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Dark City rises – but so do places in the sun

Online since 5.03.2017 • Filed under Editor's Choice • From Issue 20 page(s) 19-21
Dark City rises – but so do places in the sun

Urbanisation is a fact of modern existence. According to global consulting firm, ARUP, every week for the next 30 years, the equivalent of a new I million population city is needed to accommodate the doubling of the urban population of developing countries, including South Africa, from 2 billion to 4 billion.

However, urbanisation brings with it the spectre of uncontrolled urbanisation and consequent urban decay.

‘The absence of effective governance structures results in a lack of planning, development control and infrastructure provision. Allowing settlements to develop spontaneously can result in problems. This tends to take place at the periphery of cities and it is rarely possible to retro-fit effective public transport, so workers face long, inconvenient and congested journeys,’ according to ARUP in its presentation “Drivers of change: Urbanisation”.

In addition, the well-known trend of urban decay and consequential movement of businesses and the formally employed to new secure areas has led to the virtual abandonment of many inner city areas. These have become virtual wildernesses where displace dindigent people co-exist side by side but barely acknowledge each other.

Seemingly impermeable cycles

According to researcher, architect Harry (Hariwe) Johnson, his project, based on downtown Johannesburg revealed ‘a seemingly impermeable cycle of occupation, violence and abandonment within the inner-city, whose roots stretch back over the past 130 years. The cycle has culminated, at the present time, in the “writing off” of a number of inner-city buildings as “bad buildings” not fit for habitation or study and yet, remains an epidemic that threatens to destabilise so many South African cities.’

The Dark City is a thought-provoking exhibition that was staged at the CIRCA Gallery in Rosebank. Sponsored by PPC, the exhibition is about an extremely blighted city block consisting of “bad buildings” in a once-thriving business district of the former City of Gold. At the heart of this blighted space is an old, 13-storey linen factory building. The building is beyond sick. It is a standing wasteland of which several levels are no-go areas flooded with water, litter and human waste.  The project, established by Hariwe in 2014, focusses on this one particular building known as “Dark City” in Doornfontein described by Hariwe as a ‘crumbling, windowless structure with no electricity, no toilets, no refuse removal, one water pipe, two storeys flooded with water, three storeys high of trash – and almost 250 inhabitants.’

The concept of the Dark City was the basis of a Master’s thesis in architecture by Hariwe at the University of Johannesburg in 2014. He was awarded the Corobrik Award for the thesis and received the highest architectural thesis mark in the country for the project. Photographer, Jono Wood, and cinematographer, Dirk Chalmers, have collaborated with Hariwe in presented an awe-inspiring exhibition that ran from 24 November 2016 – 15 January 2017 in Rosebank. To Build attended as a guest of co-sponsor, PPC.

New developments point the way

But, as Dark City Exhibition co-sponsor, PPC, points out, there is potential light at the end of the tunnel. An encouraging development by Calgro M3 is taking place south of Johannesburg. Under development on reclaimed mine dump land between Florida and Orlando, the Fleurhof ‘city’ project is encompassing and impressive. According to the Calgro M3 website, Fleurhof is a 440ha privately owned property in the process of being developed in partnership with the City of Johannesburg and as one of South Africa’s premier integrated residential projects. Fleurhof’s 10 411 housing units are situated south-west of Johannesburg next to the existing Fleurhof residential township. It is set to be one of the largest integrated housing developments in Gauteng.

What is exciting about this project is that it is being rapidly adopted by buyers and is close to employment for most residents. It is served by modern public transport. Housing opportunities are available for all income groups and schools. There is even a private school belonging to the Future Nation Schools group.

According to Adrian Ford of Calgro M3, who late last year conducted a media tour on behalf of the developer, housing opportunities are broadly split into three categories:

• Owned properties, subject to bond finance, on a basis of title deed

• GAP and other social housing and rental endeavours, and

• BNG (Breaking New Ground) housing, paid for by the government.

Further housing

The company owns a further mine dump area to the west, which once given a clearance by the City authorities, will result in a further 5 000 housing units becoming available. What is very encouraging is the rapid progress being made on the ground. Whilst the former mine hostel building was until recently still occupied by informal residents, most of the people living in shacks have now been relocated to BNG housing close by. There is impressive restoration of Fleurhof dam’s water course which drains from Lake Florida in the south west. Once completed, this dam could serve the recreational needs of the inhabitants of Fleurhof ‘city’.

According to Ford, the basic apartment is a two-bedroom 40m2 unit. Recipients of government sponsored housing ‘giveaway units’ will receive units equipped with the basic amenities. These units will co-exist with sectional title and social housing units, under the control of bodies corporate. In doing this, it is hope that the bodies corporate will provide leadership to ‘put pressure on giveaway home owners to keep properties clean and orderly’. GAP housing and freestanding units have also been developed and many are already occupied.

The development is unquestionably high-density. However, with more former mining land being cleared for development by government, perhaps this will point to a working solution for the country to address its enormous housing backlog.





Issue 20

Issue 20

March 2017

This article was featured on page 19-21 of
To Build Magazine Issue 20.

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