Revival of those ‘mean streets’

THERE is no question that government and the private sector’s inner-city regeneration efforts in Johannesburg have begun to pay off.

And the pay-off has not just come in the way of new retail space and successful redevelopments.

Johannesburg’s central business district (CBD) is also reflecting SA’s demographics, with about 80% of those coming and going being black.

About five years ago an apocalyptic vision of Johannesburg’s city centre persisted, with cynics scoffing at plans to encourage people to live, work and play in “Jozi’s” mean streets.

When artists’ impressions of various redevelopments planned for the inner city were doing the rounds just a few years back, you could have forgiven the snide remarks.

The impressions, which showed people sipping cappuccinos at sidewalk cafes and restaurants, seemed totally divorced from the reality at the time. All of this has changed and the CBD has been transformed.

The best way to experience the changes is to see for yourself; stroll around the Gandhi Square area and you will have a choice of several restaurants and pubs to frequent.

And, yes, people are indeed sipping cappuccinos at the sidewalk cafes.

But instead of some poor imitation of New York, Paris or the Mediterranean, the restaurants and cafes and refurbished buildings have an authentic African feel to them — what could be called Afro chic, with earthy African colours such as clays, browns and oranges dominating.

And the streets actually reflect the South African reality, for a change. Instead of a bastion for the elite found in many mixed-use developments in SA, people of all walks of life are present.

What makes it real is that you do not just have the well-heeled “suits” walking the streets and sitting down for lunch or coffee. The middle- income and lower-income groups are also present. And to really reflect the South African reality, you also see street people walking past.

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