Town Planning Companies in South Africa Driving Urban Renewal Projects

Why is there a Need for Urban Renewal Projects?

Just as with human beings, advancing age tends to be accompanied by the visible signs of decline, the same tendency to deteriorate over the years is equally evident in the various structures that comprise the settlements that they are responsible for. The gold rush saw such settlements appear almost overnight to house the many hopefuls in search of the precious yellow metal and the merchants to provide their needs, only to become ghost towns once the veins of ore became exhausted. Even though the effects may be less extreme and take longer to become evident, the changing needs, financial status and habits of its citizens will inevitably result in a negative impact on some areas within a given city.

Although ours may be a relatively young country by international standards, given its recent economic woes, housing shortage, widespread unemployment, and the mass incursions from impoverished rural areas, many of the towns and cities in South Africa have been displaying the tell-tale signs of such decay for quite some time. This is prompting calls to the nation’s town planning companies to investigate the feasibility of urban renewal projects and the requirements for their effective implementation.

What do these Projects entail?

Though, perhaps, something of an oversimplification, the basic goal of these projects is to reverse the decline. To do so will entail not just the comparatively simple task of repairing, replacing, or extending any of the physical structures and utility services that may have deteriorated, but the far more demanding, yet even more important, job of attempting to revitalise the economy in those areas that have been affected, as well as to stimulate the desire for social interaction. While it is obviously not the responsibility of these organisations to create jobs or to organise social activities, the role of town planning companies, whether in South Africa or anywhere else, incudes the design of the infrastructure and the facilities that will be necessary to facilitate communities in realising these vital goals. Only by doing so will it be possible to prevent the risk of an area reverting to its former tendency to decline.

Safeguarding the environment must remain a constant concern of those engaged in urban renewal projects and one of the areas that is proving to be of importance locally is limiting urban sprawl and instead applying policies that are aimed at consolidation rather than expansion. In essence. this means focussing on the development of existing urban areas, often referred to as “brownfield sites”, rather than encroaching upon previously undeveloped land or so-called “greenfield sites”.

One of the dangers of urban renewal is that it is sometimes initiated by speculators rather than by town planning companies. There is an emerging trend in South Africa for those with spare cash to buy up properties cheaply in run-down areas, renovate them to a high standard and then sell or lease them at a substantial profit to whoever may be able to afford them. Almost invariably, this tends to displace low-income families and small business from such areas, forcing them to find accommodation in other run-down areas, intensifying their problems. A classic example of this process, which has become known as “gentrification”, can be seen in the Bo-Kaap settlement on the slopes of Cape Town’s Signal Hill. This example and the disruptive consequences it has created for former residents simply serves to underline the importance of formalising all urban renewal projects and thus ensuring the use of experienced professionals to oversee them at every stage.

A Welcome Success Story

In 2001, President Thabo Mbeki announced the “Integrated Sustainable Rural Development and Urban Renewal Programme” and one of its key components was the Alexandra Renewal Project. R1,3 billion was allocated over a 7-year period to provide housing and infrastructure for upgrades to this huge settlement on the north of Johannesburg. While much remains to be done, this township and its inhabitants are now starting to feel a sense of pride in their town and to enjoy a growing income from tourism.

Responsible for a number of successful township projects in Krugersdorp, Centurion, Pretoria West, and Boksburg is one of the leading town planning companies in South Africa. In addition to these urban renewal successes, The Practice Group has also been behind numerous other developments, ranging from shopping centres and industrial parks to high-density residential projects, mines, and eco-tourism planning.