The City of Johannesburg has introduced a new strategy to breathe life back into the inner city.
The Inner City Roadmap â€“ spearheaded by Johannesburg Executive Mayor Councillor Parks Tau â€“has taken over from where the Inner City Charter, developed in the previous administration.
“The Inner City Charter was a regenerative strategy focusing on property and environmental upgrades. The Inner City Roadmap, on the other hand, is a transformative, precinct-based approach,â€ says Councillor Roslynn Greeff, a Member of the Mayoral Committee for Development Planning and an MMC assigned to Region F.
The battle against crime, grime and urban decay started way back in 2007 after the inner city lost its allure following the flight of investors and capital to upmarket areas such as Rosebank and Sandton. Under the Inner City Roadmap, the fight to restore the inner city to its former glory has now moved up a gear.
In his State of the Province address, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said the provincial government would over the next five years mobilise R10 billion in public and private investments to regenerate the Johannesburg CBD, “the seat of the provincial governmentâ€.
These two bold steps are probably the strongest indications yet of the City and the Gauteng Provincial Governmentâ€™s determination to deal a decisive blow to the degeneration of the inner city, once the pride of many who live, work and play in Johannesburg as well as the visitors.
Councillor Greeff agrees, saying: “We are reclaiming the heart and soul of the inner city.â€
The Inner City Roadmap was developed following an extensive review of the progress, successes and shortcomings of the Inner City Charter and alignment with the Cityâ€™s Growth and Development Strategy 2040.
Almost R2-billion had already been spent around the city â€“ greening public spaces, upgrading derelict buildings, developing the Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, upgrading housing and other infrastructure and making the city more eco-friendly â€“ under the Inner City Charter.
At times the heart of the city seemed like a huge construction site â€“ first with the construction of the Rea Vaya system lanes and stations, and then with the laying out of cycling lanes and the building of new malls.
The Troyeville Hotel was restored, so was Chancellor House, the building that housed the law firm run by struggle stalwarts Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo in the 1950s.
Unlike the Inner City Charter, whose lifespan was five years â€“ from 2007 to 2012 â€“ the Inner City Roadmap is a long-term strategy.
“This is a holistic approach to addressing the challenges in the Inner City. You want to have a productive inner city. This strategy is very comprehensive. Itâ€™s not static and all projects are aligned with the Cityâ€™s vision of being an inclusive city,â€ says Councillor Greeff.
The strategy was approved by the mayoral committee in September 2014 and it has since been all hands on deck.
“Implementation is under way. We are planning to officially launch the Roadmap before the end of this financial year,â€ says Greeff.
As he was speaking, the Johannesburg Social Housing Company (Joshco) was handing over keys to 168 homeless inner city residents to their new flats at the newly renovated 10-storey Europa House.
Europa House, previously an office block, was one of the rundown properties that Joshco, the Cityâ€™s social housing company, had bought and refurbished after it had been hijacked by slumlords.
The company plans to buy more such buildings and refurbish them to provide much needed low- to-mid income housing.
Hijacking of Buildings
In the past year alone, 1 294 people were arrested in connection with hijacking buildings in the inner city. Of these, 57 were prosecuted and 37 convicted. At least 45 buildings were secured and handed back to their owners
“Building hijacking has been an ongoing problem. Getting these people to justice is a lengthy process, but we are now on top of it,â€ says Oâ€™Shea.
The City recently passed the problem properties bylaw, which will enable it to address slumlords more effectively.
“Crime has also decreased tremendously in the inner city since CCTV cameras were installed. Crime is not as prevalent as it was five years ago. Of course, petty crimes are still a sporadic occurrence.
“The number of problem properties has also declined. We have very good relations with the South African Police Service, the Hawks, South African Revenue Service, National Prosecuting Authority and other stakeholders,â€ says Oâ€™Shea.
Major companies, led by Absa and others, are returning to the inner city.
“Our vision is a 24-hour city, where people can work, live and play,â€ says Gounden.
“So much work has been done over the past 10 years to regenerate the inner city. There has been so much development by the City and its partners, including private property developers, who have invested millions into projects such as Maboneng, Westgate and Newtown precincts. Gandhi Square has been regenerated too.â€
The South Hills mixed housing development, which forms part of the Turffontein Corridor, is expected to get off the ground soon. More than 5 000 mixed-housing units are to be built in the area, which is 6km from the Johannesburg CBD.
Oâ€™Shea admits, though, that there are still challenges.
“Taxi and waste management are still big issues but we are working around the clock to address them.â€