The inner city of Johannesburg has had an interesting history over the last 25 years. In the changes that took place around 1994, many whites and white owned businesses moved out of the city centre, fleeing to suburbs and business districts such as Sandton which seemed to promise “safety and security.” Whilst the government implemented various policies in attempt to make continuing business in the CBD a favourable option for large companies, apart from the banks, most companies and residents relocated. (An interesting meditation on the current situation and ramification of these events can be seen in Simon Gush’s video artwork “Sunday Light” (2013)
With changes in management and buildings not being maintained as they once were, many areas began to gain an air of notoriety as conditions began to detriorate. However, as the economic philosopher’s Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello’s The New Spirit of Capitalism expressed, capitalism has no program, no social or political project beyond producing, circulating and accumulating capital. This implies that capitalism has to absorb and integrate the social and political projects that criticise it as if they were its own programmes. This theory is played out brilliantly in the examples of gentrification that we see in Johannesburg; the very areas that had a bad-for-business stigma are the areas which are becoming business hubs in their own right. Braamfontein, Newtown, Maboneng – these are exciting cultural and economic hubs which are establishing themselves as go-to-places within the city. And whilst not without their problems (simply type “Gentrification in Johannesburg” in on Google and see what pops up) these areas are clearly generating substantial revenue for the companies and individuals behind the ventures, and so it’s no surprise to see the model’s being adopted and implemented elsewhere.
Victoria Yards in Lorentzville is one such venture. Situated with New Doornfontein and Troyeville as its neighbors, the industrial space which boasts an impressive 30,000m² of space is showing promise to grow into a community of cultural and economic promise. Still in its infancy with much development promised on the horizon, Victoria Yards has already shown some of it’s promise in hosting the 2017 Joburg Fringe. Similarly, there are a number of creative enterprises such as Nandos’ head office across the road, and the Art Eye Gallery space in Ellis House which are in the area. And as all projects of gentrification go, artists are at the center. Setting trends and drawing in tourists with their creativity, artist studios are popping up all around Victoria Yards. There is great potential for these studios to allow for artist communities to emerge. Head developer Brian Green has placed great emphasis on community involvement and engagement, initiating projects such as craft based, skill-sharing workshops, and community farming gardens. But as with all things, time will tell whether these ideals manifest in reality. At the moment however, there is at least some exciting alternatives to the now-commonplace Maboneng and Newtown, if one is looking for options within inner-city Joburg.
See the Victoria Yards promotional video for more information: