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Neil Fraser looks at CBD upgrades
08 September 2008

Upgrading of the inner city is growing, with large pockets of excellent work. Of the work under way, the Bus Rapid Transit system will have the most lasting and most significant effect on Joburg.

ROLL on 2010! The inner city is getting more and more like a gigantic building site and I don't see much respite for the next two years as the days count down and construction activity becomes more frenetic.

I tried to do a bit of a forecast way back in May 2004 of what we might be able to expect regarding the impact of the World Cup on the inner city (Citichat 16/2004), and I quoted from some research by GMP Swann of Britain's Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, who stated that four broad categories of benefits that can in principle result from large scale events of the 2010 type are:

  • New sports facilities and associated amenities built for the event;
  • The short-term economic stimulus stemming from new construction and other investment in the advance of the event, and visitor spending during the event;
  • The marketing opportunity to attract new business and promote tourism; and
  • Urban redevelopment.

What wasn't spelled out was the activity and disruption that is needed to get there! Points one, most of two and four are certainly benefits that the country and ourselves, as one of the host cities, are and will continue to enjoy. I haven't seen much in the way of serious marketing but maybe you have to be outside the country to experience that.

In so far as point four is concerned - urban redevelopment - some may argue that all the initiatives now under way would have happened anyway. I doubt it very much, for 2010 has acted as a giant accelerator or catalyst that has removed many "wish" list initiatives off the shelves and changed them into reality.

Probably the single biggest intervention that is and will continue to affect the inner city, both in its implementation and in its final form, is the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. The final routing has at last been agreed and various roads are being well and truly ripped up and redone to accommodate the dedicated lanes for the new buses.

The new buses' axle loads are higher than anything we currently have, which means stripping existing road surfaces and their layered bases and providing a denser and deeper base than we have at the moment - otherwise the surface will only last five years.

Sections that are under construction at present are Bertrams Road from its intersection with Bezuidenhout through to when it becomes Charlton and then Saratoga. A section continuing from Saratoga along Wolmarans is due to start shortly. This will link to the section already under construction down Troye Street alongside Joubert Park, which continues south until it intersects with Commissioner and Market streets. Early next year the loop will be closed by the linkage of Market and Bezuidenhout, which in turn will tie into Bertrams Road.

Edith Cavell Street is also under construction and work on Smit and Wolmarans streets is to start quite shortly. The contract for the Market, Commissioner, Twist and Troye streets sections have been awarded and the contractor actually moved on to site earlier last week. Expect some pretty rough traffic in Market and Commissioner as each street will be reduced to half the number of existing lanes while the contractors work on the other half. Both streets take a heavy volume of traffic as well as having a large volume crossing them.

The good news is that they should be completed during the first quarter of next year in time for the Confederations Cup.

There is a loop planned around Hoofd Street, Joubert Street Extension and Loveday Street Extension (in other words around the Metro Centre) that has been planned and tendered. This will connect to the Commissioner/Market loop via Rissik Street. A large contract has been let for some 26 BRT stations within the inner city that partly will be prefabricated off site - the prototype for the BRT station is already being built next to Joubert Park.

Other areas
Outside the inner city, some of the BRT roadways around Nasrec have been completed and will ultimately connect to Anderson Street and into Commissioner and Market streets, while Main Reef Road to Portland/Perth will link into Empire/Jan Smuts. At Nasrec the pedestrian promenade and bridges connecting to the World Cup stadium are also in progress. The BRT will also go down Oxford Road, so Rosebank will have more than its fair share of disruption. Oh well, as they say, no gain without pain!

The Gautrain station, north of Park Station, appears to be well advanced while work is progressing on the upgrading of the Doornfontein Station and surrounds.

The next station east of Doornfontein is the Ellis Park Station, which sits at the apex of a triangle with Sivewright Avenue as one of the sides and Lower Railway Station as the other and Market Street the base. This area contained some really dodgy industrial and residential buildings in the centre of which was a taxi rank. It was quite rough - an informal butcher used to slaughter cows on the pavement and sell the meat.

Now the whole area has been transformed - the buildings have been bought by AFHCO, which is retaining industrial and residential uses but on a properly managed basis, and the taxi rank, known as Transport Square, has been rebuilt and provides a magnificent public space.

There is some mosaic work on buildings and pavements, a half-sized volleyball court for off-duty drivers and some unique artwork. The artist, Andrew Lindsay, has provided a number of groups of concrete cows, life-size, lazing in the sun. It is a favourite destination for the local kids. They are painted, some covered in mosaics and, while they remind the locals of the informal butcher, they are a wonderful touch to what has become a lovely space.

Another public art piece worthy of a close look is the "waterfall" on the rock cliff of Pullinger's Kop opposite the Windybrow Theatre. All the refurbished parks also have new public art.

DF Corlett
Talking of art and refurbishment, I mentioned some time ago the recent purchase of the old DF Corlett yard and offices, which is directly opposite the eastern end of Jewel City on the block bordered by Berea, Fox and Marshall streets.

I went to have a look how they were getting on this week; this is going to be a superb addition not just to the east side of the inner city but to Joeys itself. The 1911 buildings with their high ceilings are being turned into sectional title office and studio space for the creative industries. Currently constructing a courtyard to be planted with grass, olive and lemon trees it will have a high quality Mediterranean restaurant with bar areas, an outdoor cinema, art bookstores and studios.

One large, single volume building in the complex has been let to William Kentridge, the artist. It is really exciting stuff in an otherwise gritty part of the city - watch the area raise the interest level and fresh investment!

Hillbrow has had a massive urban environment upgrade with some 234 city blocks having pavements replaced, new improved street lighting standards and street furniture, landscaping, paving and litter bins. Two practical problems encountered with the new design litter bins is that the single-stem swing bin can evidently be pushed over quite easily; while the two-legged swing bin is more sturdy, its perforated drum is ideal for informal traders to cook on! We will undoubtedly see a further change in bin design.

About to be tackled are the "sanitary lanes" in Hillbrow, clearly more correctly named "unsanitary lanes"! The big problem with all this urban environment upgrading is management and the upgrading of the lanes simply won't be fully carried through all the 77 that exist if someone or somebody doesn't take responsibility for them.

A reader made the following comment regarding the management of the overall Hillbrow upgrade: "The city has gone all the way to invest more than R100-million towards upgrading Hillbrow and Yeoville but over the weekend I saw hawkers back on the new, nicely decorated pavements and as per norm they threw rubbish everywhere, even though there are now adequate rubbish bins around.

"I do agree with the idea of a CID but what are the metro police for? Aren't they supposed to make sure that the by-laws are abided by? They should be walking on the streets of Hillbrow and Yeoville to make sure that these people sell their stuff on their hawker dedicated stalls. How are we expecting to attract investments while we mess up areas like Hillbrow in which the upgrade projects haven't been even completed?

"If you listen to [Talk Radio] 702, you will realise that people do not approve of metro police because they are not even helping in fighting the likes of smash-and-grabs as they leave guys standing in our intersections pretending to be sellers while their intentions are different."

 I must say it has been a particular bleat of mine for years, that urban upgrading is not merely throwing money at an area, it is actually the maintenance and management that will make it sustainable. It is no secret that little private sector investment is provided towards public sector upgrades unless a plan is in place for maintenance and management via a city improvement district (CID) or other initiative.

That's why areas such as Ekhaya will work in Hillbrow and Berea - because there are responsible community leaders to co-ordinate and ensure that the maintenance and management are provided.  

Anyway back to JoBuild: in Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville in addition to the public environment upgrading, five city parks have been upgraded and refurbished and two new public toilet blocks have been built. I visited some of the parks a week back and the most popular addition has been five-a-side soccer pitches which are finished with AstroTurf. They were all drawing large crowds of spectators and players and I hear that this is not just on weekends!

The old Governor's House opposite the east end of the Fort was seriously damaged in a fire some months back but this heritage building is being restored as a community facility; the Hillbrow Tower will shortly look well and truly pregnant when the large 2010 soccer ball is attached around it; the Quartz Street market is being rebuilt; public environment upgrades are also taking place in Yeoville, Doornfontein, New Doornfontein around Jewel City and the Fashion District precincts, but we'll pick up the rest of the inner city next week.

Till then, regards, Neil

Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust tours

Saturday, 13 September: walking tours
Wynford Adventure - starting at 9.15am, and lasting two-and-a-half hours
From Wynford Eagle, perched high on the Parktown Ridge, this tour drops dramatically to visit Le Thalonet before strolling down tree-lined Anerley Road.

Rand Club - starting at 9.30am, and lasting three hours
Enjoy the privilege of entering the portals of this once exclusively male domain. The Rand Club preserves traditions of good fellowship amid Edwardian splendour.

Northwards and Valley Road - starting at 2pm and lasting two-and-a-half hours
An inside tour of Northwards, Herbert Baker's most romantic villa, and then down steep stairs to The Valley Road, its historic homes and Gertrude Jekyll gardens.

Parktown's Crowning Glories - starting at 2.15pm and lasting two-and-a-half hours
The finely crafted stonework of the ridge is followed by an inside tour of the baronial Emoyeni, then the gardens in Jubilee Road, culminating at Dolobran, cupola and all.

City Hall and Gauteng Legislature - starting at 2.30pm and lasting three hours
Bus into town for a tour of the old City Hall, celebrating the 80th birthday of the proclamation of Johannesburg as a city. Now the Gauteng Legislature, it is an exciting blend of old and new, grand colonial stairs and steps that echo wealth, strength and protest.

Saturday, 13 September: bus tour
Bird's eye view of Parktown and Westcliff - starting at 3pm and lasting one-and-a-half hours
For bus lovers - a peep over the high walls into the life that goes on "behind the scenes". Set high on the ridges, these two historic suburbs remain the prestigious address for the barons of banking, commerce and industry.

Sunday, 14 September: walking tours
Baker Precinct - starting at 9.15am and lasting three hours
Herbert Baker put his stamp on the northern skyline with his own home, The Stonehouse, Northwards (inside tour), St Margaret's, Pilrig and St George's Church.

Winding West Through Westcliff - starting at 9.30am and lasting three hours
From ridge to ridge we look at houses with stunning views in lavish garden settings. We end at St Aubyn's, a Mediterranean villa in magnificent gardens all very beautifully restored.

Wynnstay to Roedean - starting at 2pm and lasting three hours
Down St Andrew's and Ridge roads, from Wynnstay to The View of Cullinan diamond fame, glamorous Hazeldene Hall, past The Causeway to Roedean School. A tour of the original Baker buildings, the heritage centre and beautiful gardens.

Brenthurst and Timewell - starting at 2.15pm and lasting three hours
A tribute to Joane Pim, a guided walk through Brenthurst's glorious gardens, laid out by South Africa's first horticulturist. From there, it is on to see Pim cottage and Timewell, her childhood home.

Villa Arcadia - starting at 2.30pm and lasting two-and-a-half hours
This tour visits the magnificent villa designed for Lionel and Florence Phillips, by Herbert Baker, now headquarters of the Hollard Group. The impressive reception rooms house contemporary South African art works.

Sunday, 14 September: bus tours
From Trekker to Gautenger - starting at 9.45am and lasting two hours
Through the CBD to see ZAR relics from the time of Paul Kruger. Admire art deco beauties as well as areas of tremendous change. Be amazed, be proud and believe we will be ready for 2010. A must for the nostalgic!

Joburg Joyride - starting at 2.45pm and lasting two hours
A potpourri of the nice and the nasty, spectacular and the quaint, a peep at mining origins and a reminder that Joburg should not take itself too seriously.

Important - read carefully
Walking tours cost R30

  • Please wear comfortable shoes;
  • No prams or pushchairs inside buildings;
  • No dogs allowed on tours; and
  • Most places visited are privately owned and are not open to the public.

Bus tours cost R40

  • These will be held on 13 and 14 September only;
  • All bus tours depart from the Holy Family College; and
  • No prior booking is required, but numbers are limited to the seating capacity on the bus.

All tours start at Holy Family College, 40 Oxford Road, Parktown. Secure parking is available in the designated areas in the college. Refreshments will be on sale at Holy Family College by Rotary Parktown Inner Wheel Excalibur. Books and pamphlets will be on sale at reasonable prices.

For more information, contact the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust office on 011 482 3349 in the mornings or visit the trust's website.

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Last Updated on 08 September 2008