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How do we connect people with people?

Margot Adelle Orr | 29 Jan 2016 | Comments

People should always be at the heart of city building. Helping people move around quickly and efficiently is a big part of our job when designing regeneration plans, new communities or even completely new cities. Our work in Johannesburg, South Africa is a great example of how important public transportation can be.

Johannesburg is vibrant city full of a diverse mix of cultures, opportunities and people. It is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa and is the financial capital of South Africa. However, it is also a city that was built for the personal automobile rather than for people. Development sprawls over more than 600 square miles and one of the most typical styles of family dwelling unit is a single family home surrounded by a yard and a security fence.

The people of Johannesburg are ambitious and they have a strong appetite for a new kind of community that is designed to for the way people want to live, work and play TODAY.

When the City of Johannesburg decided to build the first high speed rail network in Africa (Gautrain), Atkins jumped at the opportunity to get involved. Safe and efficient public transportation allows people to leave their cars at home and reach their destination without getting stuck in Johannesburg’s notorious traffic jams in the city and beyond. Of course, high capacity public transportation also unlocks an opportunity for building communities with densities that promote walkable neighbourhoods, allowing people to live closer to each other. Multi-story apartments allow security to be handled at the ground floor, so the need for anti-social security fences is eliminated. Communities built with apartments and townhouses also bring together the critical mass of people needed to support shops, cafes and community facilities within reasonable walking distances of most residents.

The quantity of development and pedestrian traffic at street level around the station at Sandton, Johannesburg’s version of Canary Wharf, has increased enormously since Gautrain opened. Offices, housing, restaurants, conference facilities and a wide variety of retails all thrive in this new walkable compact environment.

When Atkins designed and delivered a majority of the urban portions of Gautrain, we helped to set the groundwork for transformation in Johannesburg.

This is a game-changing project.Benefits

Of course, whether or not people would be willing to leave their cars at home was a question asked by a few sceptics. We are happy to report, only 3 years after Gautrain was completed (2012), it is running at capacity, and we were invited to undertake studies to facilitate expansion. Gautrain is an undeniable success. International developers are also taking a keen interest in the new opportunities associated with this new rail network. In 2013 Zendai (a Chinese developer) purchased 1,600 ha of land on the existing Gautrain alignment, along with permission to build a new station. The future of Johannesburg is looking very bright.

Stay tuned for an upcoming article on our work with Zendai.

Please contact co-author Stuart Downey (stuart.downey@atkinsglobal.com) for more information about Gautrain and Margot Orr for more information about City Building.