November 25th, 2010
10:29 AM GMT
We have just filmed this week’s Marketplace Africa program in Braamfontein, a peripheral urban area on the outskirts of central Johannesburg.
It is quite staggering how much of Johannesburg’s inner city has changed in recent years. Juta Street, where we shot, has in the past few months blossomed into a groovy design hotspot with good coffee, an art gallery, and trendy furniture and fashion stores.
The apartments bordering this area have some of the best views of Johannesburg’s skyline and have been turned into expensive loft-style living quarters.
Across the city, a development called Arts on Main is another example of how a rundown, dodgy section of Johannesburg has been developed into a safe, fun place where South Africans of all sorts go to hangout, watch movies and shop.
Someone reading this might think, “So what? Urban regeneration is nothing new.” However, Johannesburg’s shift from a crime-ridden, dirty, overcrowded no-go zone to a place with potential is quite radical to those of us who live here.
That said, there is still a bit of a “Wild-West” feel to Johannesburg.
Some areas are still chaotic and dirty; apartment blocks are unsanitary and overcrowded like any urban slum, where drug lords seem to own the street.
However, at least once a week we film on Joburg’s streets, loiter with expensive film equipment on sidewalks, and chat to locals, and it has become increasingly obvious that slowly, many areas of Johannesburg have been reclaimed from the criminals and blossomed into a place to do business.
The success of this project was pioneered by the local authorities, which positioned a guard or policeman on nearly every corner and installed a high-tech CCTV network covering the city.
However, the business community - the big banks and mining houses - have also played a major part in bank-rolling the regeneration. This shift was also due to the long-sighted, often inspired influence of the country’s artistic community, who were looking for edgy urban lifestyle not found in the suburbs.
So my question is, do you think changing the face of a city is worth it? Tell us which other African cities are developing in ways that make you think, “Wow, this place has changed.”
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