Words: Georgina Guedes | Images: Ter Hollmann
In what was once a no-go zone, Maboneng is a flourishing residential, social and arts precinct and was named by Forbes magazine as one of its coolest neighbourhoods in the world.
The brainchild of Jonathan Liebmann, he started developing the area in 2009 around Arts on Main. The idea was to create walkable spaces between the buildings so that people could engage with the inner-city streets.
After buying and developing more than 50 buildings and investing R1bn in the area, Jonathan’s company, Propertuity, has been re-envisioned as a lean residential developer. The result is that Maboneng is finding its own feet as a suburb where people can work, play and continue to build the community.
Maboneng has become a highly desirable address for creatives, students and young professionals.
Apart from its vibrant atmosphere, Maboneng is centrally located with plenty of public transport, including the Rea Vaya bus rapid transit system, and the Gautrain Park station isn’t far away, making it easy to travel to and from the precinct and the CBD.
Bronwyn Lace is a practising visual artist and director of the Centre for the Less Good Idea, a performance space in Maboneng. She is married to Marcus Neustetter, also a visual artist and a founding member of the Trinity Session.
In the early days of Maboneng, they were introduced to Jonathan. “He showed us the first building he was trying to convert into apartments and we immediately said that if that happened, we would buy. It did, and in 2010, we were one of the first to move in as residents of Maboneng under this refurbished cultural precinct concept,” says Bronwyn.
Maboneng encourages the artistic and entrepreneurial spirit, has fairly affordable property – priced from around R500,000 – and offers residents an alternative to suburban living.
Downtown Joburg isn’t a place that people traditionally think of as an ideal location for raising a family, but things they are changing. The independent school network Spark opened its third school in Maboneng and will be adding new grades each year until it’s a full primary school offering Grade R to 7.
CityKidz, a primary school founded by property development company Afhco, is down the road in the CBD, and many of the excellent Northern Suburbs’ schools aren’t far from the city centre. Bianca’s daughter goes to The German School in Milpark. “But we’ve got very close friends in the area who go to the Spark School.”
Bronwyn says that she and her family shop at The Green Grocer. She also buys bread from Babette, which has “incredible quality German and French-style breads.”
In the week, they visit Mama Mexicana, Soul Souvlaki and the Blackanese. “And there’s The Cosmopolitan, which is a lovely gallery and building to visit. What’s especially beautiful there is the little fairy garden that’s been created.”
For both established artists and those still in the experimental phase, Maboneng is an accommodating space where they can learn from and evolve along with other artists, performers and musicians. POPArt is a theatre in the heart of it all, that hosts new and experimental plays. “The idea of being in a cultural centre in urban Joburg is a really exciting one and POPArt has enjoyed exploring this over the past seven years,” says co-owner Heyleigh Evans, who also lives in Maboneng. “It’s great to have places like the centre for the Less Good Idea and the Bioscope on our doorstep. Often the interactions with audiences and makers in these spaces lead to further exciting collaborations.”
Whether you’re a Saturday-night visitor or an inner-city resident, Maboneng offers everything a person might need, along with the buzz of participating in South African street life and breaking down cultural barriers.
“We’re walking in a public space and using it. For us, that’s important to our working, thinking and relationship with the city.”
Bronwyn Lace, resident
- Little Addis: a taste of Ethiopia
- Che Argentine Grill: the finest steaks in Joburg
- Pata Pata: live music and African food
- Eat Your Heart Out: Jewish deli food and delicious coffee
- Nine Barrels: take a sip (or ten) of the fine wines and enjoy a meal while you’re at it
- Canteen: a range of food in a relaxed and intimate setting
- Tuck into a range of African and international cuisine at the weekend Market on Main.
- Shop for funky jewellery, clothes and art at the Main Street Bazaar.
- Take an enlightening inner-city bicycle tour from the Curiocity Backpackers.
- Catch a local or international independent film at the Bioscope.
- Visit the studio of iwasshotinjoburg, which gives homeless children cameras to capture their stories and earn an income.
- See the artistic process at the Centre for the Less Good Idea at Arts on Main.
- Hang out with the international travellers at the Curiocity Backpackers.
- Have an arty experience at the 12 Decades, with rooms designed by some of SA’s leading artists.
- Stay in luxury in what was once a diamond-polishing centre at industrial-chic Hallmark House.
- Check out Airbnb.com for incredible downtown apartments – look out for “Maboneng Gem Studio Loft” or “Hip Maboneng Joburg Apartment”.
- Stay down the road in hip and happening Braamfontein at The Bannister.