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Enjoying the fruits of diversity Print E-mail

The successful development of Cosmo City in the north-west has shown that a mixed-use, mixed-income residential model can work

Region C is a dynamic area undergoing radical and rapid changes to its demographics. Director Calie Coetzee sees strength in this unique transformation.

Region C is considered to be the fastest growing area in Johannesburg, says regional director Calie Coetzee
Region C is considered to be the fastest growing area in Johannesburg, says regional director Calie Coetzee

WITH a growth rate of more than 2 percent a year, Region C is considered to be the fastest growing area in Johannesburg. And, as a result, one of its biggest challenges is the urban sprawl throughout the region, both on vacant land and through densification.

Regional director Calie Coetzee contends that this is one of the bigger challenges in his region.

Coetzee has 30 years of local government experience behind him. As a rookie engineer he joined the then Roodepoort city council, later to be incorporated into the greater Johannesburg metro council. For the last six years he has filled the shoes of regional director, making great strides in improving service delivery and the urban fabric of this dynamic region.

High-density living
Cluster housing estates are a defining topographic characteristic of the region, Coetzee says. But far from the design being a solution to increasing housing shortages, it has brought its own set of problems.

Now more than ever, the newer areas in the north-west of the region resemble a dormitory city, one which has exploded in terms of dwellings but without the development of roads and services infrastructure keeping pace.

Today, the residents of the beautiful suburbs of Allen's Nek, Randpark Ridge, Boskruin, Bush Hill, North Riding and others are suffering the ills of poor urban planning. Roads are congested; storm water systems are overburdened; water, sewage and electrical lines are insufficient. "One of the biggest problems for the area is the lack of a north-south arterial," Coetzee confirms.

While the region has sufficient links with the Johannesburg central business district, road links with other economic hubs, such as Randburg and Sandton, are poor, increasing traffic congestion on several secondary roads in residential areas. Commuters from Krugersdorp and the West Rand also use Region C as the main thoroughfare to the CBD, Sandton and Randburg, adding to the congestion.

The historically busy Roodepoort central business district is also in need of urgent intervention - it is earmarked for upgrades this year. In the late 1980s, the area went into decline when major banking and other corporate corporations pulled out and moved to Sandton. A portion of Roodepoort fondly known as Lappies, is dominated by the influence of Indian traders and residents.

An important transport and commercial node, commuters from Soweto and the West Rand have turned it into a beehive of activity. Besides the numerous little Indian shops, sidewalks and streets are clogged with streets hawkers, commuters, punters and taxis.

"Lots of feet, lots of buying power," is how Coetzee sums it up.

A migration region
Region C shows unique tendencies in terms of its demographics. "It is viewed as a migration region."

The regional director keeps a close eye on the region
The regional director keeps a close eye on the region

Coetzee explains that a study undertaken by Johannesburg City seven years ago indicated that the region would change in terms of its racial composition. At the time the black to white ratio was 39 to 61 percent; this is predicted to reverse in a couple of year's time. Already, the population of 350 000 is almost 50/50 in terms of black and white.

"This is the only region in which this demographic dynamic is taking place," Coetzee says. The reason for this is simple. With a growth in the black middle classes, the latter use the reasonably affordable houses in the west as a stepping stone into the property market. From here, the tendency is to buy properties in the affluent northern suburbs.

But the region is also home to almost 100 000 informal inhabitants. Zandspruit is the biggest informal settlement, with about 40 000 residents. Much of the region's attention this financial year will continue to focus on the de-densification of Zandspruit and the formalising of other informal settlements.

The successful development of Cosmo City in the north-west has shown that a mixed-use, mixed-income residential model can work. And the newly developed Jackal Creek golfing estate, which overlooks Zandspruit, is also challenging long-held notions that affluent and informal developments cannot co-exist harmoniously.

Beautification agenda
Nearby, the relatively young BramFischerville is dominated by the sparse, sterile character of typical Reconstruction and Development housing. But it is earmarked for beautification in this financial year, Coetzee confirms.

The Roodepoort Museum holds its own
The Roodepoort Museum holds its own

"This is a region of incredible diversity and variety of activity – from adult shops to the Monash University."

It has kept much of its charm mainly because heavier industries were historically, and still are to this day, discouraged from setting up shop. Instead, the region is an educational, medical and commercial hub, with a number of campuses, private hospitals and light industry and commerce.

It is also a cultural node, with the Johannesburg Promusica Theatre and Orchestra at the Civic Centre, a favourite among residents. On the same site, the Roodepoort Museum proudly holds its own. It has a wonderful collection of glassware, porcelain and china. Covering local history, it tracks the development of Roodepoort from mining camp to city.

And for Coetzee, it is important to keep the natural and informal character of the region intact. "I am sentimental about the past," he admits.

Natural beauty abounds
Region C is, after all, an area of remarkable natural beauty, dominated by the koppies and hills of the Witwatersrand and Roodekrans ridges – located among these ridges is the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens, the Kloofendal Nature Reserve, Golden Harvest Park and two Council owned recreational areas, Manie Mulder and Little Falls.

Region C is an area of remarkable natural beauty, dominated by the koppies and hills of the Witwatersrand and Roodekrans ridges - located among these ridges is the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens
Region C is an area of remarkable natural beauty, dominated by the koppies and hills of the Witwatersrand and Roodekrans ridges - located among these ridges is the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens

These ridges are also the northwest watershed for Johannesburg. Coetzee himself is an avid hiker and nature enthusiast. For him idleness is man-hours lost. When not busy juggling the affairs of the region, you will probably find him underneath a bombed-out car, building it up from scratch – he has a weakness for fast cars in particular. In the past it was Jaguars; his latest passion is for BMWs.

He is an avid reader of non-fiction and has no problem defining himself as "a nerd with a pen". But his laid-back exterior and easy manner hides a serious person who experiences life intensely.

He likes to surround himself with knowledgeable, mature staff. "I have the best managerial team in the city," he claims. For him, the most important managerial trait is to show mutual respect. And tongue-in-cheek, this engineer-at-heart admits that he only realised late in life that people have feelings.

Expecting the best
One could sum up Coetzee as a taskmaster who expects only the best. But he also has a genuine passion for the region and its people, combined with an inherent understanding of the complexities of modern urban management. "Any model can work if the right expertise and attitude is in place."

Under his guidance Region C has built up a solid working relationship with municipal-owned entities. Identifying the complementary role regional management can play at departmental level in supporting service delivery agents was a priority. "It is all about maintaining minimum acceptable service delivery standards [for the region]."

Often confronted by outsiders enquiring about the state of the City at large, Coetzee's answer to them is clear and to the point. "Johannesburg is a very good employer. The City is managed through a strong political will. There is stability in terms of both management and mandate."

And these aspects are also the point of departure for Region C's management.

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