urbanter

Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

Community Cube Urban Activation + Final Johannesburg Reflections

My time in Johannesburg and my work with GRIND ended last Thursday with a final presentation and exposition event of the Maboneng Community Cube, my GRIND residency project. I spent the days (and nights) before the presentation working with neighborhood residents putting final touches on the Cube. The Cube was “finished” with Thursday’s presentation, but is meant to be a living and changing space, and will hopefully continue to see changes even after I leave Johannesburg.

The Community Cube final presentation during my last night at GRIND.

The Community Cube final presentation during my last night at GRIND.

The cube event opened with a public garage opening at street level.

The cube event opened with a public garage opening at street level.

The presentation incudes a free public soup event with The Urban Basket and Woza Waste and a public garage activation session, as seen here.

The presentation included a free public soup event with The Urban Basket and Woza Waste and a public garage activation session, as seen here.

The presentation itself was a remarkable success: around 60 people attended both the presentation at the GRIND studio and the Cube’s unveiling at a public garage below. More importantly than the number of attendees, the diversity of the presentation’s participants reflected the changing Maboneng and Jeppestown neighborhoods quite well. As I finished my presentation, I have now been reflecting on my time in Johannesburg, my work with GRIND, and the unparalleled summer experience I have had.

Finishing the Cube: Final Touches

In the final days before the Cube’s presentation, I changed a few key features and added some new Cube capacities. Working with a local designer named Chesta, we re-painted the Cube’s top. Chesta used rulers, rollers, and brushes to paint the Cube with the same logo we had designed in Photoshop. It looks phenomenal and professional. When the Cube is closed, it can be used a meeting table to discuss community issues and events; the new logo makes using that meeting table all the more attractive.

Chesta designed the cube’s logo, which is found on top of the cube.

Chesta designed the cube’s logo, which is found on top of the cube.

In addition, I worked with local welders from the SA Welding School to devise an ingenious pulley-and-chain system for the Cube’s roof. The Cube’s roof and front side open, but the roof needed a way to stay up vertically so local residents can use the white board below the top. David and France led the effort to create a pulley-and-chain system to hold the roof open. They used only materials sourced in the neighborhood and we became quite good friends in the process. David, who is an immigrant from the Congo, even spoke in French as we discussed politics, immigration, and the Cube’s role in the neighborhood.

Welders David, France, and others design a chain contraption for the top of the cube.

Welders David, France, and others design a chain contraption for the top of the cube.

Finally, local artist Thokozane painted a brilliant mural in the Cube’s interior during the night and wee morning hours before the Cube’s final unveiling. Thokozane is often busy painting murals, walls, and public projects throughout Johannebsurg, so I was quite lucky he was able to help me. Thokozane painted a map of the neighborhood on the Cube’s floor, but this is no normal map: on the sides of the Cube the streets turn into telephone poles and buildings, the river (now an underground culvert) turns into a street sign, and the train tracks turn into a large sign that says: “Welcome to Jeppestown.” The piece was moving because of its creativity and because of its innovative coordination of geography and common neighborhood elements. Thokozane himself is from the neighborhood and all of the Cube’s participants immediately recognized the streets in his map.

Local artist and resident Thokozane designed the cube’s interior and drew it during the wee morning hours before the cube presentation.

Local artist and resident Thokozane designed the cube’s interior and drew it during the wee morning hours before the cube presentation.

For the final presentation, the Cube sat in a public garage, on street level, at the base of the GRIND building. All around the Cube, on the walls of the garage, I posted color photos of the Cube’s design process and of actors who helped make the Cube a reality. The entire space looked and felt like a living museum.

Residents look at the community cube in the GRIND public garage.

Residents look at the community cube in the GRIND public garage.

Event attendees write messages on the cube's chalkboard.

Event attendees write messages on the cube’s chalkboard.

Presenting the Cube

Finally, the big night was here! The entire GRIND office spent much of the afternoon preparing logistics for the presentation. Chloe and Mantsane, two of my friends, cooked a delicious soup for hundreds of people. The goal was as follows: create a free public soup event on the street in front of the garage space to draw locals into the garage and (hopefully) into the presentation. I had coordinated with Alice and the Urban Basket to make sure that the presentation itself also had free food and wine. Sure enough, with the big soup pots and signs saying free soup, people lined up from around the neighborhood to eat. And a large, large number were excited about the Cube exhibit. Others stayed for the entire presentation and drinks. As I stood up to give my presentation, I saw new friends, old friends, local residents, and visitors from around the globe looking back at me.

My friends Jabu and Physical, who are filmmakers in Jeppestown, came in full force. They were 30 minutes early and brought a group of 12 enthusiastic friends. Jabu also helped film the event. Jabu and Physical will be coordinating the “Friends of the Community Cube” effort now that I am leaving South Africa, and their enthusiasm at the event was exciting, to say the least.

My presentation about to begin at the GRIND Johannesburg studio.

My presentation about to begin at the GRIND Johannesburg studio.

I was also enthralled to see no fewer than 10 welders from the South African welding school at the presentation. They hooted and hollered in the back, and joked with Edet, the local baker. I also saw young people from Curiocity, like my friends Tshepo and K, who worked hard on the Cube’s exterior. I saw a dozen Maboneng and Propertuity employees, GRIND residents, and even contacts like Cuba, who works at Architects of Justice in the Newton neighborhood. My heart jumped when I saw Mariska April, the Stanford in Cape Town coordinator, walk into the room with three friends. The Sciences Po Maboneng Exchange Team also attended in full force, bringing an international perspective to the event. And half way through, Bheki and his friend Cintle walked in, which drew a tremendous smile to my face; I could not have had half of the success I did in Johannesburg without Bheki’s support. All in all, I was dumfounded and in awe to see the outpouring of support for the Cube and for my presentation.

Welders from the SA Welding school at the presentation.

Welders from the SA Welding school at the presentation.

After the event itself, I spoke with dozens of young people about how they could plug into the Cube effort. I heard ideas about putting videos and lights on the Cube, and David from the welding school talked of a solar-powered battery. Physical mentioned a fashion exhibition. And Edet asked if he could have and frame a copy of his interview on the Cube. The most amazing comment, though, came from Bheki: “I’ve never seen such a cross-section of people at an event, Stefan. Wow. Talk about a diverse group of people enjoying themselves and coming together.” I held back tears of joy. I had trouble imagining that I could soon be leaving Johannesburg.

Presentation event participants sit and listen as I begin my presentation on the community cube.

Presentation event participants sit and listen as I begin my presentation on the community cube.

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Me during my presentation on the cube.

A Final Night in Johannesburg

With an upcoming trip to Bloemfontein scheduled for the next day and my GRIND presentation finished, Alice had scheduled a goodbye party at a neighborhood bar, the Zebra Inn. We closed up the office, leaving the Cube on the public street for lingering locals, and went to the Zebra. It was filled with around 40 friends, co-workers, and neighborhood residents. Some of my friends, who were a bit too busy to attend my presentation or perhaps unsure about going, found no problem attending the after party. Never since my Bar Mitzvah years ago have I had such a large celebratory event organized in my honor. I could not contain my joy and excitement as I thanked and hugged friend after friend after friend. We danced away the last night in Johannesburg, and I felt contented.

My final night in Johannesburg was a joyous one filled with friendship.

My final night in Johannesburg was a joyous one filled with friendship.

Reflection

Johannesburg was not an easy place to live. The Maboneng and Jeppestown neighborhoods were not simple places. As I was leaving the neighborhood, my friend Mantsane asked me:  “So how was it? Did you have fun this summer?” I wanted to explain to Mantsane the roller coaster of emotions, the love, the pain, the inequality, the hussle, that I felt these last few months. But I had somewhere to be, as always seems to be the case in Johannesburg. So I said: “One word about this neighborhood: energy. And it can be harnessed to create so much beauty.”

I can tell you what my summer was not.  It was not easy. It was not relaxing. It was not “chill.” It was a wild ride of beauty, of pain, of love, of crime, of friendship. I have so much respect for local residents in this neighborhood, and I was honored that they took my in for the last three months. I return to the United States a much, much wiser man. I have much more respect for community development work and I know what it takes, and how both beautiful and exhausting it can be, to live in a low-income urban neighborhood. I know I’ll be back to Johannesburg in general and to Maboneng specifically. There are too many friends with whom I must reconnect. There are too many stories unresolved. Will Bheki open up a new backpacker hostel? Will Mantsane from the Urban Basket follow her dream and open up a produce grocery cooperative? More importantly, will the camaraderie and friendship still be there when I return? Will Alice be thriving as an urban consultant? I need the answers to these questions. And, more importantly, I want to see my friends again. So I will, without question, be back.

My final night in Johannesburg was a joyous one filled with friendship.

My final night in Johannesburg was a joyous one filled with friendship.

This summer would not have been as amazing as it was without the friendship, kindness, and support from local residents. Thank you for welcoming me into the neighborhood!

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A Cube Takes Shape

Back from Durban, I have embarked on my final week (already!) with GRIND in Johannesburg. The focus of my week has been physical work on the community cube. The cube has been built and designed; it now needs to be activated. The past week has been spent working on community cube logos and themes, painting the cube, and populating the cube with features including artwork, designs, and the “Faces of Community” interview exhibit. I will close my time with a public presentation about the cube.

The Cube’s Theme

Working collaboratively with community members, I found the best community cube logo would be much like the GRIND Studio’s multi-colored logo, showcasing the structure as an energizing, welcoming space. Therefore, the logo uses GRIND colors and includes a multi-colored, bright design theme. I worked with and sought out support from local graphic designers, community members, and artists to finalize the logo. Special thanks go to my friend Andile, local resident Chesta Al Gawdly, and a professional graphic designer named Jared who works with IHEARTIDEAS. I also received logo feedback from GRIND Director Alice Cabaret.  Ultimately, I came up with the following logo and theme for the Cube:

The cube's logo and theme.

The cube’s logo and theme.

CommunityCubeLogoBox

The cube’s logo and theme.

Painting the Cube

Given the cube’s unique logo and theme, I went to work painting it with help from GRIND residents and community members. Each side of the cube is a different solid color, matching the logo colors. The cube’s top is blue, and three of the sides are yellow, green, and red, just like the logo. The cube’s fourth side is a chalkboard, which allows residents and community members to write thoughts and ideas.

GRIND residents and community members paint the cube collaboratively.

GRIND residents and community members paint the cube collaboratively.

The cube’s bright colors activate the exterior and bring to life the theme.

The cube’s bright colors activate the exterior and bring to life the theme.

Activating the Cube

Now that the cube has been painted, I am working to activate the cube. The first step is the exterior “Faces of Community exhibit”: strings and burlap fabric serve as the background to feature colorful interview testimonials from community members. The burlap background is designed to be permanent while interview testimonials rotate frequently. It is important to note that all cube materials have been purchased within the Maboneng and Jeppestown neighborhood by independently-run businesses. Future projects for the cube include a hand-drawn local map, art exhibition space, and a space for posting community events and job opportunities.

Community members work on activating the cube.

Community members work on activating the cube.

The cube includes burlap material used as a background for interview testimonials and artwork.   All materials are sourced from the Jeppestown and Maboneng neighborhoods.

The cube includes burlap material used as a background for interview testimonials and artwork. All materials are sourced from the Jeppestown and Maboneng neighborhoods.

Presenting the Cube:

As I end my time with GRIND, I will use this Thursday evening as a time for a public activation and presentation about the cube. From 7:00 – 8:30 pm at the GRIND studio, I will present the cube and my iterative design process. The event is open to the public and I am hoping to attract a diverse audience to the event. The cube itself will not be at the GRIND studio but illuminated on the sidewalk below: the cube is meant to be on “street-level” in a sufficiently public space. More information about the event can be found here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/857885194224741/.

If you find yourself in the Johannesburg area, please attend!

 

One last reflective blog piece about my experiences will follow next week.

 

DURBANISM

This past week, I travelled with GRIND staff to Durban, South Africa to help launch key elements of the Rivertown Neighborhood revitalization project. Durban is South Africa’s third largest city (after Johannesburg and Cape Town) and boasts long, pristine beaches and a high-density central business district (CBD). Situated just blocks from the beach and right next to the CBD, Rivertown currently houses mostly vacant low-density industrial buildings but possesses immense potential. The area includes short, interesting street blocks and wide sidewalks: an urban flaneur’s dream. GRIND is helping work on three principal projects in the area: (1) an artisan produce market at 8 Morrison Street called “The Morning Trade”; (2) a canal Daylighting project, which also creates a pedestrian street and green space; and (3) the revitalization of an abandoned former beer hall into a new music and community center selling craft beers. In addition to these major projects, GRIND is also commissioning and supporting public art and public space interventions in the neighborhood.

The Morning Trade under construction before the Sunday market grand opening

The Morning Trade under construction before the Sunday market grand opening

The Morning Trade under construction before the Sunday market grand opening

The Morning Trade under construction before the Sunday market grand opening

The Morning Trade under construction before the Sunday market grand opening.

The Morning Trade under construction before the Sunday market grand opening.

Personally, my work in Durban consisted of making the #GRINDLine, a fluorescent green line connecting different elements of Rivertown. The Morning Trade’s grand opening was Sunday, August 3, and the bulk of my work occurred just before the opening. I enjoyed seeing the construction and final work for the district’s various projects before the opening as I walked slowly on foot creating the line.

The #GRINDLine in its initial stages.

The #GRINDLine in its initial stages.

Visitors to Rivertown using the #GRINDLine.

Visitors to Rivertown using the #GRINDLine.

The #GRINDLine takes visitors and Durbanites to the market, canal zone, and beer hall, and also to murals like this one, commissioned by GRIND.

The #GRINDLine takes visitors and Durbanites to the market, canal zone, and beer hall, and also to murals like this one, commissioned by GRIND.

GRIND’s work extends beyond linking single buildings in the neighborhood and focuses on improving public spaces, like streets and sidewalks, in the neighborhood.  With the district’s close proximity to the beach and the city’s CBD, walkable and bitable streets, street art, and green space will make Rivertown a desirable place to be indeed.  GRIND also created a participatory urbanism exhibition, called Durbanism, at 8 Morrison Street for the market’s opening. The exhibition space includes interactive signs and panels giving local residents the opportunity to shape their community. We were all immensely impressed by the level of participation at the opening event, both with the exhibition and with people using the GRIND Line to walk from area to area.

Re-thinking street use and public space in Durban’s Rivertown neighborhood.

Re-thinking street use and public space in Durban’s Rivertown neighborhood.

Re-thinking street use and public space in Durban’s Rivertown neighborhood.

Re-thinking street use and public space in Durban’s Rivertown neighborhood.

GRIND’s Durbanism exhibit includes participatory ways for locals to express desires for their neighborhood and region.

GRIND’s Durbanism exhibit includes participatory ways for locals to express desires for their neighborhood and region.

GRIND’s Durbanism exhibit includes participatory ways for locals to express desires for their neighborhood and region.

GRIND’s Durbanism exhibit includes participatory ways for locals to express desires for their neighborhood and region.

GRIND’s Durbanism exhibit includes participatory ways for locals to express desires for their neighborhood and region.

GRIND’s Durbanism exhibit includes participatory ways for locals to express desires for their neighborhood and region.

GRIND’s Durbanism exhibit includes participatory ways for locals to express desires for their neighborhood and region.

GRIND’s Durbanism exhibit includes participatory ways for locals to express desires for their neighborhood and region.

I am now back in Johannesburg and have resumed work on my Community Cube project, but very much enjoyed spending this last week in Durban. I was able to see another part of South Africa and learn about urban interventions in a new neighborhood. The first Sunday in Rivertown was a remarkable success; people from all around Durban and South Africa came to enjoy the new space. I was also able to enjoy a warmer climate and spend some time at the beach! Overall, I think the Rivertown revitalization efforts will be extremely successful and I cannot wait to see the changes these efforts bring to the community.

The market on opening day.  The neighborhood revitalization project’s opening day was an immense success!

The market on opening day. The neighborhood revitalization project’s opening day was an immense success!

The market on opening day.  The neighborhood revitalization project’s opening day was an immense success!

The market on opening day. The neighborhood revitalization project’s opening day was an immense success!

Creating a Cube: Updates on Stefan’s Project with GRIND

The community cube has been assembled and has already gone to good use. Earlier this week, Sandile and his co-workers built and put together the cube just blocks from the GRIND studio in the Mai Mai Market development. The oldest market in Johannesburg, the Mai Mai complex is dedicated to traditional Zulu healing, and is a vital part of the local area. Sandile runs a woodworking operation in the market, and made the cube exactly to our specifications. The cube even includes white boards on the inside that gives capacity for presentations and dynamic workshops. We are excited to connect with Sandile’s operation and the Mai Mai community to make the cube!

Assembling the cube in the Mai Mai Market.

Assembling the cube in the Mai Mai Market.

 

Assembling the cube in the Mai Mai Market.

Assembling the cube in the Mai Mai Market.

 

Sandile and co-works help transport the cube.

Sandile and co-works help transport the cube.

With help from Sandile, we transported the cube to the GRIND offices, where it currently rests in the first floor lobby. At 1.5 cubic meters, the cube is large indeed and will complement neighborhood public spaces with dynamic exhibitions. For now, however, the cube is still just wooden and unpainted, with no exhibits, but the next phase of my project: populating the cube with materials and resources, begins next week.

 

 

Transporting the cube to the GRIND offices.

Transporting the cube to the GRIND offices.

 

At 1.5 cubic meters, the cube fills the Situation East Building’s first floor lobby.

At 1.5 cubic meters, the cube fills the Situation East Building’s first floor lobby.

 

At 1.5 cubic meters, the cube fills the Situation East Building’s first floor lobby.

At 1.5 cubic meters, the cube fills the Situation East Building’s first floor lobby.

This evening, another Situation East building resident hosted a neighborhood gathering and party. To my surprise, when attending I found the cube being used as a table and gathering place by around a dozen men and women who were either about to attend or coming from the party. Although initially surprised, I am glad to see that the community cube is already bringing people together!

IMG_6471

 

 

 

 

“Community Cube”, Local Neighborhood Engagement, and Cross-Organizational Collaboration

This week afforded more adventures both with GRIND and in and around Jeppestown and Troyville. I will share three experiences with you now: my new “Community Cube” project, visiting the home and neighborhood of local legend Bheki Dube, and meeting and discussing urban ideas with Boundless City founder and co-director Alexandra Cunningham.

The “Community Cube” Concept: A Maboneng Living Museum Exhibition

In a neighborhood development context, community spaces need to be flexible and welcoming for all. I also want my community projects to be sustainable and “owned” by community members themselves. As a part of this goal, Alice Cabaret (GRIND Director) and I have thought of the “Community Cube”: a 1.5m square cube that showcases local talent and potential, functions as a space for events and performances, and ultimately boosts social capital. It is owned and managed by community members, who will also assemble and construct the cube, and help design it.

When the cube is closed, it serves as a meeting table and gathering place. A cube design logo (designed by neighborhood residents) marks the top, and the sides include participatory chalkboard spaces, areas to post about local events and career resources, and spaces for crowd funding initiatives.

When the cube is closed, it serves as a meeting table and gathering place. A cube design logo (designed by neighborhood residents) marks the top, and the sides include participatory chalkboard spaces, areas to post about local events and career resources, and spaces for crowd funding initiatives.

Cubes are known for their pronounced, sharp edges. Places like Maboneng are beautiful because of their edges, their boundaries. People of different races, classes, and backgrounds come together and meet, and the result is not separation but intersection and diversity. Maboneng’s cube brings hundreds of living faces together to illustrate the diversity—and commonality—of South Africa’s ultimate urban experience.

On the inside, the cube opens and includes spaces to showcase local talent and civic leaders through ethnographic testimonials. The inside top also includes a whiteboard space for presentations. Small foldable two-board chairs are stored inside the cube for civic events. The floor will include a neighborhood map.

On the inside, the cube opens and includes spaces to showcase local talent and civic leaders through ethnographic testimonials. The inside top also includes a whiteboard space for presentations. Small foldable two-board chairs are stored inside the cube for civic events. The floor will include a neighborhood map.

A “community cube” is a light, mobile, and innovative site of collective neighborhood memory. On the inside, the community cube documents an area’s “story” not merely through traditional historical accounts, but through ethnographic testimonials of a great diversity of community leaders, residents, and workers. Such testimonials will take the visual form of a “Faces of Community” exhibition that shows faces and stories of neighborhood leaders, and also shows neighborhood talent, like art, poetry exhibitions, or music. As a light and mobile object, civic leaders can move a community cube to different events and functions. The cube can be located in outdoor public spaces and in museums with sufficient space. A cube is the simplest and neatest of shapes, and a community cube reflects the many complex stories and the messiness that exists in even the most even of shapes. Ultimately, a community cube empowers a district’s local residents to consider not just the spatial dimensions of their neighborhood, but the faces and histories of a local conglomerate. The cube can later be expanded as the basis for a larger exhibition or full community museum.

Adventures with Bheki Dube

Bheki Dube was born and raised in neighboring Troyville, just a ten minute walk from where he currently resides. Now featured in countless magazine and newspaper articles about the Maboneng Precinct and serving as the official “neighborhood host” and known as an essential community broker, Bheki was once just an ambitious Troyville boy photographing his city. As we walked towards his original home, Bheki explained some of his history to me. He showed me where old restaurants stood, where neighbors had lived. It was an impressive experience. It still shocks me that Bheki is 22 years old. After his first job, Bheki began taking photographs of urban Johannesburg, of places no tourist wanted to visit. And Bheki’s photography caught on. Soon he started a highly successful Johannesburg touring company, Main Street Walks, that continues to give inner city Johannesburg tours on “Art and Social Justice,” “Public Art,” and more. Bheki’s company was recently featured in the New York Times; he now employs half a dozen other tour guides to manage his many tour operations. And, most famously, Bheki partnered with Jonathan Liebmann to start Curiocity Backpackers, a Mabondeng community institution and essential place for people like me to meet and engage with local neighborhood residents. We passed the Jeppe Train Station, and then walked through to Jeppe Park. Bheki had grown up playing here, and today it was filled with eager youngsters surrounding the skatepark. Skatistan, an American NGO originally serving Afghanistan, had just built a new skatepark and American volunteers were helping local kids learn to skate in the dying sunlight.

Jeppe Station from above.

Jeppe Station from above.

Skateistan in Troyville Park.

Skateistan in Troyville Park.

Johannesburg skyline from Troyville.

Johannesburg skyline from Troyville.

Behind us I saw one of the best views of the city’s skyline. As we continued walking, I was ever more impressed with Bheki’s acute historical knowledge of the neighborhood. “See these house foundations?” he told me: “This is old Johannesburg, that’s why they have foundations of old stones, not bricks.” Finally, we arrived at Beryl Court, where Bheki grew up and where his mom still stays. Bheki enthusiastically greeted neighbors. Bheki introduced me to neighbors of all backgrounds. From there we went to the roof of his building. “This is the best view in Joburg,” he said enthusiastically, and he was right. We continued walking, and he showed me a small art gallery, the Spaza Art Gallery, run by a local artist and antique dealer.

Meeting with Boundless City Founder Alexandra Cunningham

Yesterday, I also had the chance to meet with Boundless City founder and co-director Alexandra Cunningham. Alex is another American, born and raised in San Jose, who runs a people-based urban development nonprofit (http://www.boundlesscity.com/index.html). We met at her newest operation, a community café, bar, and gathering space. It was beautifully built and is located right in the heart of Johannesburg’s CBD. Alexandra and I talked about urban development techniques, event and performances, and more generally how to make positive social change at a neighborhood level. Alexandra and Boundless City also produce dynamic consultation reports for neighborhood products. She ensures that neighborhood residents conduct all surveys and gather data and are compensated for their time and efforts. Our conversation was very inspiring and I look forward to working with Boundless City more in the future.

More updates to come in future weeks. I will tell you about the status of my community cube project and will highlight more adventures from the City of Gold!

Arts programming at Bounless City

Arts programming at Bounless City

Collaboration Cafe space at Boundless City.

Collaboration Cafe space at Boundless City.

Friends of Boundless City

Friends of Boundless City

 

The Daily GRIND Part II: My Day-To-Day in Johannesburg

In my last blog post, The Daily GRIND Part I, I briefly discussed some events and activities I am working on in the precinct. In this post, I hope to provide more color on my surroundings and context in Jeppestown and Johannesburg.

I spend my nights in the neighborhood, just about a block from the GRIND office, on Fox St. Curiocity backpackers is owned and operated by Bheki Dube, an well-known local photographer and community leader. Whether I talk with retailers, young people, or religious leaders, everyone knows Bheki, and they all respect him greatly.

Home for now is at Curiocity, a hostel, backpacker’s lodge, and bar.  Curiocity is always abuzz with local residents, and staying with Bheki has given me the opportunity to meet dozens of talented local young people.

Home for now is at Curiocity, a hostel, backpacker’s lodge, and bar. Curiocity is always abuzz with local residents, and staying with Bheki has given me the opportunity to meet dozens of talented local young people.

On my way to work, I often stop at Eddy’s Bakery, also on Fox St.  Eddy is a Nigerian immigrant who came to South Africa looking for a job.  He found an old confectionary and decided to start his own business.  Eddy makes delicious fresh bread each day, and also serves pastries, coffee, and tea.  The two of us are good friends.

Eddy and Precious sell bread, coffee, tea, and pastries to customers on a Wednesday morning.

Eddy and Precious sell bread, coffee, tea, and pastries to customers on a Wednesday morning.

Next to the GRIND office, I pass an abandoned building which houses 54 families and a thriving recycling operation. This building’s residents inhabit the ground floor without documentation, and run a recycling center on the roof. Maboneng developers termed it a ‘hijacked’ building, and GRIND is hoping to initiate a project that gives the building a renovation, running water, and a new recycling space while still keeping the 54 families in their building.

Fifty-four families live in this ‘hijacked’ building and run an informal recycling operation on top.  Today is recycling day.

Fifty-four families live in this ‘hijacked’ building and run an informal recycling operation on top. Today is recycling day.

A walk to the GRIND offices along Fox Street in Maboneng.

A walk to the GRIND offices along Fox Street in Maboneng.

The GRIND building itself is a beautiful place. It was once a large industrial building home to printing companies and other factories, and the large concrete warehouses reflect that history. The GRIND office is on the top floor. GRIND director Alice Cabaret has done a fabulous job of turning this once empty industrial space into a thriving, creative studio hub. GRIND is filled with work tables, innovative urban exhibits, chalk boards for creative collaboration, and even a message table and small bed. GRIND also has one of the best views of downtown Johannesburg; it is an inspiring place to work, to say the least.

The GRIND studio.  My desk is in the foreground.  With one of the best views of Johannesburg’s skyline out the window, the GRIND space is inspirational!

The GRIND studio. My desk is in the foreground. With one of the best views of Johannesburg’s skyline out the window, the GRIND space is inspirational!

The backside of the GRIND building.  This building used to be filled with industrial warehouse space for printing factories and other operations.

The backside of the GRIND building. This building used to be filled with industrial warehouse space for printing factories and other operations.

I love my GRIND office space, but most of my day-to-day work with GRIND takes place outside of the office.  I often walk the streets of Maboneng and Jeppestown talking to local residents, meeting talented young people, and thinking about how best to put together a community museum.

A Walk Around the Neighborhood:  Maboneng and Jeppestown

A short walked around the neighborhood from the GRIND office provides a good overview into the changing urban dynamic of east inner city Johannesburg.  GRIND has done a fabulous job initiating public art and mural projects, and Maboneng is also filled with public spaces and exhibits of participatory urbanism.  Maboneng does a good job of taking spaces like highway underpasses or vacant street areas, for example, and adding artistic and creative elements.  Participatory chalkboards allow residents (new and old alike) to join into the artistic conversation.  Larger murals (pictures below) are full portraits of Jan Van Riebeeck (Dutch colonial administrator and founder of Cape Town), Nelson Mandela, and a Springbok drinking water.

Street art in Maboneng.  Can you decipher the meaning?  Do you find it ironic?

Street art in Maboneng. Can you decipher the meaning? Do you find it ironic?

Kruger Street in Maboneng.  The building on the left is the Museum of African Design (MOAD), and the building on the right is an abandoned space that used to house the Cosmopolitan Jazz Club.  Maboneng hopes to re-open a jazz club in this same historic building.

Kruger Street in Maboneng. The building on the left is the Museum of African Design (MOAD), and the building on the right is an abandoned space that used to house the Cosmopolitan Jazz Club. Maboneng hopes to re-open a jazz club in this same historic building.

Full murals of Jan Van Riebeek and Nelson Mandela boxing take up the entire wall.  Street art like this can be found on the side of buildings throughout the Precinct.

Full murals of Jan Van Riebeek and Nelson Mandela boxing take up the entire wall. Street art like this can be found on the side of buildings throughout the Precinct.

Full murals of Jan Van Riebeek and Nelson Mandela boxing take up the entire wall.  Street art like this can be found on the side of buildings throughout the Precinct.

Full murals of Jan Van Riebeek and Nelson Mandela boxing take up the entire wall. Street art like this can be found on the side of buildings throughout the Precinct.

GRIND works to add street art in otherwise desolate locations, like highways underpasses or sidewalks spaces in front of abandoned lots.

GRIND works to add street art in otherwise desolate locations, like highways underpasses or sidewalks spaces in front of abandoned lots.

GRIND works to add street art in otherwise desolate locations, like highways underpasses or sidewalks spaces in front of abandoned lots.

GRIND works to add street art in otherwise desolate locations, like highways underpasses or sidewalks spaces in front of abandoned lots.

GRIND works to add street art in otherwise desolate locations, like highways underpasses or sidewalks spaces in front of abandoned lots.

GRIND works to add street art in otherwise desolate locations, like highways underpasses or sidewalks spaces in front of abandoned lots.

Participatory street art exhibitions allow residents—old and new alike—to dynamically “draw” their Maboneng experience and shape the artistic product.

Participatory street art exhibitions allow residents—old and new alike—to dynamically “draw” their Maboneng experience and shape the artistic product.

Participatory street art exhibitions allow residents—old and new alike—to dynamically “draw” their Maboneng experience and shape the artistic product.

Participatory street art exhibitions allow residents—old and new alike—to dynamically “draw” their Maboneng experience and shape the artistic product.

That’s all for now!  I hope this post provided a bit more local color as you picture the Maboneng / Jeppestown area, and GRIND’s work in the precinct.  More soon!

A street scene in the developed portion of the Maboneng Precinct.  Both sides of the street consist of high-end apartments and ground floor fashion and retail stores.

A street scene in the newly developed portion of the Maboneng Precinct. Both sides of the street consist of high-end apartments and ground floor fashion and retail stores.

 

The Daily GRIND Part I: Stefan’s Work and Events in Johannesburg

Here at the Global Regeneration Initiative for Neighbourhood Development (GRIND), I am busy with a number of events and activities.

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Most centrally, I am embarking on the creation of the Maboneng Living Museum that reflects on the Maboneng Precinct’s rich history, celebrates the neighborhood’s present talent and diversity, and charts a course for the future. On a day-to-day level, this involves meeting with relevant stakeholders, talking with residents of Maboneng and Jeppestown, and writing planning proposals as the museum takes shape. I am also working to re-consider notions of security and crime—one of Maboneng’s most controversial elements—at a neighborhood level through interactive workshops. Finally, I am helping provide space and publicity for local events through the GRIND platform.

Charting a Course: The Living Museum

When I started at Maboneng, I thought of the social structure quite simplistically. I thought of “the community” as one large, diverse entity.   As diverse as its members were, I did not yet know the specific communities of interest, profession, or geography that makes the Maboneng neighborhood so interesting. The diagram below might approximate how I considered the local social structure:

Community 1

I have now come to see the social structure in a different fashion. “The community” is actually not merely a diverse group, but dozens of different groups that interact with Maboneng and Jeppestown—and themselves—in different ways. Some community members feel a stronger connection to Maboneng than they feel to other community groups. Some love the precinct and use the space frequently, while others loathe the Maboneng project. Such a large number of groups use the Maboneng space simultaneously that a community diagram might look more like this:

 

I have seen a number of different and intersecting community groups, each of which use the Maboneng and Jeppestown space differently and to different degrees. My overarching approach for the museum is to engage and interact with all of these groups. Over the past few days, I have met and interacted with a number of different groups and community members whom I am ultimately hoping to engage for the museum. These community members include members of the retailer community: a local baker who is an immigrant to South Africa from Nigeria, a classic clothing retailer, and members of the Mai Mai Zulu market, who are traditional doctors and healers. I am also talking with the local welders and a welding school. They are interested in hosting political events around the precinct, and I want to find a way to make that possible. In return, the welders might be interested in welding locally sourced material for the museum space. Rather than purchasing furniture or museum stands from around the world and importing them to South Africa, Maboneng can support a community business just around the corner by employing the welders for museum materials. Neighborhood historians are also an interesting group; they are eager to think of the museum as it considers the past, and have industrial artifacts from the neighborhood dating from before the Maboneng development project began.

The local Welding School building, where I contact and interact with many of the neighborhood’s welders.

The local Welding School building, where I contact and interact with many of the neighborhood’s welders.

Tackling Security and Crime in Maboneng

Johannesburg as a city has a controversial relationship with crime, which continues to rise in the city as a whole, according to the latest statistics.  In the Jeppestown / Maboneng neighborhood, however, crime is not increasing even as it still remains a vexing challenge.  Security guards patrol the streets day and night, even as theft continues for Maboneng residents and as some indigenous residents feel uncomfortable walking on tightly patrolled streets.  I am hoping to make security more organic, so everyone feels comfortable walking Maboneng’s public streets and so that crime reduces naturally through socially cohesion.  The Maboneng / Jeppestown area has great potential to become one of the safer urban zones in Johannesburg when it comes to crime if we work collaboratively.

After talking with others at the GRIND office, I am planning to organize an event and workshop on security and crime in the precinct. I hope to bring together new Maboneng residents, security guards and staff, and local Jeppestown residents for a frank discussion about crime in the neighborhood. What is working and what is not working? How can we change the way security works in Maboneng to make it both more effective and more cohesive? A big misconception among many Maboneng visitors is that crime only affects the rich and is perpetrated by poorer residents. In fact, crime affects everyone in the district, and the neighborhood’s poorer residents often have the greatest difficulty replacing stolen items. In this event, we hope to make Maboneng’s security more organic, so that everyone watches out for each other, rather than the current top-down security structure. Depending on how the conversation goes, this might take the form of a neighborhood crime line or a neighborhood watch program as opposed to traditional, top-down security methods currently employed.

A security guard (right) patrols a newly developed section of the Maboneng Precinct.

A security guard (right) patrols a newly developed section of the Maboneng Precinct.

Jeppe Park SuperDream and Event Support

One thing that I am working hard to do at the GRIND space is to create a tradition of reciprocity. GRIND hosts many events for local community members and works hard to bring community members together for these events. But other people from around Jeppestown, Kensington, Yeoville, and elsewhere also plan and host events. One such event is the Jeppe Park SuperDream event on July 19. At this event, young people from Jeppestown will gather in Jeppe Park for a celebration of music, film, dance, and more. I am working hard to ensure that there is a solid GRIND presence at the event; we bring locals to our events, and now we ought to attend and support existing events.

Another such activity I hope to support is the creation of a Kensington Creative Union. One young man I spoke to is passionate about creating a GRIND-like space for his community of Kensington. Having lived there his entire life, this young man can provide the essential networks and local knowledge to get the center started, and GRIND can help provide additional support.

I am excited to meet more and more community members, and am excited to organize and attend these amazing events. Later this week I’ll post “The Daily GRIND” part II, where I will highlight my day-to-day routine in Johannesburg!

Artwork and logo, respectively, for the Jeppe Park SuperDream event on July 19.

Logo and artwork, respectively, for the Jeppe Park SuperDream event on July 19.10478154_830956956915233_5036334931172906161_n

Urban Studies Summer Fellowship 2014 – First Week in Johannesburg

Writing from Johannesburg, I am Stefan Norgaard, a rising senior at Stanford University in California double-majoring in Public Policy and Urban Studies. My academic work is shaped by my interests and passions: to find institutional and sustainable solutions to vexing challenges, particularly in urban settings. Originally from Boulder, Colorado, I am an avid hiker and mountaineer, and hope to bring my high-altitude energy and enthusiasm to my fellowship this summer with the Global Regeneration Initiative for Neighborhood Development (GRIND). After leaving Stanford for two quarters to study with Stanford in Washington and Stanford in Cape Town, I now return to South Africa to work at the level of community engagement just east of the city center.

This summer I am a Stanford Urban Studies Fellow at, GRIND (http://grindcities.com). GRIND is a nonprofit organization that seeks to start an inclusive conversation about urban regeneration at the local—and global—level. Locally, GRIND brings together various stakeholder groups and tries to ensure that urban development projects benefit indigenous residents and not just new community members. Globally, GRIND is working to create a network of urban neighborhoods across the world, and a platform where neighborhood leaders can share best practices in urban regeneration.

Other projects in GRIND’s Johannesburg Studio include an organic community walks initiative, a produce cooperative called the Urban Basket, a demographic and sociology project, work building an ICT resource and career development center, and a project called re:sort which converts a neighborhood recycling facility into an art gallery and more efficient recycling center.

I am honored to serve as a GRIND Studio Resident from June 23—August 23 of this year. My project is called the Maboneng Living Museum. I seek to dynamically document the history of Maboneng and Jeppestown while simultaneously providing a platform for community members and indigenous residents to chart a course for the precinct’s future. The museum will reflect on the district’s past, but not merely through static archival footage; residents will add their memories and shape a dynamic conversation about the rich and diverse history of what was once Johannesburg’s first suburb. As a living museum, this space will document present efforts in Maboneng and serve as a space for residents to envision their neighborhood’s future. Dynamic and participatory community maps, for example, will allow residents and local retailers to “tell their Maboneng” story, and the use of chalkboards, audio recording technology, and community meetings will allow residents to ensure that every story of the neighborhood is told. A space like Maboneng is home to a remarkably diverse set of communities—all of which interact with the space for different reasons and in different ways— and each and every one of these communities will have the chance to explain their neighborhood’s history, reflect on its current situation, and chart a course for its future.

Of course, I cannot (and should not) design and operationalize this museum on my own. Rather, I am seeking out key community leaders, respected by many and possessing intimate local knowledge, all of whom will help chart a course for this space. I have already had great success meeting remarkable community members and look forward to passing the baton to these individuals in the near future.

In the short term, the Maboneng Living Museum will be housed in the neighborhood’s Museum of African Design (MOAD). In the longer term, the museum will grow in size and ultimately be a key part of a neighborhood Community Hub. The hub will begin design and implementation in January 2015, and will be a comfortable and inclusive space for all residents. The space will also be located next to a new neighborhood school and a public skate park sponsored by a nonprofit called Skatistan. What better place to house an interactive site of memory and site of design than this community hub?

Through my work with GRIND, I hope to grow as an individual and as an aspiring urban planner. Personally, I am eager to embrace the challenge of working alone in a new environment. My hours are flexible as I will spend my time delving into this project, making community connections, and continuously reflecting on how the Living Museum can best serve the community’s interests. I am excited to make friends of different backgrounds from my own. I am also excited to engage with and better understand an urban neighborhood—the street blocks of Maboneng and nearby Jeppestown. Professionally, this summer residency builds on a lifelong interest in and passion for sustainable urban development. I am excited to work on my own urban project which will hopefully inform career plans in global urbanism or regional urban strategy.

Here are some pictures from Maboneng. The first is a view of Johannesburg’s skyline from my office.  GRIND is located on the top floor of the Situation East building just east of the city center and allows for unbelievable views of the city’s Central Business District, or CBD:

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The second picture shows the proposed location of an eventual Maboneng Communtiy Hub and my living museum!  Originally occupied by MoTech Recycling, this space is now vacant:

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Finally, I included a picture of a low-density residential housing complex in Maboneng.  GRIND has added street murals both to beautify the surrounding public spaces and to help create small private yards for local residents:

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Over the course of my summer, I will be continuously reflecting on my own development and on the development of the museum. Please do not hesitate to reach out at any time!

Best,

 

Stefan

SA, Mobile:  078-744-7453

Email:  stefann@stanford.edu