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High-density developments in SA’s prime suburbs: good or bad?

11 Jun 2018

For the past 15 years there has been a gradual, but consistent, increase in residential density in the central and fringe areas of Sandton and Rosebank.

“And it has come about to the dismay of many long-standing homeowners, in and around those areas, who understandably might feel threatened,” says Ronald Ennik, CEO and founder of estate agency, Ennik Estates, which focuses on Johannesburg's prime residential property market.

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The draft nodal review policy, which seeks to address "inequality and inefficiency in the City, transforming it into a more equitable, liveable, resilient, efficient and productive urban form", is all but approved.

But the dismay could well be ill-founded, says Ennik.

Following international trends

It has been proved time and time again that society functions better, on all levels, where higher density living exists in an organised way, and Johannesburg is simply following a long-standing international trend, he says.

“It is doing so by embracing the examples of leading, successful, dynamic cities of the world, such as London, New York, Paris and Tokyo.

“Even smaller cities such as Zurich, that has won ‘best city to live in’ numerous times, follow similar principles. They are cities with good, viable, public transport networks, where all variety of business and service providers thrive.”

They are cities where the fine balance of recreation, work and entertainment spaces are well coordinated, explains Ennik. “This ensures that friends and family are close by and easily accessible to one another – without having to take the car out of the basement.”

He notes that Sandton City was the trailblazer of the process in Johannesburg – virtually ever since the complex was built in the mid-1970s, density has been increasing around its commercial centre. Now Rosebank is following suit.  

What will happen to Joburg’s leafy suburbs?

“The rezoning plan will in time impact positively on property prices as development rolls out,” says Ennik. “This is evident from what has recently occurred in Dunkeld between Oxford Road and Cradock Avenue where development is now underway and top prices have been achieved as a result.”

But will developers start buying up bigger homes and how will this change the nature of established suburbs like Saxonwold, Houghton Estate, Forest Town and Dunkeld? Ennik says for development to occur in areas that have been rezoned, feasibilities have to make sense and the demand has to be met.

“This could take many years to materialise and the character of the old traditional suburbs is not going to change soon except along main arterial roads.

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“If we fast-forward 50 years, then it is likely that the residential areas around Rosebank will have been reduced considerably. However, top-end gated estates will probably replace the freehold properties that currently characterise these areas.”

Could this up the land value in some locations? Not immediately, says Ennik, however, in time this may happen when the property market is in a positive cycle and the development of gated estates is well underway.

Also, it is unlikely that in an area where the traditional older properties exist that a block of flats will suddenly be approved right next to a character home, he says.

First the zoning would have to be approved and there would be concern for the character of an area to remain, so change will happen gradually, he explains.

“It will be more phased in, rather than a radical overnight change, which is in line with town-planning principles, but higher density is inevitable and in fact, desirable.”

Service providers and increased convenience

Furthermore, the residential living nodes in such transport-savvy cities are invariably supported by easily accessible, precinct-specific, service providers, says following suit.

They include laundries, restaurants, supermarkets, medical services, banks, lawyers, art galleries, churches, theatres, cinemas and health centres.

“Meanwhile, the higher residential density allows local suppliers to provide a greater variety of services to more people – delivered out of smaller, more cost-efficient, premises.

“Another plus is that security is far more effective, because homes are elevated in buildings and the camera-monitored area is less expansive… and thus more sharply focused, and less expensive to provide.”

This phenomenon is now mirrored in the current redevelopment in and around the hub of Rosebank, in much the same way as it has rolled out in the Sandton City precinct over the 40-plus years since its inception, he says.

While Sandton may have missed an opportunity in the early millennial period (2001–2006), at the time, he says a residential price bubble was developing, causing developers to change proposed residential projects to commercial, limiting Sandton’s mixed-use/integrated lifestyle potential.

Small business thrives because of the increased convenience of service delivery, Ennik points out.

The square metre area of service provider operating space can be reduced because of the increase in the density of people using the services they provide, so they can deliver a greater variety of service to more clients, from a smaller space. Aligned with this is the increase in quality security monitoring.

“All of these pieces of the puzzle come together to allow the city to operate more effectively which impacts positively on people’s happiness and peace of mind,” says Ennik.

Last, but not least, higher density provides less inconvenience to the workers who provide the services, he says.

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