The fix is in for Newtown: Culture alone doesn’t cut it

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The fix is in for Newtown: Culture alone doesn’t cut it

City of Joburg is consulting stakeholders before it moves ahead with plans to transform the precinct

Journalist


It has become clear the historical and cultural significance of the Newtown precinct in Johannesburg may not be enough of a foundation from which to grow it further.
Reuben Masango, MMC for development planning, said Newtown was failing in its present format. But now the city wants to turn it around, starting with a call for residents and other stakeholders to tell them what they want to see happening in the precinct.
The draft Newtown Urban Development Framework will help direct developers and other city entities on projects  they can bring into the area, Masango said.
“Right now people only come to Newtown for shows, while people who live close to the area say they sometimes can’t afford to attend those shows.”
Masango said the city wants Newtown to be an area in which people can work, live and play – which at present it is not offering. “Newton is not working as just a cultural precinct and we believe the place has more to offer.”
He said a number of spatial frameworks and detailed development proposals have been done for various parts of Newtown over the past two decades. The new process will serve as a guideline for future projects and developments.
“The inner city is the central core of the City of Johannesburg and plays a significant role in terms of economic growth and development,” Masango said.
On whether the recent auctioning of some properties in the Maboneng precinct was a sign that urban renewal projects are failing in Johannesburg, Masango said Newtown and Maboneng are each unique precincts that can sustain themselves and coexist. 
“We see them as two different precincts that can thrive, and think it will be unfair to judge how the Newtown precinct will do before the whole programme is even rolled out,” Masango said. 
The city has already consulted with some communities in Newtown. They made submissions that form part of the draft document which will direct developments in the area. 
Among submissions made were concerns about the lack of public toilets in the area, resulting in people using corners to relieve themselves. Homeless people who sleep on the doorsteps of small businesses were also flagged.
A Muslim school in the area raised concerns about the problem of speeding and the lack of a pedestrian crossing for pupils. There was also insufficient police visibility, which led to parents and pupils being victims of crime. 
Other general submissions from residents included the lack of public health and recreational facilities.
Masango said one proposal was the upgrade of Mary Fitzgerald Square. The city was looking at introducing green spaces, movable furniture, more seating, a shaded area and a performance area/stage.
“In order to achieve these outcomes, residents must really take part in the public comment process. This will further enable residents not only to engage with the proposed framework, but to also have a say in how their area is developed,” Masango said.
Newtown is home to The Market Theatre, which over the past four decades has evolved into a cultural complex for theatre, music, dance and the allied arts.
It is also home to Museum Africa, which tells the story of the continent. It is full of artefacts and photographs, and hosts permanent exhibitions that showcase how the gold rush affected SA.
• Residents can submit comments until June 17 to newtown@lemonpebble.co.za, and can view the Draft Newtown Urban Development Framework and its annexures at:
• Development Planning Department, City Transformation and Spatial Planning: A Block, 10th Floor, Metro Centre, 158 Civic Boulevard, Braamfontein.
•Johannesburg Development Agency, Bus Factory, 3 Helen Joseph Street, Newtown.
• Museum Africa, 121 Lillian Ngoyi Street, Newtown.
• Sci Bono Discovery Centre, corner Miriam Makeba and Helen Joseph streets, Newtown.

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