Maboneng: Place of Light. A Case Study in Urban Regeneration in Johannesburg, South Africa
Until the 1970s, Johannesburg’s Central Business District (CBD) was the economic center of South Africa and, arguably, of the entire African continent. In the 1980s, however, a series of events and an epidemic of violence led to a mass exodus from the CBD to Johannesburg’s safer northern suburbs. The CBD became a virtual ‘no-go’ zone and quickly lost its significance as the center of Johannesburg. The city shifted to a decentralized sprawl and the CBD fell into a state of abandoned disrepair. Decades later, entrepreneur Jonathan Liebmann decided the time was right to revitalize Johannesburg and in 2008 he launched an urban regeneration project in one of the most abandoned sections of the CBD. The district, known as the Maboneng Precinct, is an urban regeneration project designed to turn a blighted and empty neighborhood into a mixed-use creative hub. Liebmann believed that the creative community could play an important role in transforming an urban area and set about converting a series of empty industrial warehouses into a combination of apartments, restaurants, shops, and art studios. For the first time in a generation, a community of creative young professionals chose to live and work in downtown Johannesburg.
Moving forward, Liebmann is faced with a set of tradeoffs about how best to build on Maboneng’s initial success, in Johannesburg and beyond. Maboneng’s initial success has quickly propelled Liebmann into the global spotlight and made him a global thought-leader on urban regeneration. This rapid ascent has led him to consider replicating the project in other cities throughout the world, just six years after first opening the precinct. With limited resources, Liebmann must choose between focusing on the existing precinct’s sustainability, expanding the precinct within Johannesburg, or replicating the model elsewhere. Ultimately, Liebmann must decide how to expand Maboneng successfully without compromising the vision he initially set out to achieve.
The fundamental question of the case study is whether the Maboneng Precinct is a successful and sustainable urban regeneration model to be replicated or are there underlying socio-economic, racial, and governmental issues that make unsustainable and unattractive. On a broader level, this case study seeks to explore three key elements of urban regeneration. First, it explores the concepts of urban regeneration and gentrification while highlighting the subjectivity of each of these concepts. Second, the case study seeks to examine the tradeoffs made between different models of urban regeneration by highlighting one such method: an arts and design district. Finally, this case study hopes to explore the concept of sustainability in an urban community by discussing the roles of the private and public sector in urban regeneration.
This case study is part of a series of cases designed for the course "Case Studies in Sustainable Development" at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).