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Urban imperatives and sustainability

Urban imperatives and sustainability
Smart cities with good mobility and superior connectivity are a global priority. For South Africa, they are now equally important when it comes to factors impacting property investment.

Urbanisation is arguably going to be a major factor influencing property values in South Africa for the foreseeable future. It’s for this reason that a competent local government is vital.

Home prices are essentially driven by demand and generally there are few who would choose to buy in a town or city where the population growth has exceeded planning and management capacities. Buyers might be forced to live in such a place to find work, but they are not going to put down roots and buy a home there. This leads to all sorts of problems, not least the expansion of informal settlements that tend to make the city even less attractive to investors. It also tends to result in the rapid erosion of the rates base, which means local authorities are even less able to provide basic services or respond appropriately to fires, floods or drought-induced water and food shortages.

Shaping attractive cities

Fortunately, there is now a much greater awareness of the risks, says Tshwane executive mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa. Last year, the city hosted the initial African Capital Cities Sustainability Forum as well as the signing of the Tshwane Declaration, which commits local city authorities across Africa to design and implement sustainable urban development solutions. These aim to overcome the challenges presented by rapid urbanisation and maximise the opportunities it presents.

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Speaking recently at the opening of the Sustainability Week 2016 convention, Ramokgopa noted that many of these cities – and several of the provincial capitals of South Africa – had already embarked on projects to address some of the major goals contained in the declaration, including:

• Prioritising the reduction of informal settlements and improved access to basic services such as clean water, electricity, health services and urban food production programmes.

• Developing the social and technical infrastructure of cities to facilitate connectivity and ease of conducting business.

• Supporting green initiatives that promote job creation and stimulate industrial activity while preserving natural resources.

• Adopting innovative waste management systems that will encourage recycling as well as the development of energy from waste sites and processes required for gas extraction.

These are all likely to make local cities more attractive places to live and invest in.

Expanding transport routes

From a real estate point of view, those cities that are likely to have the biggest impact in the near future are those designed to improve access to public transport and to the internet, as well as those that are steadily creating employment in the green food, energy and waste management sectors.

Speakers at the Transport and Mobility Seminar noted that access to safe, efficient and affordable mass transport is an especially important – and sensitive – issue in local cities because of apartheid spatial planning, which forced millions of people to spend long hours and 30% to 70% of their daily wages on travelling from townships to their places of employment.

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It is also vital for cities committed to reducing their carbon emissions, a large percentage of which are produced by vehicles powered by fossil fuel. Even as cities are being replanned to provide more equitable access to resources and economic opportunities, it is important that mass transport systems are expanded and promoted instead of focusing on the roads, which are expensive to maintain.

What’s more, rapid mass transport systems such as the Gautrain and the MyCiti, Rea Vaya and Areyeng bus transport networks are already generating major economic spinoffs. The Gautrain is a case in point: a recent report by international auditing company KPMG showed that in the five years between 2009 and 2014, more than R10 billion was invested in new and upgraded retail developments within 10km of the Gautrain stations.

This had boosted the GDP of Gauteng by some R28 billion and helped to create almost 150 000 jobs. A combined R12.9 billion increase in the value of residential properties close to the stations had added a further R18 billion to the region’s GDP and another 98 000 jobs.

The good news for property owners, investors and developers is that the Gautrain Management Agency is currently conducting feasibility studies on the next phases of the overall project, which includes route extensions from Sandton to Randburg and Honeydew, and then on to Cosmo City, Fourways, Bluehills and Samrand. Ultimately it will also connect Soweto and Mamelodi (see map). Similarly, they are likely to find new investment opportunities or experience strong property value growth along new routes as the bus rapid transit networks expand in other cities.

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The internet effect

Reducing the need for people to commute at all is another major trend likely to have a profound influence on lifestyles and thus on real estate markets. One way to do this is to improve connectivity and access to the internet. This enables more consumers to work from home, more micro-businesses to make use of online ordering, banking and payment methods, and more under-resourced schools to access the latest teaching content to provide learners with a better education and improved employment prospects.

A passionate advocate of this approach is James Devine, chief innovation and information officer of Project Isizwe. The global NGO is currently working with the City of Tshwane to roll out the biggest free Wi-Fi network in the country.

Speaking during the Sustainable Infrastructure Seminar, Devine explained that the plan is to provide every resident of the metro with free access to the internet via a Wi-Fi hot spot within walking distance of their homes. This is already improving the lives of millions of people and creating localised economic growth that will inevitably lead to higher housing demand and property value growth in specific areas.

The award goes to…

The Innovation Excellence in Property Development Awards is an integral part of the annual South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA) convention. This year, the new Refurbishment Developments category received the most entries, a clear indication that owners and developers are adamant about improving South Africa’s landscape and elevating city skylines. Joint winners were:

• Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff by developers 80 Westcliff (Pty) Ltd and architects DSA Architects International
• Lion Match Office Park (also the overall winner for 2016) by developers JT Ross and architects Dean Jay Architects

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In the green award category, the overall winner was Google’s South African head office in Bryanston. ‘Property development is about far more than bricks and mortar,’ says Pieter Engelbrecht, head of Growthpoint Properties and chairperson of the SAPOA Innovative Excellence Awards committee. ‘[GBCSA’s pioneering Green Star SA Interior certification] credits quality of internal air, thermal, lighting and visual comfort, acoustic quality, ergonomics and energy monitoring and greenhouse gas emissions.’

The project also won the Interiors category award, with interior design by architects Boogertman + Partners. ‘The workplace design had to adhere to the Google corporate culture, yet be responsive to the office’s locality and the city’s charm,’ according to the team. ‘Google, too, at the forefront of sustainable design, required a space that could achieve gold from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design as well as an SA Interiors five-star Green Star rating.’ The Green Star SA Interiors assesses the environmental attributes of interior fit-outs, with its development sponsored by Standard Bank and St Gobain.

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Text Meg Wilson
Photographs Supplied

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