Downtown Durban

Johannesburg (October 10) – Sound city management and the willingness to invest in large-scale projects tackling poverty and unemployment potentially placed Durban on track to resolve its inner city problems, new research has unveiled.

However, substantially more public private partnerships were essential in ensuring the city wholly rejuvenated its inner city zones. While offering kudos for the milestones achieved in Warwick Junction, the Point, West Street around the City Hall and parts of the beachfront, the research indicated that the lack of partnerships was hindering widespread investment on a par with Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The Trafalgar Inner City Report 2007 measured world understandings against South African inner city issues, effectively demonstrating universal approaches to universal problems. The report, now in its sixth annual edition, reflected the extent to which internationally inner cities shared the same problems, historically experiencing cesspools of slum lands rife for building hijackers and slum lords and yet still home to thousands of people seeking better opportunities.

The report said despite improvements in office occupancies, rentals, building values and business turnover, Durban still displayed the lowest per capita income among South Africa’s large cities and had been substantially slower than the rest of the country in attracting private sector investment to the inner city.

It found wanting the services that ensured the city functioned as a liveable, workable, safe and healthy space.

However, the report highlighted the extent to which South African inner city problems mirrored those experienced in urban areas throughout the globe and called on local experts to consider universal answers when seeking solutions.

The report broadened the research scope to investigate issues around major metropolitans. The findings showed how redevelopments in Toronto were incorporating mixed-use housing and integrating residential and commercial opportunities to minimise the ecological footprint.

Locally, South African cities boasted successful social housing projects alongside those made public in Curitiba, Brazil and The Bronx in New York.

Trafalgar chairman Neville Schaefer said it was an international human phenomenon to believe the local situation was unique, yet a broader world view highlighted the commonality of problems and solutions.

“There are other countries and cities that have faced – and resolved – the same issues and in asking for or investigating their approaches, their pathways to success offer hope locally,” he said.

Durban’s increasing economic growth had attracted job seekers from around the province, but limited accommodation was further squeezed by rising property prices. The report called for a balance between meeting investors’ needs and those of the urban poor when tackling the question of housing.

This was particularly relevant in the Point area where more than R2bn worth of world-class residential property developments had been built, anchored by the city-funded R730m uShaka marine park.

According to the report, Durban required strategic partnerships that increased the scope for devolved action matched by a coherent social programme – public housing, transport and safety – to leverage change in neighbouring areas.

These measures were on a par with international experience that demonstrated how city improvement districts universally resolved crime and grime within neighbourhoods and that when local businesses played their part by supporting homeless eradication and employment-creation initiatives, the impact was exponentially greater.

Balancing the demands for social housing to house the poor and the requirements of the private sector to generate profits was another global issue and the report highlighted how South Africa’s approach - legislating a proportion of developments as inclusionary housing products aimed at lower-income recipients – was also not without premise.

The research was particularly relevant given the increasingly vehement battles being fought between local developers and the three tiers of governments on this issue.

Nationally, several housing ventures have reached a stalemate because developers were resisting placing inclusionary housing elements into their projects. Yet, in Toronto, Boston and Washington DC, integrated communities were replacing old-style housing estates and countering ghetto developments.
The developments were designed to integrate communities with nearby social amenities and surrounding neighbourhoods and generally geared towards accommodating 20% low-income units mixed with 40% moderate-income and 40% market buyers for maximising its impact.
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