Rejuvenating inner cities but at what expense?

The big push towards inner city urbanisation has gained momentum globally over the last couple of years with a strong focus on brownfield sites – existing buildings – and repurposing these buildings into mixed-use spaces.

Hassan Shaikh, founder of Revolve, a specialist corporate and retail interior design strategy agency says that in SA the rejuvenation of existing buildings is preferable to green field development as Joburg’s buildings have so much history and character and literally add to the energy and life force of the city. “One must always be mindful however that this cannot be at the expense of the communities who live there,” says Shaikh.

The mixed-use space concept encompasses Live/Work/Play thinking.  Shaikh believes reviving brownfield sites to create mixed-use communities will resolve many of the key issues facing individuals and businesses alike. “Creating these spaces from one dimensional buildings and transforming them into thriving developments that reinstate the ideology of community is the real challenge, from both a landlord perspective and a lifestyle perspective,” he says. Maboneng precinct provides a good example of this, although it has its own unique challenges, and is struggling to work, says Shaikh. “The problem at Maboneng is not the concept, but rather perceptions relating to location in relation to peoples’ comfort zones, as well as access and security concerns.”

Shaikh says there is no doubt that brownfield sites have their own unique challenges.

Consider Hillbrow for example, housing 74 000 people per square km. “Repurposing these buildings without displacing communities is no easy feat,” he says. “Gentrification has met with great resistance in major centres around the world and is not the answer for us. Unfortunately, there is no one-arrow-through-the-apple solution. We are going to have to test and change as we go. However, change is needed. We need to make spaces accessible to entrepreneurs who are creating jobs.

Millennials are pushing for mixed-use spaces. It is going to be the way of the future. It just needs to be done responsibly and with the best interest of the communities at heart,” he concludes.