By: Sinovuyo Mondliwa
Cities are places where people should work, live and play. It’s exciting to see Johannesburg work like a well-oiled city system, even though we still have a long way to go.
I am currently doing my articles in Urban and Regional Planning and I have lived and loved the city of Johannesburg. Although I am only starting out in my career, I am always excited to share what the city means to me. Let’s start with an analogy: Johannesburg is system. A system is defined as a set of things working together as parts of an interconnecting network; a complex whole. Therefore the spaces in the city such as the inner city (heart of the city), parks (lungs of the city) and the main roads/streets (arteries of the city) are the ‘things’ working together as part of the interconnecting system that is Johannesburg. The goal of the system is to increase economic growth, accelerate prosperity, increase property value and improve the quality of life of the residents. This goal is part of the Growth and Development Strategy 2040 (GDS 2040). During the past few years many parts of the city have been redeveloped to meet this goal.
Johannesburg has been failing to perform as a well-oiled system due to parts of the city working separately and not working well together at all. Planners work together with other professionals such as civil engineers, traffic engineers, urban designers and architects to create strategies to best meet the city’s goals. These goals include: reorganising spaces, urban renewal projects, Development of Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) and introducing the ReaVaya Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Gautrain. They also involve the planning of districts and zones and deciding how they should function, the rehabilitation of parks and improving the city’s aesthetic through architecture, arts and culture.
The use of these strategies to revive the city has resulted in a better working system. What is now happening is that spaces in the city are being used by people for economic, social and living purposes therefore increasing economic growth, accelerating prosperity, raising property values and improving the quality of life in the city. Entrepreneurs are willing to start businesses in the heart of the city, the city has become safer and the city streets are better lit. Some Braamfontein residential buildings have been restored by South Point, public transport is safer and faster and people are relocating to the inner city. Street trading has been embraced in Johannesburg thus creating opportunities for the poor to trade on the streets of Johannesburg.
The poor are most negatively impacted by gentrification, and regardless of these negative impacts on the poor, gentrification will continue because the people in Johannesburg who own capital (buildings on land) have more economic and political power than those who have no wealth. Therefore, their interests are met before the interests of the poor. In this city where opportunities are increasing to open up restaurants, gyms, bars, offices or apartments in areas where gentrification is in play, the chances of the middle income turning down these opportunities are slim to none.
The odds are stacked highest against the very poor living in the spaces being reurbanised. The government can and should interfere in the market to make sure that the interests of the poor are met. And I don’t think that government has been very successful in doing that.
Personally, I like the city because cities are places where people should work, live and play. Even though we still have a long way to go, it’s exciting to see Johannesburg work like a well-oiled city system. However, I dislike that most of our system’s reurbanisation strategies are copied from first world cities. South Africa is a developing country that has one of the highest income inequality statistics in the world, therefore strategies used in first world cities with better income equality should be applied with caution in our context. Or better yet, more context specific strategies must be created for South African cities. I prefer strategies that are distinctly South African. In 2040 I would love to say, “I live in one of the best and distinct cities in the world.”