SANITARY lanes in Hillbrow and Berea are being transformed into environmentally friendly, welcoming zones by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), with attractive murals planned each alleyway.

The 18 lanes are getting new paving and lighting, and will be kept clean to discourage crime and dumping, says Seipati More, a development manager at the agency.

Recreational activities will be installed in some of them, while public art will be the focus in others. The JDA has commissioned Trinity Sessions for six separate murals that will be installed in Hillbrow’s alleyways. Work on these murals, created by different artists, will begin this week and will be completed in mid-July.

The murals will draw inspiration from landscapes, the city’s skyline and its people, as well as rural villages and flowers.

“The public art, which may be in the form of mosaic, will brighten the dingy alleyways. Some carved trees may be placed in some of the lanes to beautify the place,” More says. Recreational games planned for some alleys may include hop scotch, among others.

These upgrades, costing an estimated R8-million, began in January and are scheduled for completion at the end of June. More explains: “There will be gates installed on each side of the lanes, with locks for management and maintenance by JRA, Pikitup and City Power.”

The improvements are expected to contribute to the general upgrade of Hillbrow, which has been taking place over the past few years. The once rundown, neglected suburb, a haven for crime, is being transformed into a welcoming neighbourhood.

eKhaya Neighbourhood

Major changes began in 2008. In one significant move, the practice of residents throwing rubbish and other items out their flat windows has been stopped in many streets, through a social upliftment programme called eKhaya Neighbourhood. eKhaya means “at home”, and the programme’s slogan puts the changes into perspective: “Making Hillbrow your home”.

The organiser behind this initiative – a strategy to turn the inner city, low income suburb into an attractive community and neighbourhood – is Josie Adler. She has worked since 2004, supported by property owners, managers and residents, to create an aesthetically appealing and safe neighbourhood in Hillbrow.

At present, the eKhaya Neighbourhood Association has a membership of not-for-profit and for-profit landlords with 22 buildings between them taking up 17 blocks. It also has a network of building managers, cleaning and security services and resident volunteers. About 12 000 people live in the area.

Apart from the residential upgrades, other changes are afoot in Hillbrow: public art is being installed, and a large health precinct is being built.

Health precinct

A top-notch health and research facility is being built through a public-private partnership on the site of the old Hillbrow Hospital. Extensive restoration and renovation is already under way on the old operating theatre and x-ray block.

The Hillbrow Health Precinct, bounded by Hospital, Esselen, Klein and Smit streets, is expected to function as a care facility of excellence for the treatment of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/Aids.

This site, which dates back to 1889, when the first hospital was built there, will also be home to a world-class research and training centre for health professionals, which will contribute to the City’s inner city regeneration strategies.

Groups in this public-private partnership are Vodacom, Altron and Altech, which will be contributing R14-million and R7-million, respectively. The public sector partners include the City of Johannesburg and the Gauteng provincial government.

Angel of the North

With regard to its public art, an angel looking down on the residents of Hillbrow is just one many pieces of art now lining the inner city streets. Arms stretched, the Angel of the North is situated across from Constitution Hill, on the corner of Queens and Kotze streets, outside the restored Governor’s House.

The Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville public art programme began in 2008 and is overseen by the JDA. Other works include mosaic concrete benches, carved wooden tree stumps, murals and metal sculptures.

Hillbrow, which dates back to 1895, was once a notorious crime and drug ridden area, infamous for its violent New Year’s Eve chaos. However, it is slowly being given a new lease of life, as seen in the upliftment of the area.

Developments in neighbouring Berea contribute to this upliftment. They include the restoration of Coronia Gardens. The block has been transformed, with extensive renovations to its 157 bachelor and 167 one-bedroom flats.

The building, on O’Reilly Road, was built as a hotel in the 1970s.

In the 1990s, there was an increase in crime in Berea, when the suburb became somewhat undesirable and buildings such as Coronia Gardens were hijacked and occupied by criminals and drug dealers.

The block was cleared in 2007 by the police and the Red Ants, but it was stripped by vandals and criminals, and left as only a bare shell.

After spending nearly R30-million on the renovation, Jozi Housing will be able to provide over 300 affordable rental flats for middle to lower income households.