Will Covid-19 kill off Sandton and other swish business hubs?

When Covid-19 hit there was no doubt that the impact on SA would be huge. For the business community and its leadership, centred in the country’s economic powerhouse, Johannesburg, there were major concerns about the way in which the city could be affected.

Now that the country has passed its initial coronavirus peak, the city is springing back to life at speed. But numerous questions remain regarding the future of this formerly bustling urban hub. These include the future of Sandton as the most sought-after office hub, and the likelihood of infrastructure projects planned before the pandemic, such as the Gautrain and new highways, still going ahead.

These are questions cities around the world are asking, with varying degrees of optimism. Whether it’s a vision of a better, more affordable London or a dead New York City, devoid of the things that once made it magical, every major city is reckoning with its post-Covid-19 future. And rightly so. Cities aren’t just places where many people happen to live. They’re centres of wealth, innovation and creativity. When the world changes, they shouldn’t escape the chance to reimagine themselves.

Before imagining what a post-Covid-19 Joburg might look like, it is worth reminding ourselves where the city stood before lockdown. After the departure of then mayor Herman Mashaba, the DA lost control of the Johannesburg council (which it held in coalition with the EFF), meaning the new ANC-led council had been in power for just under four months when the country went into lockdown. Before that, there had been a prolonged period of contested power, which meant service delivery was already affected and long-term projects had been put on hold or were in the early stages of being handed over to the new leadership.

As the country’s economic powerhouse, the city had also been shaken particularly hard by the unprecedented levels of load-shedding and general economic stagnation faced by the rest of the country. Hardly surprising then that the commercial real-estate outlook for 2020 was already cautious. Covid-19 only served to highlight how deep some of these structural flaws were and we’re only now beginning to get an idea of how deep the economic impact will be.

But the way we work also changed. Companies that would never have allowed remote working before were suddenly forced to adopt this for the safety of their employees. And while most South Africans are ready to ...
13 Sep 2020 12PM English South Africa Business News · News

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