Only Good News from this Flurry of Year End Activities

CITICHAT 43/2006

© Neil Fraser

A Social Movement Against Crime
On Monday afternoon I attended the launch at Constitution Hill of ‘A Social Movement Against Crime’ – a joint initiative of The Star and Gauteng’s 130 Community Police Forums (CPFs). Basically the initiative seeks to reinvigorate the numerous CPFs but primarily it is about creating a new spirit of volunteerism among community, business – formal and informal – faith-based organisations, trade unions, NGOs and other public and private institutions. Some good speeches (a bit too many, I think there were eight in all!) centered generally around “working together, we can create a safe and secure environment” by “getting involved”, remembering that “reducing crime begins with your individual effort” and “we are all part of the solution to crime”. I’ve always found the US to be the home of volunteerism and it is one trait that we have generally failed to adopt. But we were reminded how successfully the struggle movement mobilized the townships and that this approach of door to door, street to street community enlistment should be part of the process in fighting crime – thus a lot of the talk focused on getting community to effectively ‘freeze out’ criminals and criminal activity. I think it can work if we can just get the commitment!

One message that really struck a chord with me me was that from Susan Shabangu, the feisty Deputy Minister of Safety & Security. Here at last is a politician who understands the basics related to the 2010 World Cup. She is sick and tired, she said, of hearing people talk about the necessity of safety and security for visitors to the 2010 event. What we must focus on is getting safety and security right now, for ourselves, for the country and its citizens – the rest will follow. Right on!

Whilst on the subject of crime, I don’t know if you noticed from the recently released crime stats that inter-personal crime in Joeys has been on the increase. Why? Surely one of the reasons is that as we densify the city without providing appropriate and additional amenities, public space etc. tensions rise between people and these are increasingly manifested in violence. So it is not surprising that almost the first of the replies I received to my request last week for suggestions to improve the inner city to be referred to the planned Inner City Summit was that the city should “close streets in the blocks around Beyers Naude Square from Kerk to Commissioner or even as far as Main street on Saturday afternoons and Sundays to create a huge pedestrianised area. Rollerskating, cycling, shopping, ball games – the city should be alive with all its residents out and about. It doesn’t need to be a jamboree, just opening up space so that people living there are entitled to enjoy all the space the cars use weekdays.“

In the same vein, the Trafalgar Report (Citichat 41) stressed that “tenants and owners are demanding recreational facilities such as gyms, coffee bars and internet cafes.”

SmartGym
Well, a brilliant new initiative, “SmartGym”, has been established in the inner city (the official launch will be next week Tuesday) after being thoroughly researched and will bring an important new dimension to inner city citizens.

The SmartGym concept has been developed by Aurik Investment Holdings, a venture capital enterprise incubator that develops new business concepts for inner city environments together with John Fourie, well known and highly experienced in gym establishment and operation.

Carien Englebrecht of Aurik gave me a fascinating run-down on the philosophy behind the inner-city SmartGyms – Carien brings a strong inner city insight to the table – she has been involved with cities for as long as I have known her, some years through her work with Provincial Government then with the World Bank and also a period project managing the first SA Cities Network ‘State of the Cities Report 2004’. She explained that gyms as you and I know them are classed as ‘destination gyms’. You drive to them, have your workout and then drive home or to work. That hardly suits the lifestyle or resources of inner city folk so ….. you need to take the gym to them! Destination gyms are generally huge with massive membership numbering in the many tens of thousands – SmartGyms are small, intimate neighbourhood gyms with a design capacity of maybe 2000. Location thus becomes critical and their first gym has been established in Castle Mansions which is on Eloff Street between Jeppe and Kerk Streets Castle Mansions, built in 1930-2 is described by Gerhard-Mark van der Waal – ‘From Mining Camp to Metropolis’ - as “representing one of the first applications of the Ahistorical Style in Johannesburg”. It was refurbished and converted to residential by AFHCO a couple of years back.

Directly to its south are Royal St Mary’s soon to be converted into residential by City Properties and Old Mutual and The Inner Court which, I believe, is up for auction and may well end up as residential. Directly opposite Castle Mansions, on the corner of Jeppe and Eloff, is the building previously known as African City and now converted to ‘140 stylish loft apartments’ known as ‘Tribeca Lofts’. This area of Jeppe Street has, in fact, become the centre of a major residential node so this SmartGym is exceptionally well positioned. But it is not just the surrounding residential buildings from which it draws its clientele but also from commuters from Soweto who work in the vicinity – Eloff Street being a major public transport route and Kerk a pedestrianised informal trading linear market - thus it attracts traders from the streets as well. An eclectic mix promoting diversity, tolerance and friendliness!

The gym itself is on the lofty mezzanine floor on the corner of the Kerk Street Mall and Eloff Street. It thus provides a great space for a gym, high floor to ceiling, and with lots of light, large windows looking onto the tops of trees – a ‘green’ inner city space which is in deliberate contrast to the city’s greyness. You feel insulated from the hustle and bustle of street level inner city life, yet very much part of it. It has an upmarket feel without being intimidating in any way. The apple logo (freshness) with the mantra ‘once a day’ (remember your grandmother’s sage advice “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”?) points towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Opening soon will be a specialised launderette – many of the members are single inner city residents so this will add to the convenience of being a gym member. Smart!

The prime time is early morning and late afternoon, early evening. The gym offers aerobics classes and various other programmes as well as set routines such as ‘Smart Fit’, ‘Smart Shape’ or ‘Smart Strong’ dependent on your needs and each identified with the use of specific equipment through colour identification and numbering. All to make it easier and more relaxed and friendly. Taking cognisance of the fact that many first-time gymers feel quite intimidated, instructors are trained to specifically watch for them and provide quick and friendly assistance.

It is an ‘all-South African’ initiative. The equipment is high quality and locally manufactured; local suppliers and subcontractors were used throughout and the 12 permanent and 7 temporary staff are locals providing critical inner city job creation!. I met Freddy Masia who manages the gym and his pride in the facility and enthusiasm are palpable. Local expertise with excellent inner city connections was also used for branding and design - ‘It’s a Go!’ Communications and Savage and Dodd Architects.

Membership costs have been tailored to the needs of the clientele! No seven year contracts! A pragmatic membership approach provides great flexibility in both period and payment alternatives. For example periods are deliberately made user friendly as they relate to other repayment periods familiar to the clientele.

Two more SmartGyms will be opened in early 2007, one in Hillbrow and the other in Berea and, within the next few years, a total of eight will be operating in the Inner City. That represents an investment of more than R10 million. Aurik Investments are planning on opening 20 gyms in Joburg, Tshwane and eThekwini over the next three years which represents substantial faith and investment in South African inner cities. Smart!

SmartGym is not just another business. It is a ‘smart’ inner city lifestyle approach carefully tailored to add value to inner city living.

Johannesburg Housing Company
Talking about ‘inner city smart’ – I attended the Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC) AGM and luncheon on Wednesday. This quite amazing company just gets better every year and continues to be a model for so many aspects of innovation in urban revitalization.

It purchased the first building for social housing, San Martin in Joubert Park, in 1996.

Undertook the first office to residential conversion in 1997 – Tower Hill in Hillbrow.

Made the first slum clearance and upgrade into decent affordable accommodation, Douglas Rooms in Troyeville, in 1998.

As a social housing company it established the first Community Development Department in 1999 and
Opened the first crèche in a JHC building and was the first to convert a hotel (The Landrost) to residential accommodation in 2000.

The first residential landlord to formulate an HIV/AIDS Charter in 2002 and the first to undertake an upgrade under the City’s Better Buildings Programme in the same year.

Became the first residential landlord to introduce a Hardship Assistance Programme in 2003 and, also in that year, brokered the first public private partnership in residential development – Brickfields, Newtown.

It introduced the first residential neighbourhood programme in Pietersen Street, Hillbrow, in 2004 and

Undertook the first solar energy installation in a high-rise residential development in 2005..

In 2006 became the first South African Company to be awarded the World Habitat Award.

And to top off all that it has produced sparkling results – total assets have grown to R326 million, operating profit is R20.5 million before a fair value adjustment with vacancies at only 1.6% of its 2 651 units – arrears at 0.0019%.

Wow! Great Cities spawn great companies - or is it both and rather than either or!

ZuziMpilo Medical Centre
Another city amenity opening on Tuesday next week is ZuziMpilo Medical Centre situated on the 2nd Floor of the historic Ansteys Building, corner Jeppe and Joubert. The Centre offers subsidised antiretroviral treatment at affordable prices but is really a one-stop service providing counseling, HIV testing, a wellness clinic for those not yet eligible for ARV treatment in addition to antiretroviral treatment.

The Inner City Summit
I Was going to provide more information about the Inner City Summit but have run out of space so will hold over the detail to next week which will be the last Citichat for 2006. However just think about the following reflections from a US city as it too looks at its own future – “It will take a wise, well balanced tripod of city builders – visionary civic and political leaders, informed citizens and engaged professionals. Our destiny will be defined by our willingness to explore the ineluctable relationship between bold action and thoughtful planning, between consumption and stewardship, between the future and the past.”