Embracing urban acupuncture to regenerate cities

Urban acupuncture is a socio-environmental theory that combines contemporary urban design with traditional Chinese acupuncture, using small-scale interventions to transform the larger urban context. That is the definition of this exciting concept, but how does it relate to the regeneration of South Africa’s inner cities?

In a blog posted on the website i love pretoria, blogger Clarissa van Emmenes explains the concept of urban acupuncture and how it relates to the capital city. She states that urban acupuncture is an ideology that views the city as a living organism. The concept proposes that the intervention or renovation of one part of a city has a ripple effect on the greater city and community. http://www.ilovepretoria.co.za/search/label/regeneration

The article cites examples of urban acupuncture in Pretoria spearheaded by the company City Property that has commissioned developments including a number of mixed-use developments such as Centre Forum, which consists of a 5000 m² retail area, complemented by 400 residential apartment suites and 258 parking bays and the 1 on Mutual, which consists of a 1517 m² retail area, along with 142 residential apartment units, 417 m² of office space and 210 parking bays. 

The goal of City Property's urban acupuncture initiatives is not only to revive the neglected inner CBD's buildings, but also has a conservation benefit, as only small areas of land are used for smaller projects. Furthermore, the emission of greenhouse gasses is reduced as soon as people do not need to travel far from their homes for shopping and recreation.”

In Johannesburg urban regeneration has been embraced since the early 2000s. On the official city website www.joburg.org.za the city’s regeneration strategy is explained as the implementation of urban renewal projects; development of SMMEs; and the encouragement of creative industries and cultural tourism. Major nodes that have been targeted (or received urban acupuncture) include:

  • Newtown (additional cultural facilities, new housing units, upgrading existing historic buildings)
  • Constitutional Hill (new home for the Constitutional Court, various museums and a hotel)
  • Jewel City (40 000 m² of factory and office spacing housing 80 per cent of Gauteng's diamond and jewellery industry)
  • Joubert Park (R10-million Greenhouse Environmental Centre)

SMMEs have grown in the city: The fashion district is home to a number of micro and small garment manufacturing enterprises as well as printing and publishing establishments. The city is establishing and strengthening the Local Business Service Centres in the inner city to support this development.

Culture is alive: A number of community radio stations have developed, as has the live music industry, with several venues featuring jazz, classical, rock and kwaito. Additional cultural facilities will complement the existing Market Theatre, Museum Africa and MegaMusic facilities in the inner city. The craft industry is seen as a crucial SMME sector in Johannesburg with the Mai-Mai bazaar in downtown Johannesburg.

One of the projects that formed part of Cape Town’s World Design Capital 2014 initiatives can also be considered an example of urban acupuncture. The Salt River Village urban renewal projects, spearheaded by landscape architecture consultancy Gibbs-SaintPol, integrate several related space-making projects – from the renovation of industrial buildings and the upgrading of sidewalks and streetscapes to the re-making of a community playpark and public art installations. 

The concept of urban acupuncture differs from large-scale inner city regeneration. It rather treats cities as living organisms, espousing the idea that micro-targeting, low-cost, democratic, and empowering tactics will eventually ripple out and change the face of cities.