The Urban Renaissance of the Maboneng Precinct

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A Phoenix Risen From Johannesburg’s Inner City Ashes

With Johannesburg’s young middle class flooding the area, the Maboneng precinct has become the poster boy of inner city regeneration. Once a notorious no-go area, it now evokes the rejuvenated image of Brooklyn’s shabby-chic streets with the obvious mix of art galleries, organic food markets, design boutiques and specialty coffee bars.

The 21st-century reboot of downtown Johannesburg, with the Maboneng precinct at the epicenter of it all, is a far cry from the fearsome reputation it used to have. When international anti-apartheid sanctions crippled Johannesburg’s economy in the 1980’s, the inner city faced a middle-class exodus to the relative safety of Joburg’s northern suburbs. Squatters moved into Maboneng’s dilapidated buildings along with a crime wave that swept through this sketchy patch of concrete jungle.

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In 2008, further urban decay was halted by a bold property developer who initiated the transformation of Maboneng’s grimy jumble of vacated warehouses and factories into a vibrant creative hub.

The dichotomy between Maboneng’s urban malaise in the 90’s and its current pioneer status of Jozi’s urban renewal is a remarkable achievement of how the demonisation of central Johannesburg has changed in many locals’ mindsets.

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Nonetheless, some consider the artistic metamorphosis of Maboneng as a hostile takeover by a mass of flat-white sipping, bespectacled urban creatives and a quintessential manifestation of capitalist violence against the inner city poor. While regeneration of degraded neighbourhoods comes with certain challenges (e.g. hyper-gentrification, evictions, etc.), the influx of innovative entrepreneurs setting up small-scale businesses has a leveraging effect on the socio-economic status of Maboneng and ought to benefit to a more diverse and inclusive community.

The soul of Joburg’s inner city is crumbling and rapacious landlords muscle out its poorest residents, the eternal lament goes, but how can a segregated impoverished neighbourhood with limited access to public services and few social mobility opportunities contribute to a community’s well-being?

The controversial process of gentrification won’t be elaborated within the scope of this article, but a critical perspective on this matter must be outlined since it has an undeniable impact on Maboneng’s future development. Without slipping into the well-trodden narratives regarding the gentrification discourse, the Maboneng precinct is unmistakably a successful attempt at rejuvenating central Johannesburg into one of Africa’s most vibrant urban enclaves.

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renaissance of the Maboneng precinct

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Eager to explore Jozi’s bright new star? I wrote a guide about the precinct’s exciting spots that reward you with a unique urban experience in the heart of South Africa’s metropolis. Godspeed you urban explorers!

 

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