Hillbrow – once Johannesburg’s most exciting and vibrant urban space – is to regain its former glory.
This is thanks to a comprehensive urban renewal initiative championed by the City of Johannesburg under its Jozi@work programme.
The area has in recent years lost its allure after being notoriously run down by urban decay, grime and crime.
But now the precinct – which famously boasts the Hillbrow Tower, Johannesburg’s own Eiffel Tower – is to be turned into a pedestrian-friendly and safe neighbourhood in line with the Corridors of Freedom initiatives, through which the City seeks to create high-density and mixed-use residential developments that will enable residents to live closer to their places of work and leisure.
Coming on the back of it having developed a reputation of being a “dark and dangerous” suburb plagued by social ills such as crime, drugs and prostitution, the revitalised precinct – it is envisaged – will form the core of a modern network of transport and communications connectivity that will enable residents and visitors to access it as a hub from where they can explore the rest of Jozi.
The rejuvenation of Hillbrow will be seen in all the streets and alleys through the upgrading of the pavements and the construction of new sidewalks. There will also be new landscaping and public lighting, as well as the upgrading of the stormwater ageing drainage systems.
The provision of trading spaces in the immediate vicinity of the Hillbrow Tower, which is also known as the Telkom Tower, will present opportunities for local artists, tourism and leisure operators and small businesses.
“This is part of the City’s commitment to turn job-seekers into job-makers. The first phase of the development, to be completed in the middle of 2015, will create economic development opportunities for the residents,” says City spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane. “Sooner rather than later, Hillbrow and its striking tower will be able to stake their rightful place among the iconic landmarks of a revitalised and invigorated city.”
Through the decades, Hillbrow has been known as the cosmopolitan heart of Johannesburg.
Established as one of the first suburbs of this burgeoning mining town in the late 1880s, “the Brow” developed into the most cosmopolitan area of the inner city in the 1970s and 1980s.
In an era that was defined by racial separation and segregated neighbourhoods, Hillbrow was a defiant exception, attracting and welcoming both black and white.
It became a magnet for the eccentric and bohemian personalities – the musicians, the street artists, the late-night revellers and the early-morning “jollers.” Its legendary bookshops and street cafés attracted the intellectuals and the struggle philosophers and its record shops were often the only places in the entire South Africa where one could browse to discover the latest offerings from both local and international artists.
But when the sun went down behind the high rise buildings of the CBD, Hillbrow kicked into yet another gear. Late night discos and nightclubs blared their cacophony of sounds deep into the early mornings while the more sedate and discerning music lover could visit a secluded bistro or basement café.
This was Hillbrow, the pulsating heart of the “city that never sleeps.” Its rejuvenation will transform into a liveable, safe and go-to neighbourhood and hopefully bring back the vibe that made it tick.