Inner-City Revitalisation and EcoDistricts

Inner-City Revitalisation and EcoDistricts

The City of Johannesburg has been on a decade-long journey to encourage urban revitalisation of the inner city. Here, Nomamfengu Mbele shares her views on the value of integrating the EcoDistricts Protocol with this process.

The COJ Property (Urban Revitalisation) Vision

The City of Johannesburg’s journey to encourage urban revitalisation of the inner city and its surroundings is clearly indicated in its Inner-City Revitalisation Programme initiated in 2006. The main goals of the programme are as follows:

  • Attract private investment into the City
  • Increase the supply of affordable, quality housing in the inner city in terms of the Inclusionary Housing Policy
  • Support intermodal activity
  • Public amenity development
  • Reduce crime activity in the city
  • Job creation

To inject new energy into the process, in April 2019 the City released the details of 97 properties around the city that were to be earmarked for mixed use development. These properties were released to the private sector to aid the city to realize over R20 billion in investment value.

The Target Areas

The properties, which are dilapidated and situated on prime property land, are in regions such as Randburg, Rosebank, Orange Grove, Houghton and Wynberg. These properties were targeted due to their great accessibility and proximity to economic hubs within the city. The City put out a call to the private sector to invest by proposing mixed used developments with commercial and retail activity supported by ample affordable housing linked to the Inclusionary Housing Policy.

To date, there have been few responses from the private sector to the City’s call, with implementation being hindered by issues such as resident displacement and social justice priorities not being addressed (resettlement of poor residents to the periphery is contested); minimal community participation; and the viability of cost recovery for developers.

The EcoDistricts Protocol

At Solid Green, we believe that the EcoDistricts Protocol – which is “an urban development framework for achieving people-centered, economically vibrant, resource efficient, neighbourhood- and district-scale sustainability” – can aid the City’s regeneration efforts.

This is because the protocol requires projects to make an Imperatives Commitment at the initial phase of the engagement processes. These imperatives, strongly align with the goals if the City of Johannesburg’s urban revitalisation vision, are:

  • Equity – Ensuring all members of the community can participate, lead, and thrive. Focus is placed on identifying vulnerable community members such as people of colour, low income, and people with disabilities, for example.
  • Resilience – The capacity of a district to withstand social, economic, and environmental stresses.
  • Climate Protection – Projects must have a pathway to carbon neutrality.

The EcoDistricts Priorities and Objective Categories are the guiding elements that can be used to assess areas to define how nodes could use strategic interventions along these lines to move the city toward its goals of a low carbon city.

Implementation phases are as follows:

  • 1. Formation – intensive stakeholder engagement, governance framework development and declaration for collaboration between all stakeholders.
  • 2. Roadmap – identify priorities, objectives, strategy, and performance indicators to move the city or EcoDistrict to a carbon neutral future.
  • 3. Performance phase – requires continuous progress reporting on how strategies are evolving to move toward carbon neutrality.

The EcoDistricts Protocol requires that projects follow the procedure of Formation, Roadmap and the Performance stages to ensure that the imperatives highlighted in their commitment are carried out throughout. The Protocol gives timelines for when each stage must be complete and sent for review.

Commitment to continuous engagement

Collective impact is a strong theme throughout the EcoDistricts Protocol. The protocol calls for power-sharing, collective decision making, shared problems, and shared skills and resources within the City context, which is occupied by diverse stakeholders and interested parties. This core principle is integral to successful development. The protocol suggests communication measures and consideration on how to “bring everyone to the table”.

Final Thoughts

The City of Johannesburg’s move to release properties to be developed by the private sector, alongside outlining its main goals for urban revitalisation, are key starting points to guide the direction of the City. The EcoDistricts Protocol has the potential to educate the developer teams on how to successfully take these goals and properties forward, to successfully realise a regenerated city centre.

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