In recent months certain areas in Durban’s Central Business District have undergone a transformation with the aim of creating a welcoming environment for local and international visitors, as well as new businesses. Urban regeneration, as this process is referred to, is defined by the Virginia Tech Metropolitan Institute as “regenerating cities and early/inner ring suburbs facing periods of decline.”
Urban regeneration was the main focus of the International Union of Architects (UIA) World Congress held in Durban last August. The proposed Durban ‘otherwhere’ project comprises three focus areas: The Dr Pixley kaSeme Linear Park, Pocket Parks, and the Rivertown district. Rivertown has been compared to areas like Woodstock in Cape Town and the Maboneng district in Johannesburg, as being a revamped industrial zone, beautified with vivid street art on building facades and eco-friendly landscaping on the walk-ways. Rivertown (previously called ‘Motortown’) was identified as a prime area for regeneration in terms of its location between the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (ICC) and the beachfront, thereby serving as a potential hub for visitors moving between these venues.
The challenges of urban regeneration projects such as Rivertown include the economic sustainability and long-term upkeep of the area. Studies have shown that there is a close correlation between urban decay and rising levels of crime, making it imperative that this area be well-maintained to ward off criminal activity and ensure the safety of both traders and visitors.
With regards to existing traders in the area, some may have difficulty in meeting higher rentals that rise with the area’s increasing popularity, as has happened in Woodstock.
Rivertown attracts a sector of the population that would otherwise have avoided this part of the city. The majority of patrons who regularly attend The Morning Trade market are white, in the middle to upper-class demographic, as is the case with the popular Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, followed by Indian people in the same class bracket, with few people of other race groups. The negative repercussion of this ‘gentrification’ of urban spaces is the inaccessibility to people outside a particular demographic (in this case the predominantly Black population in the city of Durban), causing social segregation rather than the intended cultural cohesion.
To avoid such segregation, the eThekwini Municipality and project-planners have a responsibility to ensure that urban regeneration projects such as Rivertown serve not only as initiatives for area upliftment, but also community upliftment and create an all-inclusive environment which encourages new traders and benefits existing ones, while keeping the newly upgraded city spaces accessible to all citizens.
Rolan Gulston is an editorial intern at UrbanAfrica.Net. She is based in Durban, South Africa, and is a graduate of the UKZN Centre for Communication, Media & Society (CCMS). She is an aspiring journalist, hoping to make a meaningful contribution in the field of development communication with a particular interest in satire.
Main image: Newly painted street art in Morrison Street, Rivertown, Durban. Rolan Gulston.