Recently, I saw an alarmist post making the rounds on social media and email. It reads, in part: “I am not sure if you are all in the Glenhazel/ Sandringham, Fairmount area – but if you do have any connection there, then please get involved in the proposed development of a mixed-use Township which is planned for the area surrounding the Sandringham police station.”
Clearly, this is a cause for concern – except that it isn’t.
You see, the emotive word in this call-to-arms is ‘Township’. However, when you read the actual tender document, it becomes clear that the word in being used in its original sense – as an innocuous urban planning term that means the same as ‘suburb’. It has nothing to do with our uniquely South African concept of township as an urban slum, such as Alexandra.
If you want proof, just have a look at your monthly account from the City of Johannesburg and you’ll see the heading ‘Township’ followed by the specific name of your nice, pretty residential suburb. Yes, whether you live in Houghton or Highlands North, you too are living in a Township!
So, let’s put aside our knee-jerk reactions and take a closer look at the proposed project in order to formulate an informed opinion. The proposal, as described in the CoJ’s tender document, is to develop the 17 000ha plot of vacant land roughly bounded by Modderfontein Road, the Sandringham Dip and the M3 highway. This would include the construction of residential units for low to middle income families along with educational, recreational, retail and corporate spaces.
Now that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Yes, the housing is going to be relatively high-density (probably including a couple of thousand apartments) and yes, the development is intended for lower-income earners. But that doesn’t mean the land is going to be given over to shacks and spaza shops. Instead, the city is trying to create ‘gap housing’ for people of limited means but with upward mobility. After all, we’re never going to clean up genuine slums if we don’t give people a viable alternative.
Obviously, the relative pros and cons of the development can only be determined once official drawings and plans have been submitted. And there’s a long way to go before that happens. In the meantime, rest assured that there’s still plenty to get worked up about.
The real cause for concern (as outlined in Marian Laserson’s excellent report) is that there seems to be a lack of proper paperwork behind the company that won the tender, which was originally issued in 2011. According to Laserson, the winning bidder is a new company that was registered just a few years ago, with little practical experience in the field and few financial statements to back up its ambitious plans. There is also confusion about the status of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – a legal requirement that must be completed by the developers and approved by the authorities before any construction can begin.
OK, now that you have a more factual grounding on which you can legitimately base your reactions – get busy! For more information, you can read the relevant documents for yourself (attached below) or get in touch with an appropriate authority. No doubt, special interest groups and public participation meetings will also be set up in the near future.
So, by all means, make your voice heard. Everyone living in the surrounding area should definitely engage with this process so that we may all benefit from the long-overdue development of this valuable land. It is a very interesting space with historical, environmental, social and economic implications. And I fully believe that we should all work together to improve our urban environment.
Just imagine what could be achieved if this development is handled responsibly: a rehabilitated river bank along which to picnic, some rare Bankenveld grasslands with a nature trail, restored sites of historical interest, neat rows of houses and apartment blocks, new shops and schools, smart offices, tarred roads, proper services…
The potential is indeed enormous – as long as we reign in our natural tendency towards hysteria (especially when it is based on a misunderstood word). That isn’t to say that we should turn a blind eye and allow the developers to flout the law. We just have to be cautious without being dismissive. IMHO.