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PORT Elizabeth may be able to achieve a turnaround like Johannesburg’s, and more rapidly as it is smaller, says inner-city revitalisation consultant John Fraser.

But Fraser, who runs consultancy Urban Inc, says a structured strategy has to be in place.

Fraser, who is also a nonexecutive director of the City of Johannesburg development arm, the Johannesburg Development Agency, visited Port Elizabeth recently to offer urban renewal advice to the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), which has been charged with turning the Friendly City’s central business district around.

He says the upgrading of Port Elizabeth’s main street, Govan Mbeki Avenue, is a good example of how the agency is moving in the right direction.

Fraser says revitalising inner cities takes a long time. “I always use New York as an example. New York has a massive infrastructure, and it’s a first-world city and it took 20 years.”

He has been closely involved in private-public sector regeneration efforts in Johannesburg’s inner city since they began in the early 1990s. These efforts are starting to bear fruit with a major surge in demand for office space and residential units in parts of the Johannesburg city centre once considered no-go areas.

“We’ve got results, and we still have a long way to go. Port Elizabeth is smaller. It is more manageable from that point of view. It’s more compact, and with the MBDA you have the vehicle that will do the implementation on the public sector side.”

Fraser says that in Johannesburg he found that physically upgrading the public environment acted as a catalyst, attracting new investment and changing behaviour patterns.

After spending time in Port Elizabeth, he noticed that the “sinkholes that stood out as major problems” in the city centre were dilapidated buildings and social problems such as vagrants, drugs, and prostitution, he says. Such problems were difficult to control.

“This is a huge problem, and we haven’t cracked it in Jo’burg yet. We have managed to move them out of areas, but they move into other areas that are already seedy. The only answer is through tough and continuous enforcement so that they are constantly under pressure.”

Article by: Nick Wilson - www.businessday.co.za