Big shift coming for ‘South Africa’s richest square mile’ as more people work from home

Sandton, historically known as Africa’s richest square mile, is set to see a fundamental shift in the coming years as old office buildings are turned into residential spaces.

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Belinda Echeozonjoku, member of the mayoral committee responsible for development planning in the City of Joburg, said the city’s spatial development framework will now be focused on sustainable and more equal living.

She added that there will be more of a focus on the densification of “well-located” areas rather than the city spreading outwards through the development of new townships and suburbs.

“We have our apartheid history and a housing mismatch situation in which large populations are living far away in residential-only areas, having to travel huge distances for everything. It makes no sense having everything separate and creates car-oriented living when what we want is a walkable city,” Echeozonjoku said.

“When you divide services among more people, the costs are lower. You may have to replace small pipes with bigger ones, but you don’t have to build new infrastructure and your maintenance stays the same,” she said.

The clearest example of this is the R3 billion Barlow Park project that will see the corporate park that housed Barloworld’s head office into a ‘mega-city’ with 4,100 residential units.

The project, which will break ground in June, will include an urban forest, a business centre, a 5,500 sqm retail space which includes a Checkers and a Clicks, a medical centre as well as a recreation centre, pool, clubhouse, gym, sports facilities, restaurants and a school.

Growthpoint’s view

Growthpoint Properties, South Africa’s largest domestic office landlord with 161 properties, said that it continues to see a shift in office developments and working from home in its financial results published this week.

“Economic imperatives are driving some companies to reduce their office spaces, and work-from-home routines are creating uncertainty about future space requirements. The good news is that the initial sentiment that offices would no longer be needed is receding with hybrid working patterns set to endure.

“Bigger businesses are returning their staff to offices with different strategies, some fully with others are still on a rotational system. We have started to see smaller tenants that previously vacated their offices return to the market.”

Growthpoint said that the office sector is particularly stressed in Gauteng and Sandton specifically, although it expects this business and financial hub to recover in due course. In conversation with its clients, Growthpoint said that it is seeing different dynamics.

“Technology has made it easy for people to work remotely, and staff save on the time and cost of travelling. But not all staff have access to ideal working environments at home or standby power in the case of outages. At the same time, they still miss their office environment and the social interaction that comes with it,” it said.

Although many companies are still uncertain of their future working arrangements, the hybrid model appears the be a front runner for now, the group said.

“More than just a space to work, collaborate and interact with colleagues, office space plays an undeniably vital role in building and maintaining company culture. Working remotely may still work for existing client relationships, but it is hard to establish those relationships with new clients in a virtual setting.”

Growthpoint said it also anticipates that the changes brought on by the pandemic will influence some of the outdated preconceptions we have about what this space should offer. “Historically, a high parking ratio has been preferable, but in the future, we may be able to use our resources more effectively and provide other amenities that are more important,” it said.

Read: It’s not worth driving into the office anymore with another petrol hike, South Africa’s workers say

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Big shift coming for ‘South Africa’s richest square mile’ as more people work from home