Living in downtown is becoming cool again

Downtown Johannesburg. A lot of Johannesburgers still don’t like to go there. Our former landlord actually said; don’t go downtown if you don’t have to. But there are so many places downtown that a worth exploring. I have just started.

A little bit of history to understand how downtown became a no-go zone for a long time. Since 1994, the end of Apartheid, people were free to live where they wanted to live. For a lot of the black population of Johannesburg that meant not in the townships. So they moved to the CBD, containing the wealthy areas of Braamfontein, New Town and Hillbrow and nobody could do anything against deterioration of these areas.

Foto of downtown JHB

Downtown JHB (By: A postcard a day)

Imagine those areas in the 70’s with public transport such as trams and buses. And everybody used them. Posh apartments and fancy villa’s. Going out till early in the morning and being able to walk home. These are the images that people tell me about how downtown used to look like. Today downtown looks much different. Businesses moved away to Sandton, the new CBD. And most of its original habitants also moved to the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg.

Cosmopolitan Hotel

Hotel @ Commissioner Street

As described in my first blog things are changing rapidly. For example at the Ponte Tower, also known as the Vodacom tower, smack in the middle of (still) no-go zone Hillbrow. The neighbourhood is internationally famous for the hijacking of buildings. Most immigrants end up here and pay too much rent to someone who isn’t even the owner. The documentary of Louis Theroux reveals the shocking business of these hijackers and also how the government and private parties try to give the buildings back to their rightful owners. (Unfortunately the documentary can’t be watched here in South Africa, I wonder why). The tower is now empty and ready for developers to go and do their thing. 

It is interesting to see that the ‘older’ generation of Johannesburg still has such a negative idea about downtown Johannesburg, whereas the younger crowd is seeing so much potential. Areas like Maboneng are extremely popular. “Finally a truly diverse and integrated neighbourhood” is an often heard phrase. Maboneng has several options of housing (affordable housing, student accommodation, fancy lofts and penthouses), a broad range of restaurants and cultural events. There is a vibe that states that this is the new future and you need to be part of it or you miss out. So why live in a quiet Northern suburb when you can live in such an exciting place?

Maboneng wall

The love for industrial buildings

4 thoughts on “Living in downtown is becoming cool again

  1. Lomso Mthethwa says:

    Really love this. Do you know of any developers though? People that what to develop Downtown & Hillbrow?

  2. Stankonia says:

    Hello Marrit!
    I just came back from Joburg and i really enjoy my time here. Joburg got nothing on Cape Town or others cities in western-world but, that city really got something.
    Soweto, the Inner-City, Melville, the Parks… Joburg is a city of multiple cities.
    I just found your blog and i like what you are doing.
    Where do you live in Joburg?
    Do you think Maboneng and Braamie are isolated Island or news places are going to follow the same rejunevation?

    • Hi Stankonia,
      Great to hear that you enjoyed Johannesburg as much as you did! I live in Melville, for me best of both world: nice and quiet when I want and the city is so near I can enjoy that as well.
      For now I feel that Maboneng is more of an island than Braamfontein. Braamfontein has a more diverse community (as far as I can tell); students, lofts for couples, hipsters etc and more diverse types of retail. Maboneng is getting there more and more. But I do enjoy these ‘islands’ and I think it is good for the development of Johannesburg Inner City that these neighbourhoods exist and that these developers took the risk to start in these places.

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