Will this revival of Newtown be the one that works?

Map 2004 heritageIn 2004 I wrote an article entitled ‘Re-envisioning Greater Johannesburg South African Development in the first decade after Democracy’  African Arts Winter 2004.   Back then I wrote about how, post 1994, the Gauteng Provincial Government had earmarked funds to the tune of R3.5 billion for the development of various programs to revitalize Greater Johannesburg.  Several of these programs were cultural heritage and tourism projects, one of which was the Newtown Cultural Precinct. Here the intention was to build on the existing cultural facilities in that area: Museum Africa, The Market Theatre,  Kippies jazz club and several performing arts, visual arts and music organizations.  The R300 million development had several components:  housing units (the Brickfields development); the Metro Mall and taxi rank ; and the link from Braamfontein to Newtown over Joburg’s symbolic ‘river of railway tracks’: the Mandela Bridge. These structures and other institutions in Newtown including the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre at the old Electric Workshop,  SAB’s World of Beer Museum, as well as Anglo-Gold Ashanti’s amazing adaptive re-use of the Turbine Hall,  have contributed to Newtown  as a cultural and heritage space. However, something has never ‘quite worked’ : the stark alienating space of the bricked Mary Fitzgerald Square is empty, soulless  and largely unused; and there is no sense of street life and neighbourhood despite several attempts since 2004 to revitalize this area.

Newtown JunctionNow, nearly a decade later, there is yet another attempt to fill this area with life and activity.   A huge mixed-use office and retail development, Newtown Junction, is being built behind Museum Africa where the old potato sheds of the Market building stood.    References to the old poultry shed, the original station master’s residence as well as the potato sheds will all be included in the design of the new development.  Although a mall seem to be the complete antithesis of what this area stands for, it  might be just what the precinct  needs.  It will hopefully attract through-traffic from the inner city to the south- west which has a growing residential population:  from 2007 to 2011 empty office blocks have been converted into approximately 44 000 new apartments.   With office space as well as a hotel, a gym, cinemas, food outlets and retail stores , Newtown Junction is bound to encourage pedestrians and street-life both in the evenings and over week-ends.  A walkway and historical railway bridge will link Newtown Junction with Museum Africa and the Market Theatre, creating a connected and walkable city experience.   Construction work started in April 2013 and excavation of the four level basement is about 80 percent complete.   The main contractor WBHO has begun work , and the entire project should be completed in two years.

For more see Laurice Taitz’s article:  http://mg.co.za/article/2013-10-31-newtown?utm_source=Mail+%26+Guardian&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily+newsletter&utm_term=http%3A%2F%2Fmg.co.za%2Farticle%2F2013-10-31-newtown

Will this be the re-envisioning that finally works for Newtown?  Let’s hope so.


Posted in History and heritage, Joburg and surrounds: things to do and see | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Besides having one of the best climates in the world, Jozi has much to offer …

Joburg skylineWow! what is it with Jozi at the moment? So much positive press from all sorts of different quarters. From no 1 cycle route, to an up-and-coming art hub to a new spin on the level of violence – Joburg is being praised and flaunted as an interesting and vibrant city.  Although Joburg will always be too gritty, fast paced and jittery to be swan-like, maybe it is beginning to grow out of it’s ugly duckling phase.

Liz at Lancaster hosts several guests who come back to South Africa regularly for research or consultancy work, many of whom say that although Cape Town is wonderful to visit, Jozi is the place they prefer to stay. Recently, two very different articles have addressed Jozi’s positives and why, despite the traffic, an inept municipality and perceptions of crime (more of that below),  Joburg is still a great place to be.  As John Simpson says in his article in the Daily Telegraph (28 Oct 2103):  ‘Jozi is noisy challenging and full of life’.  While acknowledging that crime rates are way higher than they should be, he puts the general perception of safety in Joburg in a more realistic context:  ‘Johannesburg isn’t like Kinshasa, where you congratulate yourself every time you get back to your hotel in safety; it’s a lovely, open, green garden city, where everyone smiles and treats you nicely.’  For the full article see  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/luxury/travel/9847/john-simpson-in-praise-of-johannesburg.html

Tim Murphy explores  Jozi’s pockets of cool in  http://www.wmagazine.com/culture/travel/2012/09/johannesburg-south-africa-emerging-fashion-scene/   For him,  Jozi ‘feels like a hectic, history-scarred city full of hustle and optimism that’s brashly shouldering its way into the global arena.’  But he continues  … ‘it’s remaining intensely African, bursting with immigrants from all over the continent in a way that ­Cape Town, South Africa’s post-colonial tourism darling, simply is not.  ….  Milisuthando Bongela, who writes the blog Miss Milli B and co-owns Mememe, a clothing boutique that sells local ­labels, put it this way: “I can still be the only black person in a restaurant in Cape Town. Whereas in Jo’burg, people like me own the restaurants.” ‘

44 Stanley  - industrial buildings converted into specialty stores, outdoor restaurants and work spaces for the creative industries

44 Stanley – industrial buildings converted into specialty stores, outdoor restaurants and work spaces for the creative industries

Murphy writes with passion about the creatives and the avant-garde and about the pockets of urban regeneration in Braamfontein, 44 Stanley St and the Maboneng precinct. But his article ends on a cautionary note that (as with many metropolitan cites) you still need to watch your back when moving after dark on your own through quiet streets.   

And for 21 reasons why Jozi is a great place … 21 reasons in pics … see http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/south-africa/130819/21-reasons-love-johannesburg    

And as if this isn’t enough,  readers of the English paper the Guardian have listed the Braamfontein cycle route as no 1 of 10 city cycle routes world-wide.   http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/nov/11/city-cycle-tours-readers-travel-tips    And Joburg comes in at no 5 of the 12 Cities that will ‘Shake Up The Art World In The 21st Century’   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/19/art-cities-of-the-future_n_3949998.html

Interestingly, there is still a persistent and prevailing perception that Jozi is ‘more dangerous’ than Cape Town.  While clearly  crime levels are unacceptably high in Joburg, in a study of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban, all rank higher that Joburg which squeezes in at no 50. (Not exactly a list a city is proud to make.)  In 2012 a Mexican think tank — the Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice — released a study ranking the world’s most violent cities  The ranking was based on murder rate per capita in 2011.  All top 20 cities were based in South America and of the 50 cities, 14 were in Brazil and 11 in Mexico.  (No wonder the Mexicans were so relaxed when they came to Joburg for the Soccer World Cup in 2010 which, as it turned out, was to be the most peaceful World Cup in history!) Four of the 50 cities on the list are in the U.S. (New Orleans at no 21; Detroit at no 30; St Louis at no 43 and Baltimore at no 48). And in South Africa, Cape Town ranks no 34; Port Elizabeth no 41 and Durban no 49.  There seems to be some error with Johannesburg’s figures though as they are the same as Durban’s which is clearly incorrect. However, despite this, it makes for interesting reading  www.businessinsider.com/most-dangerous-cities-in-the-world-2012-10  




Posted in General, History and heritage, Joburg and surrounds: things to do and see, Liz at Lancaster News and Views, South Africa | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Liz at Lancaster’s Pick of the Week 25th Nov: Piece in the Firs, Rosebank

PiecePiece in the Firs in Rosebank is one of Joburg’s most special shops run by a remarkable woman.  Their printed ‘brochure’ says it all:

Expect the unexpected – pieces with attitude where old meets new, and contemporary design meets ancient tradition

Started by Eugenie Drakes in 2000,  Piece showcases a variety of South Africa’s exquisitely crafted handmade items. Much of the range is highly individual, bold and quirky (expect the unexpected) but all demonstrate a fine sense of design – where the contemporary meets the traditional.   Eugenie has worked with urban and rural community groups throughout Southern Africa on product development, business training and mentoring,  with the emphasis on sustainability.  Her clientele attests to the success and exclusivity of the Piece project. They include many of the local and international rich and famous such Elton John, Michele Obama, Bill Clinton, Lira, Graca Machel, amongst others. 

Piece detailAnd Eugenie has a long history in the craft industry in South Africa. Most recently she was a resource person at the Africa-India Summit in Ethiopia in 2011, and participated in a craft exchange programme in New Delhi at the beginning of 2012. She is on the Board of the Siyazisiza Trust and the Southern Guild Design Foundation. In addition to being selected to participate in the Goldman Sachs-GIBS (Gordon Institute of Business Science) 10 000 Women Certificate Programme for Women Entrepreneurs, she is an enterprise mentor at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, and has been invited as a mentor on the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s Mentoring Women in Business Programme.  So this woman knows her oats … to mix metaphors horribly!   For more see  http://www.citypress.co.za/business/winning-women-eugenie-drakes-crafting-many-livelihood/

So treat yourself to a visit to Piece which can be found at Shop 5 The Firs Cradock Avenue Rosebank (next to the entrance to the Hyatt Hotel).  It is one of Joburg’s ‘must do’s’.

Posted in Art and Exhibitions, Joburg and surrounds: things to do and see, Shopping | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Response

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