Arts and Rejuvenation: Story of Johannesburg CBD

Arts and Rejuvenation: Story of Johannesburg CBD
December 27, 2016

The street art of Johannesburg has helped foster a virtuous cycle, as color and beauty attracts people and positivity back to a once-blighted, crime-ridden districts. The improvements have made Joburg cool again — and popular


Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, is Africa’s number one financial hub. Its CBD had a rather unsavoury reputation in the 1990s as an example of rapid urban decay.

The past few years, however, have been a period of significant turnaround. While crime is still a challenge, large investments on arts and culture turned Johannesburg inner city into a giant playground for artistic experimentation, contributing to its rejuvenation.

According to the New York Times, the street art of Johannesburg has helped foster a virtuous cycle: “Color and beauty draw people; people promote security, which draws more people, and creates a bigger audience possibility for more art. The improvements have made Joburg cool again — and popular.”

The revitalised Maboneng precinct is dubbed as South Africa’s hippest urban enclave. Maboneng’s rebirth began when Arts on Main, a cluster of galleries and boutiques, was opened in 2009. Derelict warehouses and red-brick blocks were converted into chic restaurants and art spaces, drawing the middle class community back into the CBD. Sculptures that depict Afrocentric design sensibilities fill the area, giving Maboneng a distinctive look, adding to its appeal.

Johannesburg has also made its mark in avant-garde architechture. Amidst blocks of grey concrete buildings next to its central railway station, the Mill Junction tower soars as an example of environmentally sustainable urban renewal. Constructed using stacked shipping containers on top of old grain silos, the colorful building functions as a student accommodation.

Braamfontein, Johannesburg’s business center before the exodus in the late 80’s, is a much quoted success story for urban rejuvenation. The program kicked off by its local government in 2002 brought back first the entrepreneurs, then big businesses like IBM, part sponsor of its tech precinct Tshimolongong.

Anchoring this turnaround is Braamfontein’s vibrant arts scene. It is host to The Joburg Theatre, South Africa’s biggest theatre, and the National School of the Arts, which feeds musicians and performers into the area’s vibrant local scene. Braamfontein is also popular for its large outdoor sculptures, including the concrete ‘Eland’ statue, made to resemble a type of antelope native to South Africa. Most of these statues were commissioned during the early stages of Braamfontein’s revitalization and ultimately succeeded in bringing the artistic community back to the area.

Photo Credit: New York Times