JDA engages with Norwood residents on Grant Ave plan

JDA engages with Norwood residents on Grant Ave planNorwood residents turned out in numbers to hear presentations and give their feedback on the JDA's provisional plan for Grant Avenue. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)

The Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) hosted a follow-up meeting with Norwood residents on Wednesday, 8 June to get further input on a draft precinct plan for the Grant Avenue business area. Rudo Mungoshi reports.

Early evening traffic on Grant AvenueEarly evening traffic on Grant Avenue. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)Wednesday's feedback session followed a number of previous engagements - including two design workshops and a "test phase" day - with community residents, property owners, businesses and other stakeholders aimed at identifying interventions to improve the high street environment along Grant Avenue.

Presenting a provisional precinct plan to residents at the meeting, Monica Albonico, an architect and consultant at ASM Architects & Urban Designers, stressed that the plan was not meant to take away from, but to build on and improve what already existed in Grant Avenue.

ASM Architects & Urban Designers have been commissioned by the JDA to help produce the precinct plan for Grant Avenue, and are busy conducting a physical analysis in order to unpack a high street narrative.

'Vision of a well-connected, vibrant, walkable neighbourhood'

The precinct plan was laid out for residentsThe precinct plan was laid out for residents in the form of maps and other infographics. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)"The vision is to create a well-connected, diverse, vibrant and walkable neighbourhood with a well-performing, rich and varied high street that benefits from its proximity to integrated community facilities and convenient public transport," Albonico explained.

She outlined a number of alternative proposals, including a closed pedestrian street, a one-way street, the maximisation of public space for walkability, and the construction of two multi-level parking garages in order to clear Grant Avenue of parking spaces.

"This is something that can be done as a private-public partnership, because we don't see the City jumping up and writing a cheque for project," Albonico said. "This is something that has to be explored to see what will work."

Next to speak was Daniel Cromberge, a traffic engineer with engineering and design firm WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff, which is also helping to develop the precinct plan.

Cromberge described Grant Avenue as a high street in the traditional sense, with a mix of land uses including grocery stores, services, coffee shops, restaurants and residential apartments.

New sidewalks and pathways linking to Rea Vaya

The plan has already gone through two design workshopsThe plan has already gone through two design workshops and a 'test phase day', all of which involved interaction with residents. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)"The street is relatively walk-friendly but can be improved with wider sidewalks, better crossings and more public space for seating and landscaping," Cromberge said. This would require removing on-street park altogether along Grant Avenue, most of which already has no stopping or no parking restrictions in place.

Residential streets in the vicinity of Grant Avenue could additionally be protected from extraneous traffic by converting some intersections to left-in/left-out access.

Cromberge also noted the forthcoming extension of the Rea Vaya bus rapid transit (BRT) network from Parktown to Alexandra, saying there would be new sidewalks and pathways linking Grant Avenue via Patterson Park to the BRT stops and stations along Louis Botha Avenue.

Bill Ward, CEO of RMS Corporate Solutions, pointed out that the development of the Louis Botha Corridor of Freedom would bring with it various capital projects and developments aimed at stimulating retail and residential densification.

This growth would exacerbate existing urban management challenges, making it "essential that property owners get involved in the management of the public space," Ward said.

Monica Albonico unpacks the planMonica Albonico, an architect and consultant at ASM Architects & Urban Designers, unpacks the plan. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)The quickest and simplest way of doing this, he argued, was to form a voluntary district management forum, and there were already strong local organisations such as the Norwood Orchards Residents Association and the Norwood Forum which could help to do this.

'It takes an integrated approach to change a situation'

The presentation was followed by discussion and feedback from residents in attendance, some of whom raised concerns about overflow parking and congestion on other roads if Grant Avenue were closed to motorists.

Speaking afterwards, Norwood resident Shorai Kaseke said he thought it was a fantastic opportunity for businesses and residents to get involved in shaping the community that they would like to live in.

"It's good to see how this project will come to life," Kaseke said. "This is good news for Norwood. This is very encouraging for the direction we are heading in."

Residents get some socialising inResidents get some socialising in during a break in the feedback session. (Photo: Rudo Mungoshi)Susan Jodie, a resident of neighbouring Orange Grove who has attended all the meetings on the plan so far, thought it was wonderful idea. "The only part that kind of worries me is where the funds are going to come from."

Norwood resident Samar Lallubhai said he believed the process would help to create a safer community and encourage residents to support local businesses instead of getting in their cars and driving off to distant shopping malls.

"I am very happy with this process because it takes an integrated approach to change a situation, and I am very impressed with the council, business and residents who are playing a role together to make a better environment for all," he said.