Inner-city revival

#118. Celebrate what’s good about this city. And there’s lots. On Thursday night I was at Constitution Hill’s Round House  toasting Joburg’s inner-city developments. The Halala Awards were started by the Johannesburg Development Agency last year to reward the brave who have ventured where most people fear to tread – town. Not only have they ventured, they have also put money into developing oases of calm in a city, that as Ruby Matang, a Johannesburg city councillor put it, “oscillates between decline and vibrancy”.

The winners were a diverse group. Among them was Smart Gym, who went into the inner-city and converted a number of derelict spaces into clean, safe  and cheerful havens for exercise (previously unavailable in that part of town). Its gyms now have around 12 000 members.   There was the Ashanti and Dogon luxury apartments development  on Anderson Street, and Gerald Olitzki whose redevelopment of Ghandi Square brought Nando’s, Cappello’s and good office space back to the city. Around 82  projects were submitted for the Awards.

In this city “heritage” is a challenge to protect – it’s also a challenge to define considering how little of our past is shared. There is not the  luxury of turning historic buildings into museums (and I am not convinced if would be of any use if there was) — Joburg is a living, breathing thing and its challenge is to balance its people with its space, to protect, honour and cherish both.

Like the mists that swirled around the city that night, there were great stories of vision, hope and in many cases, balls of steel, to take on hijacked buildings, squatters, urban decay and create spaces that offer dignity, tranquility and even bit of hip luxe. One of my favourite redevelopments, The Turbine Hall, scooped the Colloseum Award for restoration and preservation of buildings in the city. The award was handed out by conservation architect  Herbert Prins. (As he described the interior of the grand Colloseum Cinema – I had a sudden flashback to being a little kid taken to see Disney’s Snow White at the cinema by my departed great-uncle Charlie Levin, also a prince of a man, who in the 1970s was still running a factory that custom-made men’s three-piece suits, in the heart of downtown Joburg). Another building that was a finalist in that category was Beacon Royal — an art deco gem on the corner of Louis Botha Avenue and Grafton Street that I have admired since I  lived in Yeoville in the early 1990’s and watched as its fortunes plummeted. Get the full story on the building here.

Each Halala award was a wood-carving depicting Joburg’s skyline created by Andrew Lindsay’s crew at The Spaza Galley in Troyeville. Lindsay’s work has left its mark all over town in public art projects like the one at David Webster Park in Troyeville and the mosaics at the Yeoville Swimming baths.

This city is slowly being re-imagined. In the next few months a 10-metre high William Kentridge sculpure will grace the area near the Nelson Mandela Bridge and other public artworks will be installed at stations on the routes of the rapid bus transport system across the city.

Joburg, if it doesn’t steal your wallet, it will steal your heart.

* For a full report on the Awards go to Engineering News

One thought on “Inner-city revival

  1. I found your blog when I was looking for commuters to tell about my painting while on the bus video that my grandson made for me and has now posted to you tube. I paint everyday during my commute to and from my job at University of Texas and it is a great joy to all my fellow bus riders. I enjoy it immensely! I hope you will go watch my video – you can find it by doing a search on you tube for buspaintings and go look at my blog and etsy shop to see more of the paintings I do.
    Thank you for the great job you do being you.
    Kathleen McElwaine the BusPaintings artist.

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