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Cosmo City is a thriving suburb Print E-mail

Some of the bonded houses bordering a fenced off conservation area

Work began on the massive greenfield project in 2004 and in a few short years, the area has become a welcoming haven for people of all social and financial backgrounds.

The children in Cosmo City have a safe park maintained by City Parks
The children in Cosmo City have a safe park maintained by City Parks

DRIVING into Cosmo City, one is greeted by a huge, colourful "Welcome" sign. It marks the change the once open land has undergone, becoming a viable, liveable town for people from widely varying financial, cultural and social backgrounds.

Construction is going on almost everywhere; residents are seen cleaning their houses or working in their gardens; others are trading on the streets - these are good signs that Cosmo City is now a functioning suburb.

The street naming instantly catches the eye: the main road into Cosmo City is called South Africa Road; secondary roads are named after other countries. "The Cosmo City project is one of a kind and we needed to reflect that by using unique street names," said Stanley Mahlalela, the community liaison officer for Codevco. "We have a combination of countries, cities and continents; of course, South Africa is the main road."

Cosmo City - northwest of Joburg's city centre - is a R3,5-billion greenfield project, or a development on land that has not been developed before. It was undertaken by the City in partnership with the Gauteng provincial government. Codevco was appointed as the overall developer and to act as the City's agent. Work began at the end of 2004, and Cosmo City has already blossomed into a comfortable suburb.

The area is a complex development, providing three types of housing to suit the finances of different people. There are fully subsidised houses, credit linked houses and fully bonded houses. So far 115 hectares had been developed and it would take another two to three years before the project was complete, said Davina Piek, the manager of Cosmo City in the City's department of development planning and urban management.

One of the two primary schools in Cosmo City
One of the two primary schools in Cosmo City

There are 5 000 RDP units, of which 2 899 are occupied by people who were moved from Zevenfontein and River Bend; there are 3 000 partially subsidised units, of which 468 are already taken up; and there are 3 300 bonded houses, of which 2 839 are occupied.

Some of the bonded houses are double-storey. The gardens are beautifully landscaped and the walls differ from house to house - it is like entering a new zone.

On completion, the population of Cosmo City is expected to be between 65 000 and 70 000 people, according to a report compiled by the City's department of development planning and urban management.

Among the new residents are people moved from the informal settlements of Zevenfontein and River Bend, in the north of Johannesburg. They were given fully subsidised houses.

"Everybody from River Bend - except for one guy who is believed to be in jail - was moved to Cosmo City," Mahlalela said. "There is still a number of people residing in Zevenfontein who will be moved to the RDP houses. At the moment, just under 3 000 Reconstruction and Development Programme [RDP] houses are occupied by beneficiaries from the two informal settlements."

It was amazing how these people appreciated their new homes, he said. "Just look at their gardens; you can see that they don't really have money to buy expensive flowers but they take time to make their homes beautiful with the little they have."

The Catholic Church in Ext 0 is nearing completion
The Catholic Church in Ext 0 is nearing completion

Over the past few years, the area has developed with a full range of municipal and social facilities. There are five schools, with easy access from the different suburb extensions. "Three schools have been operating since last year. We have two primary schools and one high school in operation at the moment and two other schools are under way."

None of the schools have names yet - they are referred to as high schools one and two and primary schools one and two. "We are trying to involve the community by inviting them to come up with names for the schools."

Numerous churches have services on Sundays and during the week. "In Extension 0 credit link houses there is one big church under construction that is set to be completed by March this year. It's a beautiful Catholic church, beautifully constructed and I'm sure the residents will like it," Mahlalela added.

Healthcare services are dispensed from a container clinic, although there are plans to formalise this. "We have one doctor operating here. The piece of land where the container clinic is placed is going to be used for the construction of a proper clinic."

It would be private, but with a public healthcare section that would be open to everybody in the community.

Cosmo City was built in an environmentally sensitive area, Mahlalela explained. Hence a large amount of space was reserved for conservation purposes. "The conservation area is fenced and will remain like that. There are animals, indigenous trees and other nature elements in there and we are going to conserve them."

In other steps to make sure the suburb is environmentally friendly, an additional two parks are being set up this year, to bring the total number of parks to five. City Parks is responsible for their development. "The parks are open for the community to use and they are kept clean all the time," Mahlalela said.

Children played in the parks, making use of the play equipment on Saturdays and in the afternoons after school. "The parks are completely safe and workers from City Parks are always around maintaining the gardens so children are never alone when they come here to play," he said.

A taxi rank is being built in Extension 0 near the credit link houses. "This taxi rank will be the main one in Cosmo City and it will [house taxis to transport] people to a number of places locally and even long distance. We are trying to avoid this thing of people having to going to Joburg to get long distance taxis."

A temporary trading site would be moved once construction was completed later this year of three markets. Planned market facilities included lockable storage where traders could keep their stock overnight "so they don't have to carry their entire stall back and forth daily".

The roads in Cosmo City are all tarred; there is water borne sanitation and pre-paid electricity. Solar geysers have been fitted to more than 170 homes in Extension 2. "We know that the residents in this extension stayed in an informal settlement before so for some of them, this is the first time they have had hot water in their homes," Mahlalela added.

The solar geyser project is the first of its kind in Johannesburg and cost the city about R2-million; each unit, consisting of a geyser and a solar panel, cost R13 000. The solar heating units are not backed up by electricity because of a lack of funding and the limited power supply in those areas. On sunny days users can expect water temperatures of 55° Celsius and higher.

The community
Residents in all Cosmo City extensions are working with Codevco to set up residents' associations. "Each extension will have its own committee and members will be appointed for representation on the main association board," Piek said.

"The process of setting up these associations is going very well. Interim structures are in place to make this work."

Having people to deal with day-to-day issues faced by the community was the thrust behind setting up the residents' associations. "Cosmo City is an integrated area and we want an integrated community. That can only be achieved by having people communicate with the residents regularly," she added.

The City works closely with the community, teaching people about the by-laws that bind all the residents of Johannesburg. Also strengthening bonds among residents are regular community meetings at which the ward councillor, Maureen Scheeman, is very active. During these meetings residents raise their concerns and talk about what they would like to see happening in their community.

All the issues discussed relating to the area and its development and transformation are taken further by the developers, the City and the residents' associations.

A monthly newsletter, CosmoCity News, was initiated by Codevco to keep people informed about what is happening around them. It is distributed to the entire community. "We literally deliver the letter to every home in Cosmo City," Piek said.

It includes news about crime, public meetings, the latest developments in the area and entertainment. Complementing the newsletter is a website, where residents can post comments and concerns. Topics people touch on include crime reporting, selling of houses, illegal trading and general campaigns that the residents initiate.

"I think it's a good platform for residents to voice their views about what is happening in the area."

Challenges
As in the rest of the country, crime is a concern in Cosmo City. "Crime is probably one the main challenges here and mainly so because it's a new area," Piek added. It does not have its own police station yet and is reliant on the Honeydew South African Police Service (SAPS) division to help patrol it.

Many beneficiaries of subsidised housing who moved to Cosmo City operate businesses from their homes as their only income. These businesses range from spaza shops to crèches, and even butcheries and taverns.

According to the department of development planning and urban management report, these businesses do not comply with the town planning scheme and related by-laws, and cause unnecessary crime, noise and other disturbances.

Residents are also concerned when shacks are built as they feel that when people settle illegally they engage in criminal activities and the crime level in the area rises.

"We want visitors to see the beautiful houses. That's not possible if someone has got a cellular container right in front of the house. In some instances people spray paint their walls to market their spaza shops," Piek said.

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