some other parts of the city and country. "Steel and copper theft is a problem at any site, no matter where it is situated. In the city centre we are somewhat better placed because there is only one way in and out of the site. We are also using a polymer aluminium pipe, which has the same attributes as copper, instead of copper, which is often stolen from sites, melted down and resold," says Botes.
Botes also explains that contractors are sometimes hesitant to try new technologies, and there are new products available to address weight and cost issues. Contractors are instead relying on tried and tested materials, which are not always the best option, "another example would be the use of dry-walling instead of bricks for interior walls," he adds.
A shift is reportedly under way from clients buying apartments as an investment, to buying them to live in. This trend has been entrenched as the inner city lifestyle with its combined retail, commercial, cultural and residential environment becomes more attractive to young professionals.
OTHER DEVELOPMENTS ON THE WAY
Another significant mixed-use development where construction is soon to start is that of Transport House, so-named because the building used to house the city's buses.
The building is currently dilapidated and is used as a parking lot, It has no roof and has, in the past, been housing squatters. The building will be revamped to contain apartments, a hotel, a cinema and a gym. The development will be undertaken by a group called Ilangabi.
Other developers currently operating in the inner city include Aengus Alp Lifestyle Properties (an ApexHi subsidiary), Atterbury Property, Circlevest Properties, Giuricich, Prop2000, Tiber, City Properties, Johannesburg land Company and Affordable Housing Company (AFHCO) among others.
There have also been joint ventures (JVs) between the public and private sectors such as the Brickfields project in Newtown, a R98,7-million JV between the Gauteng housing department, the Gauteng Partnership Fund, Anglo American Corporation, ABSA, ApexHi and Anglo Gold Ashanti, with the National Housing Finance Corporation injecting R25-million into the project and the City of Johannesburg providing the land. The development offers 742 units of one to three bedrooms, and caters for a range of income groups.
This development was the first major inner city mixed income, mixed use regeneration project, and contributed to the Johannesburg Housing Company scooping the prestigious United Nations Habitat award in September 2006, which is an international award recognising innovative and sustainable housing solutions.
THE CITY'S ROLE
Leading from problems outlined by developers working in the inner city, the City of Johannesburg hopes to ensure that by December 2007, all clearance certificates in the inner city are issued within three months, and will take a zero tolerance approach to dealing with incidents of fraud and corruption in the issuing of such clearance certificates.
The city has also committed to reducing the turnaround times on development and building plans applications, and to ensuring that the correct rates and tariffs are being applied to every building in the inner city by December 2008.
The city will also continue to promote mixed-use developments and will continue to apply a special rates rebate of 40% (available on application by the building owner) for all properties in identified inner city suburbs where at least 80% of the building is reserved for residential use.
BEYOND THE CONCRETE JUNGLE
Consultant to the city, Gapp Architechts Barry Senior in a recent address at the inner city summit confirmed that areas for new development and densification within the inner city have been identified. His ‘conservative estimate' shows the possibility for up to 55 000 additional residential units.
These of course will all need amenities, retail, open space and first class infrastructure. It has been said that the inner city has a ‘fairly good' infrastructure when it comes to water, electricity and sewage. However, it is also a relatively aged infrastructure, which will need upgrading and maintenance.
Open space is also viewed as a vital ingredient to sustainable rejuvenation, and one of the more interesting proposals put forward at the summit is a suggestion for a ‘continuous park corridor' from east to west across the city, linking new and existing parks and running above the existing Metrorail underground line.
With regards to service delivery, and waste management in particular, the city has outlined the injection of R99-million into Pikitup in the 2007 to 2008 financial year to build a new system of waste management and street cleaning with a specific focus on the inner city. The completion of the piloting of a new underground bin system for commercial and residential buildings is expected by December this year, with the system to be fully rolled out by 2011.
Fraser also notes that an important issue that may need more attention is that of adequate social facilities to accommodate the increasing residential developments. "Creches, schools, gyms and public spaces are needed if the number of people living in the city continues to increase - you can't jam thousands of people into a city and not give them anywhere to walk, play, run or walk the dog. You will encounter major social problems," he asserts.
In an attempt to attack the age-old inner city demons of crime and grime, city improvement districts (CIDs) are being facilitated by provincial legislation and have proved a successful initiative in some of the commercial areas in the inner city. Property owners within a particular area pay a certain amount over and above their rates and taxes into a section 21 company for additional cleaning, security and marketing of that area.
"The CIDs mean that you now have a number of people on the ground watching out and cleaning, which goes a long way to ensure the environment is looked after. They also create a platform for property owners to work together. Property owners have experienced numerous benefits from the CIDs," explains Bethlehem.
The City of Johannesburg is now developing a coherent programme of support for improvement districts within residential areas by October this year. It is envisaged that by June 2008 the city will have assisted in the establishment of at least three improvement districts in stressed residential areas.
BAD BUILDINGS CAN CRIMP PROGRESS
Becoming an increasingly disputed issue is that of so-called ‘bad buildings', with the better buildings programme (BBP) continuing to hammer away at plans to accelerate renewal. One initiative is to bring old buildings onto the market for new residential developments.
The programme makes provision for buildings where the rates and service charge arrears may exceed the market value of the building to be sold to a new owner at the assessed market value, with a consequent writing down of the debt owed to the city. The process involved in giving effect to the programme on a building-by-building basis is exhaustive, and a mechanism is required to speed the programme up. Till the end of January 2007, 61 buildings had been approved by the Council for the BBP, but only 15 have been completed, and there are hundreds more in the city.
In many cases, bad buildings are occupied by illegal tenants with slumlords extorting rent after they have taken over the building because the property owner has abandoned the building.
The Avril Malan building in Sauer street is said to be the worst of the bad buildings in the inner city. It is derelict, and with no working services, the first two floors have become communal ablutions and a refuse collection area, the stench deplorable, and emergency exits clogged with rubbish.
"Bad buildings like the Avril Malan building, and the laws surrounding eviction and relocation could be a major stumbling block for urban renewal. You can't move people from a building, no matter how squalid the conditions, unless you give them another roof over their head. It's a continuous battle and debate has only really started over the last year," says Fraser.
The city remains convinced that rapidly deteriorating buildings must be rehabilitated in the interests of the whole community, but also recognises the constitutional and legal rights to tenure security of very vulnerable people legally or illegally occupying many buildings, and sees the need to balance these rights and needs in a programme that sequences the rehabilitation of buildings with the availing of both temporary accommodation options and affordable rental and ownership options in the inner city.
A number of commitments have been put forward by the city in a draft charter to address the issues, including making available 5000 beds for emergency accommodation and decanting facilities in the inner city by 2009.
Besides residential development, further areas vital to urban regeneration are those of economic development, social development, transportation, urban management and safety and security, and public spaces, arts, culture and heritage.
The city and stakeholders have identified weaknesses in the existing system and plans are in progress to announce how to deal with these identified problems.
With the Gautrain on its way, massive development is being planned for the Park Station area by Johannesburg City's Transportation Department, and this is set to include not only bus and taxi ranks, but substantial retail and residential activity. There is also the proposal of a multibillion bus rapid transit (BRT) system for the metropolitan area including an inner city distribution system.
Johannesburg has won the right to host the 2009 World Summit on Arts and Culture, boosting this sector and accelerating projects such as the proposed refurbishment of Museum Africa, reopening the Alexander Theatre, and refurbishing the Johannesburg City Hall for meetings and concerts.
Rehabilitation and refurbishing of all existing sports and recreation facilities and swimming pools within the city are expected, as well as the development of new facilities.
Over 200 CCTV cameras will be added to the already existing network in the city to boost safety and security.
These projects are over and above the current development of certain nodes such as the fashion district in the east of the inner city, Jewel City, and the massive R600-million facelift of the Ellis Park precinct over the next four years ahead of the 2010 soccer World Cup.
The challenge for the future is to ensure the scale-up and continued momentum of regeneration efforts to ensure more rapid, even and sustained positive impacts on the entire inner city. To realise the vision of Johannesburg as a world-class dynamic city that works, and is liveable, safe, well-managed and welcoming, a city for all, and the trading hub of Africa.