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Who needs the suburbs? South Africa’s inner cities are the 'place to be'

06 Jan 2020

By Carel Kleynhans

Young and old, singles and families – the true South African melting pot is alive and well in our city centres.

Get the first month's rental free and uncapped internet. These new one-bedroom lifestyle apartments in Maboneng, Johannesburg, are renting for R4 399per month - click here to view.

Where once were old and neglected buildings, now stand grand new apartment buildings and precincts, shops, restaurants and much more. Building owners and property companies have begun to take notice of the shortage of affordable and comfortable housing in South Africa’s cities, and are cleaning up whole neighbourhoods from the ground floor upwards.

And even the government is getting involved. In just five years between 2007 and 2012, local government in Johannesburg put a massive R2 billion towards new pavements and sports fields. In 2016, then-Mayor Herman Mashaba promised another R20 billion to help make the city cleaner, safer and easier for people to live in. From Braamies to Maboneng (and that’s only in Johannesburg), there is always something to do downtown: living, working to shopping and partying.

Good for business, but what makes it good for tenants? 

VuJa De is a brand new apartment block in New Doornfontein, Johannesburg, with two-bedroom units available at a rental price of R3 399 per month, and the first 50 applicants get the first month's rental free - click here to view.

A great success factor for inner city revival is mixed-use spaces, which include safe housing, entertainment, amenities, and work opportunities. At Ithemba Properties, we call this the “Live, Work, Play” philosophy. Old, often neglected buildings can be converted into modern, safe, clean and affordable units, and with more tenants housed in the area, more businesses will find the customers they need to succeed, as well.

There are about 800 000 people passing through the Joburg CBD every day – many of them are migrants from our rural areas – and in our inner cities they can find modern apartments, easy access to transportation and the communities they need to feel at home. Students, young families, job seekers and migrants – all find opportunity in the CBD.

Living the city 

70% of South Africans rely on taxis to get to work. Many pay on average 30% of their salaries toward travel expenses, and some also spend several hours every day simply getting to and from work. Urban renewal projects make living in the city much more affordable and accessible for people who used to only be able to live in rural or outlying areas, and this greatly reduces travel time and expenses for commuting workers. Extra cash-in-hand at the end of the month, a shorter commute, better facilities, and more security – what’s not to like?

Find rentals in Joburg's inner city

Working the city

This one-bedroom flat renting at R2 999 per month in City & Suburban, Johannesburg, is located in Urban Olive, the Fashion District. Sign a new lease in January 2020, move in immediately and only pay half of the rent for the month - click here to view.

With buildings finding new purpose as mixed-use – mixed-income spaces that have both affordable living spaces and business premises, retail business owners have a shot at making their dreams come true. From corner shops and informal traders to fancy restaurants and office spaces, these businesses have access to reasonably priced and newly renovated spaces, not to mention the foot-traffic that will help their businesses grow.

Both formal and informal businesses in these areas provide important employment opportunities for local residents, allowing those without access to transport to take part in their local economy, and generate much-needed income for themselves. 

Playing the city 

This two-bedroom apartment in Marshalltown, Johannesburg, is available to rent for R2 799 per month. Get the first month free - click here to view.

Shorter travel times, living closer to work, and a little extra cash saved every month – all are appealing for so many South Africans, but what really makes a neighbourhood sustainable is a sense of community. It is not just the buildings that matter, but what’s between the buildings, as well.

New public services like parks, sports fields, schools and clinics are popping up in many of our urban projects, and are essential to building communities. At the same time, restaurants, galleries and theatres bring vital income to the area from tourists and our neighbours from the suburbs, who enjoy a taste of genuine and innovative city culture. It is this “night-time economy” that has been a leading reason for cities like Amsterdam to thrive.

The bottom line 

Our metro areas are always in a state of change, but the sort of renewal going on today is designed with growth and sustainability in mind – and thousands of South Africans are choosing to take part in it every year. With good government policy and clever urban planning, these growing pockets are being given new life that also benefits those who already live there. If the space is used well, cities can be a great example of democracy and ubuntu in action by raising up all who live there.

About the Author
Carel Kleynhans

Carel Kleynhans

Carel Kleynhans is the CEO of Divercity Urban Property fund and executive director of Ithemba Property Development. Carel holds a Masters in Finance from the University of Cambridge and has a background in corporate finance. His commercial background and passion for sustainable, socially equitable urban development is combined in his day to day work at Divercity and Ithemba: two leading investors in- and developers of amenity rich precincts in well located areas that offer low-income households access to affordable, high quality urban environments.

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