Friday, May 04, 2007

Digging in the City of Gold

As I’ve always said, “sometimes you just have to get away to know where you've been”, which made being back in Joburg only more interesting. The city is just more hectic than it has ever been.

The economy is booming; for instance there are 1000 new cars on the roads a day, making traffic even worse than ever before. Sadly lacking in decent public transport, Joburg’s main arteries are choked with a bad case of “car-lesterol”. It remains to be seen if the new high speed rail link, Gautrain, will be much of an antidote.

Another notable feature of the landscape is all the construction work that is going on; not only for the Gautrain, but new office blocks, housing developments and car dealerships are springing up like weeds after the rain. There is so much new construction going on that there is a shortage of cement.

Urban renewal is taking place in the centre of Jozi, with trendy loft apartments going for over a million Rand and pavement cafes have opened up in the city centre for the first time in years. I don’t think it will reverse the trend where Joburg has become a constellation of other mini-cities like Melrose Arch, Rosebank and Sandton, which is a symptom of the extent of the urban sprawl.

It is good that the centre of Joeys is going through a rebirth and it will hopefully become a friendlier place in the process. Unlike Sandton which, in all its post-modern architectural glorification of kitsch, still lacks any soul. It will always be a plastic interpretation of what urbanism means.

Overall though, there is a palpable sense of dynamism and energy in Joburg. Everyone I spoke to had a positive attitude, and there was a real sense of people getting on and doing things – a real breath of fresh air after having been in France for so long.

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