Our City, Regenerating

As our city fills more and more people seek a different life away from a rural existence to one that is more modern with more to do, see and experience. How does a city morph, regenerate and revive itself to cope with a new urban society? We speak to the team at Propertuity who are working with the City to revive our city and bring a new style of urban existence to Durban >>

How and when did the idea of City regeneration spark? The regeneration of Durban Inner City and surrounds is part of a public and private sector initiative. The eThekwini Municipality has earmarked a number of key locations, for instance, The Rivertown Precinct for redevelopment into a thriving neighbourhood and destination. The idea of City regeneration has been on the cards for a while and came at a fortuitous time in the evolution of Propertuity as the company was ready to expand its reach into another great African City. Along with the city we’ve worked in unison to launch the Rivertown Precinct, during the UIA 2014 (International Union of Architects) in August. (Please note that the Rivertown Precinct was not our brainchild, but rather the renaming of Motortown as part of a city initiative). 8 Morrison Street is the first commercial development Propertuity has undertaken in the Rivertown Precinct.

If you have a vision of some sort what is it? We see urbanism, creativity, entrepreneurship and design as the cornerstones of its brand and uses these principles to inform its top line decision making. We seeks to design urban spaces that inspire cultural production and reinforce economic growth through the organic genesis of entrepreneurial ventures within the communities, hence aiming at cultivating rich and substantial neighbourhoods that are internationally recognized.

What impact is envisaged in terms of the area, economy etc? I assume this is less traditional retail and more entrepreneurial? Our hope is that the development of key buildings in key locations, provide the platforms and connections for entrepreneurs and startups to leverage off and gain momentum, stimulating a new and exciting cultural and creative economy. Our aims are also to have positive impact on the public spaces in and around our developments, by uplifting communities and providing safe, secure and appealing places for the public to relax in and enjoy. 8MS office and retail pod development encourages mixed-use of the space, boasting a micro coffee roastery, restaurant, retail and office space for creatives and professionals seeking an alternative experience. The space will be tenanted with some 52 different retail and office components – creating a thriving and dynamic mix.

How were the areas identified given the size of the city and all the potential areas that could be used Areas earmarked for redevelopment were established mainly by the municipality. These key locations play a prominent role in the local culture and economy of Durban as a whole. The Inner City (including Dr Pixley Kaseme Street) which is where 2 of our main developments are, represent some of the most commercially, culturally and socially active strips in the CBD. The Rivertown Precinct is situated next to Durban’s ICC. These areas also boast incredibly rich architectural heritage – one of the foundational logics for our involvement. The Pixley House development, 396 Dr Pixley Kaseme Street, is a 1938 Art Deco Gem which will be converted into sectional title residential apartments with occupation expected in September 2015. Another important aspect of the chosen areas is that they all boast bulk rights to convert traditionally commercial buildings into residential – providing much needed housing for the Inner City.

How big will the project end up being? There are a number of ambitious projects on the go and in the pipeline. We’ve have secured 3 buildings – 8 Morrison Street, Pixley House and Pioneer Place (Protea House at 322 Dr Pixley Kaseme Street), already with major plans for the corresponding areas. From the City’s perspective, there are plans to create a integrated rapid transport network as well as a linear park for Dr Pixley Kaseme Street, encouraging alternative forms of transport, including bike lanes and pedestrian priority zones extending from Warwick Junction all the way to the beach front.

How does this relate to urban regeneration done in cities like San Francisco, Melborne and more recently even Jo’burg? We model urban regeneration studies and examples from around the world in order to employ best practise, with a unique angle which works for truly African cities. The key logics for the regeneration of any city include fundamentals such as: safety, cleanliness, thriving local economies and appealing public spaces to mention only a few. By redeveloping spaces, where the public can engage and exchange ideas/knowledge and skill, as well as live and play, the community starts to build an identity of its own. Durban is unique as it doesn’t follow the same pattern as Maboneng for instance. Maboneng is an anomaly as many buildings were available within a certain radius and so a precinct was naturally formed. The approach for Durban is to select iconic buildings in key locations and develop them with the same attention to design and detail, thereby not restricting the regeneration to any one particular area.

How complex is this to do? Do buildings get taken down or remodelled and how much work is put into keeping the new look in line with the original style? As with anything worth doing, urban regeneration and building development has its own unique set of challenges. It is a complex situation when entering spaces that were previously forgotten about. However, this is also the beauty of these projects. Each building is approached with the same care and attention to detail with massive emphasis on restoration and intervention. What was formerly an office block may be redeveloped into unique residential apartments, as is the case with Pixley House. We take every care to partner with the best architects, engineers and designers in order to ensure that the projects as carried out according to best practise. Depending on the building, the development may require massive intervention (although not as far as demolishing) or simply a facelift, but in each case the design centres around highlighting and embracing the unique features of each of the chosen buildings.

How do you handle the cynics? The cynics play an important role in any situation – our unrealistic optimism which defines our approach to all projects is often met with a list of reasons why they won’t succeed. Sometimes valid issues are raised, which leads to the team finding creative solutions to address these issues. It also helps us to be aware of the potential problems we may encounter. However, there is an abundance of opportunity as well as a number of success stories – Maboneng ranking amongst the top most successful regeneration precincts in the world. The difference is that it takes tremendous time, energy and resources as well as unwavering confidence to attempt such an enormous task. But to the cynics, we say: “Watch this space”

How can Durban people support you guys? Durban is already supporting us tremendously by participating in events, exhibitions and the weekly market at 8 Morrison Street. We have also had an amazing response to the sales of the residential units at Pixley House, with 36% already sold off-plan. Durbanites can continue to support by getting involved with the developments, supporting locally produced food and products – which will be on sale early 2015 from 8MS Pod development.

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