Restoring the core?: central city decline and transformation in the South
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Central cities are vibrant and productive places because of the dense concentration of people, firms and supporting facilities. Yet their dynamism can be undermined by congestion, social tensions and poor urban management. South Africa???s four major city centres experienced tumultuous changes during the transition from
apartheid and the exodus of many property owners, investors and occupiers to the suburbs. Buildings decayed,
infrastructure collapsed, public health and safety deteriorated, and governance was disrupted by unauthorised
activities. Despite the general neglect, signs of recovery have emerged and gathered momentum in recent years.
The revival is fragile, partial and patchy in most cases, and dwarfed by scale of new investment in outlying
economic nodes. The paper uses a resilience framework to examine how enterprising organisations have spurred regeneration by identifying opportunities for the adaptive reuse of redundant buildings and public spaces for affordable housing and social amenities. It also compares the extent, character and causes of the rebound across the four cities, demonstrating elements of continuity (bounce-back resilience) and transformation (bounce-forward resilience) in each case. Cape Town is characterised more by continuity and Johannesburg more by decline and transformation, with Pretoria and Durban in between. City centre recovery is attributed to a combination of pioneering private and public sector actions, albeit disjointed and uneven in their effectiveness. The paper concludes that central cities are relatively open incubators of economic and social progress, but also cauldrons of competing interests which create many dilemmas for decision-makers to negotiate, and which require coordinated attention and determination to realise their potential.