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Relooking at city improvement districts as a key way to revitalise Johannesburg


Dr Mpho Phalatse is Executive Mayor of Johannesburg.

City improvement districts halt degeneration and facilitate the upliftment of distressed business and mixed-use areas which attract investment and development. By pooling their resources, individual property owners can enjoy the collective benefits of a well-managed area and a sense of communal pride, safety and social responsibility.

The City of Johannesburg has undergone many changes over the past decades, evolving from a mining centre and industrial city to a metropolitan centre largely characterised by financial and business services. After 1994, Johannesburg was confronted with problems of business and residential vitality common to many cities, such as a declining inner city affected by waning industrialisation, the development of suburban shopping malls, the decentralisation of office parks and investment flight from inner residential areas.

These problems were further compounded by factors such as rapid urban influx, high levels of unemployment and poverty, rising crime rates and the rise of an informal economy. The city has also inherited distinct socioeconomic patterns from the apartheid regime together with urban spaces that remain strongly marked by past segregation. 

With city services and infrastructure stretched to the limit, property owners realised the need to mobilise local resources to supplement municipal services. City improvement districts were therefore seen as an innovative solution to boost and foster economic development in these areas. To begin with, all issues that may be negatively affecting the area are investigated and dealt with on an integrated and holistic basis. City improvement districts are therefore significant in that they halt the degeneration and facilitate the upliftment of distressed business and mixed-use areas to create a positive identity for the area which attracts investment and development.  

In essence, by pooling their resources, individual property owners can enjoy the collective benefits of a well-managed area, a sense of communal pride, safety and social responsibility, and access to joint initiatives such as waste recycling. The city improvement district also has the potential to facilitate a cooperative approach between the municipality and the private sector in the provision of municipal services.  

Initially, all city improvement districts in the province were regulated by the Gauteng City Improvement Districts Act of 1997 (CID Act), which was enacted by the province to facilitate the establishment of these districts. While the act still exists, the constitutionality of this legislation has been questioned by the Supreme Court of Appeal with regards to whether it is possible to lawfully validate the imposition of levies under the act. 

Subsequently, in September 2015, it was considered that the act was open to constitutional challenge. This resulted in the City of Johannesburg requesting that the 19 legislated city improvement districts become voluntary. To date, all city improvement districts in Johannesburg are managed as voluntary initiatives; examples are the Illovo Boulevard Management District and the Maboneng Precinct. 

According to a 2016 report sponsored by the City Improvement District Forum on city improvement districts in Johannesburg, the districts collected an estimated R91-million in levies from property owners annually for the provision of supplementary services to the public space. The majority of city improvement district expenditure was dedicated to supplementary public space safety, cleaning and maintenance. Crime rates were found to be much lower than in the wider police sector in which they are situated, while they attracted an estimated R70-billion in private investments in built form.  

In a response to the constitutionality of the act, the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality approved its Special Ratings Area Bylaw on 22 August 2019. A City internal Special Ratings Area Task Team has been established to relook at city improvement districts. However, due to Covid-19 this process has been stalled.  

To get the city on an upward trajectory, we need to urgently prioritise enabling legislation that encourages the establishment of these initiatives by property owners. The flexibility of the city improvement district concept provides areas with individual and specific approaches that can be altered depending on local needs. This allows for funds to be channelled to strategic projects and prevents wasteful expenditure on services that an area might otherwise not require. Each district is empowered to build and rely on its own strengths while paying attention to its weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Ultimately, city improvement districts will help us realise a better public space and urban management model for all residents of Joburg. DM 


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  • Jacques Wessels says:

    I agree let local authorities provide the bulk services & property owners take care of their immediate environment & competition will ensure that resources are be optimally spent & not waste by politicians with no clue as to how to manage cities

  • Sam Shu says:

    The privatization of public space and services for those that can afford it and let the rest just hang out there. Not sure what the answer is though, when govt, whether national, provincial or city, cannot provide said services and protect said spaces.

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