"Encouraging signs of urban renewal in Newtown" Top 5 Page for this destination Downtown Tip by CatherineReichardt

Downtown, Johannesburg: 53 reviews and 76 photos

  Apartments form part of Newtown
by CatherineReichardt

When I first came to South Africa in 1987, I worked in Anderson Street on the southern fringe of the CBD, which at the time was a slightly grimy but vibrant place. However, even at that time, there were increasing signs that downtown Johannesburg was succumbing to inner city decay and as apartheid began to crumble, so did the CBD. In the years that followed, many companies - including the Johannesburg Securities Exchange - decamped to the leafy northern suburbs of Rosebank and Sandton amid fears about security and difficulty in attracting staff to work in the CBD, and the centre of town spiralled rapidly downwards to become a litterstrewn morasse of lawlessness and squatter-occupied buildings.

To their immense credit, a number of big companies refused to join the exodus and stayed put in the CBD: notably, mining companies such as Anglo American, Anglogold Ashanti and BHP Billiton and Standard Bank. Perhaps the first tangible evidence that things were beginning to turn was that public/private partnerships between government and private companies invested heavily in improving security and service provision. By the turn of the millenium, there was increasing acceptance that the CBD could not just be abandoned and was worthy of urban renewal, and slowly government started to invest in the maintenance and upgrade of infrastructure that had been left to decay over the previous couple of decades.

One of the most visible examples of urban renewal is the interesting Newtown precinct on the western edge of the CBD, which includes MuseumAfrica, the Workers Museum, World of Beer, SciBono science centre and Mary Fitzgerald Square. Next door to World of Beer, Bobby Godsell of AngloGold Ashanti took the brave decision not to flee with his peers to the northern suburbs, and instead, committed to redeveloping an old power station into the new corporate headquarters, the award winning Turbine Square development.

On the eastern fringe of Newtown, a couple of affordable and attractive cost housing developments have sprung up (see photo) which provide desperately needed accommodation in close proximity to people's places of work. This is a rare phenomenon in Johannesburg, where most of the low cost housing is in the sprawling townships on the outskirts of the city, a considerable journey away by minibus taxi or train (transport to and from work is one of the major costs to lowly paid workers, both in terms of time and money).

On the other end of the scale, a number of entrepreneurs - notably Batsetsane (Bassie) Khumalo, one of the first Black Miss South Africas, and now a phenomenally successful selfmade businesswoman - are starting to acquire some of the historic buildings in the CBD and redeveloping them into luxury apartment complexes aimed at the BUPPY (upwardly mobile black urban) demographic with considerable success.

I applaud their entrepreneurial spirit and hope that they reap full benefit from their willingness to take risks and invest in an area from which others have simply walked away. Ultimately, this urban renewal benefits all us Johannesburgers, as, after all, who wants to live in a city with a dead heart?

Address: Johannesburg

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Dec 19, 2011
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