OUR VIEWPOINT: Urban renewal is essential

2015-06-03 11:10
Firefighters work to subdue a fire that broke out in a building on Hoosen Haffejee Street. It is suspected that the fire was started by Whoonga addicts.

Firefighters work to subdue a fire that broke out in a building on Hoosen Haffejee Street. It is suspected that the fire was started by Whoonga addicts. (Jonathan Burton)

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THE degradation of the inner city can have devastating effects on those who live, work or run their businesses in the CBD.

Monday’s fire at the Auto and General Supplies building in Hoosen Haffejee Street, allegedly started by Whoonga addicts, is a prime example of how inner-city rot, if allowed to, can spread.

Business owners in the area have complained that vagrants and drug addicts have caused endless problems in recent weeks.

The Msunduzi Municipality has initiated projects to fight urban decay. Reacting to the feeling that the Msunduzi Municipality had abandoned downtown Pietermaritzburg, the city announced in 2011 the long-term Urban Renewal Programme, which is scheduled to run until next year, with the aim of beautifying the city.

The paving of Chief Albert Luthuli Street near the city hall with brick, the installing of solar-powered street lights and solar-powered traffic lights, and the revamping of the two fountains that stood empty and derelict in the middle of Pietermaritzburg’s main shopping area in Church Street, are some of the examples of the projects undertaken by the city.

But good work can be undone if urban decay is allowed to fester and spread its tentacles — like the so called “Broken Window” phenomenon.

The Broken Window theory suggests that creating a cleaner, more attractive environment helps keep crime at bay.

The theory first emerged in a 1982 article in the Atlantic Monthly by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. They used the example of a broken window to illustrate their thesis: a broken window left unrepaired sees vandals break a few more windows. This leads to them breaking into a building and if it is unoccupied, perhaps becoming squatters or lighting fires inside.

The concept also applies to rubbish left on the pavement, which can accumulate and over time can result in people dumping their rubbish bags in the same spot.

There are many examples in this city of the Broken Window theory, with unregulated and unpoliced activities such as illegal parking, illegal trading, illegal building and littering.

If allowed to continue, Pietermaritzburg’s inner city will become a place of decay similar to parts of Mahatma Gandhi (Point) Road in Durban and Hillbrow in Johannesburg.

It is time for the City of Choice to recommit to the Urban Renewal Programme and take back the city from those who thrive on urban decay

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