Johannesburg has seen a steady increase in investment in the inner city, particularly in the lower-income rental market, according to a report on progress made by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) in the past year.

JDA head Lael Bethlehem said at the launch of its Indicator Progress Report for this year on Monday: “With just a small amount of effort, something new is starting to emerge in the city. Investment in the lower end of the property market is booming, with demand outstripping supply.”

Although she is upbeat, Bethlehem admits that there is still a lot that needs to be done to revive the city.

This year’s performance indicators report measured inner-city progress against four major indicators: the property market, including vacancy rates; rentals; confidence levels; and Johannesburg as a 24-hour city.

The report finds that there has been a steady increase in the number of businesses reporting higher turnover in the past year and overall confidence in the city has improved over the years, but there are still concerns about cleanliness, crime and maintenance of infrastructure.

“We need to get the basics right — like replacing manhole covers, removing potholes, cleaning, putting up road signs and better management of street traders,” says Bethlehem.

The study finds perceptions about crime are the same — despite a decrease in crime levels over the past three years.

This year 26% of respondents feel the city is unsafe and dirty, which is down on 32% last year and 80% in 2002. About 78% feel the variety of shops and facilities is adequate, up from 67%.

A third of those interviewed feel night activities in the inner city are either average or poor, but this is still an improvement from 54% last year.

A-grade vacancies in the central business district (CBD), which peaked at 25,8% in 1999, now stand at about 5% in areas like Braamfontein.

One of the reasons is that A-grade property in the CBD still costs less than properties in other business areas.

Bethlehem says the index review shows that the agency is getting “a lot of things right”.

Attendance figures at inner city venues show a steady increase over the past few years.

Of particular pride for the JDA is the success of public and private partnerships in the city, like the City Improvement Districts, which offer supplementary cleaning, security, marketing and events management financed by property owners through provincial legislation.

The success of this venture can be seen in Braamfontein, where demand for office and living space has taken off.

According to the report, areas to the south and west of the Carlton Centre, like Newtown, Main Street precinct and the financial district, are performing better than areas to the east of Carlton Centre, namely the Fashion District and Greater Ellis Park.

Bethlehem says the Park Station corridor needs large-scale investment as present facilities cannot support demand.

“The JDA interventions need to focus on weak areas, especially Park Station corridor, Greater Ellis Park, including Bertrams, Hillbrow and Berea.”

She says funding is insufficient and partners will need to be found to assist the JDA.

“The Newtown area, which is largely retail, has strong investment and generally good urban management compared to the Fashion district,” she says.

With SA hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup, Ellis Park has become one of the key focus areas. It is also the worst-performing area in the report. The precinct is to get a R2bn upgrade to transform it into a “secure, safe, vibrant and sustainable world-class destination of choice for sports and recreation in the city” for the soccer event. In fact, the Standard Bank Arena went from a 68% utilisation rate in 1993 to 27% last year. The reason given has been a lack of large musical events last year and the loss of the MTN Gladiators.

The regeneration of Bertrams and Troyeville Park has also been made a priority.

Of the respondents in the area, 80% feel there has been no improvement in the management of Ellis Park and 92% say there has been no improvement in cleanliness.

While only a third of businesses in the area saw an increase in turnover, they seem optimistic it will rise in the coming year.

Bethlehem says a big part of the agency’s efforts will go towards creating a public transport system that will service the city, particularly at night. This would be a rapid bus transit system operating on a fixed route in a way similar to a subway system.

The JDA will focus during the next four years on Ellis Park, Hillbrow and the Park Station precinct; Soweto, especially the Baragwanath node and Nasrec precinct; 2010 World Cup precincts and public transport programmes.

PUBLICATION: Business Day
DATED: 16th November 2006