Words: Betsie Loock-Van der Merwe | Images: Supplied & Anton Scholtz

Some of the buzzwords associated with the modern-day urban design movement called new urbanism include “mixed-use”, “urban villages” and “smart cities”. And according to South Africa’s prominent real-estate and property-development professionals, this trend, promoting mixed-use, walkable, technology-forward, green and sustainable neighbourhoods, is progressively influencing the nature of real-estate and urban-development strategies internationally and locally.

What makes an urban village or smart city?

As opposed to traditional suburban, township or lifestyle estate neighbourhoods mainly comprising residential properties where residents usually have to travel far to their places of work, these mixed-use areas comprise “a mix of commercial, residential and retail space”, says Peet Strauss, Pam Golding Properties development manager for Joburg. “The combination of the three spaces caters to work, home and lifestyle.”

In addition hereto is people’s need for a sense of community. “With the estranged lifestyles we lead today, the need to connect has never been more pronounced. City planners are trying to rectify the situation by creating these mixed-use precincts in the hope that they will form mini-communities of connection and interaction. Shops, offices and homes are all set up within walking distance of each other to foster a culture of a closely-knit community,” explains Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO, RE/MAX of Southern Africa.

To enhance the village feel and a healthy lifestyle, these areas include green spaces and/or parks – sometimes even food gardens on rooftops. “The widespread use of green or sustainable building designs and methods in new developments, and retrofit features like solar geysers, solar panels, roof insulation, water-recycling systems and rainwater tanks to make older buildings eco-friendlier, as well as LED street lighting, are increasingly also part of the design,” remarks Berry Everitt, CEO, Chas Everitt International property group.

Another defining feature is “highspeed internet connectivity throughout the precinct that enables residents to work from home, shop from home and monitor security. At the same time it enables local authorities to manage service networks, public transport and community facilities in real time”, adds Everitt.

Access to reliable mass transport systems like the Gautrain, MyCiTi, Rea Vaya and A Re Yeng bus rapid transit networks should be within walking distance. “It’s notable that the Gautrain has already given rise to flourishing mixed-use nodes around each of its stations,” says Everitt.

Trends in South Africa

In South Africa, new-urbanism trends have already been picked up along the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, Gauteng and the Western Cape, and experts predict that it’s here to stay. “It is definitely a rising trend and we have seen a strong migration to and development in these areas over the last five to eight years,” confirms Samuel Seeff, chairman, Seeff Property Group.

Locally, integrated neighbourhoods are created in many different ways and areas to meet the varying needs of South Africans with different housing preferences and budgets. Everitt explains that these neighbourhoods can be deliberately created from the ground up like Century City, Harbour Arch, Melrose Arch, Menlyn Maine, Loftus City, Cornubia and the new Barloworld precinct in Sandton. They can grow out of inner-city rejuvenation projects like the V&A Waterfront, Maboneng, Braamfontein, and Durban’s Rivertown Triangle, or they can occur naturally in older suburban areas where residents have over time set up or “imported” the conveniences they want within walking distance of their homes.

“Suburbs like Melville, Parkhurst and Linden in Joburg, Musgrave in Durban, Hatfield in Pretoria and most of the southern suburbs of Cape Town, are good examples of urban villages where everything is human scale like a traditional village, and which, by and large, adhere to the principles of new urbanism including walkability, diversity, housing variety, quality architecture, managed densification, green transportation and connectivity,” says Everitt.

Western Cape

Century City: a mixed-use neighbourhood where residents can live, work and play with offices and businesses, a mega-mall and a mix of residential options including apartments and townhouses.
Cape Town’s CBD: through private or public partnership initiatives the area was re-energised. Businesses have come back while old buildings have been renovated offering fabulous urban living spaces.
Parklands/Sandown: the integration of a range of residential property options as well as businesses and commercial or retail centres, schools, medical services, green areas, cycling lanes, bus and taxi services, mean that residents don’t have to travel out of the area.

Gauteng

Melrose Arch: Pam Golding’s Peet Strauss, who also lives and works in the precinct, says the biggest attraction is the security. A further 241 residential units are now being added through the One on Whiteley development.
Menlyn Maine: shops, offices, a gym, restaurants, a hotel, medical facilities and a day spa are all within walking distance from your apartment. This development claims to be the first “green city” in the country.

KwaZulu-Natal

Sibaya Coastal: once fully realised it’ll include hotels, offices, shops, restaurants, educational institutions and recreational opportunities to complement its residential offering.
Cornubia: a multi-billion-rand project that’ll be a mixed-use, mixed-income development, incorporating industrial, commercial, residential and open-space uses.

“Globally and in South Africa, mixed-use developments have arisen as a result of the need for urban development and re-development to cater to the growing desire and need for convenient, appealing and sustainable areas where people can live, work and play” Dr Andrew Golding, CEO, Pam Golding Property group