For many a native Jo'burger, the suburb of Rosebank conjures up images of tree-lined streets framing old-style apartment buildings, noble residences with green, leafy grounds and an array of vibrant shopping and dining spots.
Now, however, one would be forgiven for thinking that this once elegant suburb is nothing but a dusty, noisy construction site, with cranes dotting the skyline and scaffolding blighting the landscape. While this may be true for the time being, there is a forecasted happy ending to all the bustle and chaos ? a multi-million Rand facelift for one of Johannesburg's oldest and much-loved suburbs.
Set to run straight through the suburb
Why all the fuss? Because the Gautrain, Gauteng's answer to traffic congestion and lack of public transport, is under construction in preparation for the 2010 World Cup and it's set to run straight through the suburb. Rosebank Station is currently being built and will make the area more accessible to visitors and hopefully improve the locals' daily commute to and from work. The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system should also help make daily travel in the city more bearable.
While some valuable examples of Art Deco architecture will remain, the revamp is seeing many of the more old-fashioned, rundown residences replaced by a host of somewhat trendier, mixed-use developments, many of which boast apartments that are fast becoming the envy of many up-and-coming professionals who seek urban living close to public amenities and convenient public transport systems.
Despite all the tumult, the pedestrian-friendly culture that is the charm of Rosebank remains intact and continues to lend the suburb investment appeal.
According to Ian Ollis, Democratic Alliance councillor for Ward 90, the Rosebank node was initially designed to be pedestrian-friendly and plans by the Rosebank Management District (RMD) as well as the new City of Johannesburg Urban Design Framework (UDF) are afoot to play up this aspect of the area still further. Almost anything a shopper needs will be within walking distance of the station.
Pedestrian culture unique in Jo'burg
"This pedestrian culture is unique in Johannesburg and provides retailers with a large amount of foot traffic. Also, the Rosebank Station will push the amount of foot traffic through the malls and cafes to much higher levels even than before," says Ollis.
Judith Briggs, a long-time resident and member of the Rosebank Action Group, sums up the suburb's allure: "Rosebank was an early business hub outside the city centre and has always had a strong retail sector presumably because of its location close to desirable residential suburbs such as Melrose, Houghton and Parkwood.
"It also has good medical centres, established churches and private and public schools. There are the attractions of shopping centres, including The Zone and Rosebank Mall, as well as entertainment venues and many restaurants." In fact, Rosebank ? with its mix of residential homes, clusters, townhouses and flats ? offers the best of both worlds: an urban lifestyle plus the benefit of green, open spaces close by. "The proximity to public green areas in the form of the Zoo Lake, the zoo itself and smaller parks add to the sense of open space," says Briggs.
"Rosebank is a vibrant, multi-cultural business and tourist hub which has very successfully combined a commercial node within an attractive working, shopping and entertainment environment," says the head of the Rosebank Management District (RMD), Jenny Alexander.
"Due to its compact size, people can enjoy the outdoor atmosphere en route to their destination. Whether it's a cappuccino under an acacia tree, a visit to one of the country's top galleries, watching an art house movie, shopping at top designer boutiques or strolling around the neighbourhood taking in the Art Deco architecture ? Rosebank has something for everyone," she adds.
Investors favour Rosebank's proximity to the Sandton and Johannesburg CBDs
Rosebank's close proximity to the Sandton and Johannesburg business districts is another factor that's helping it gain the favour of investors as it navigates the property market slump better than other suburbs.
The business development director at Lightstone Risk Management, Andrew Watt, says properties around the intended Gautrain route are experiencing a boom in both price and activity.
"With all of the investment in upgrading accommodation and infrastructure around the Gautrain stations, there has been much anecdotal evidence of increasing interest from property investors in residential property around the new stations," Watt says.