South Africa’s Smart Cities are Driving Sustainability

Property development and nature might not automatically go hand in hand, but more and more developers are moving towards incorporating nature into building design.

Green spaces prove popular, even in major city centres where they are seemingly rare. Rooftop gardens are springing up in central business districts in the likes of Hong Kong, Tokyo, Rotterdam and New York. Likewise, urban farming initiatives to boost food resources are fast becoming a global trend. 

In South Africa, Johannesburg has long been considered the world’s largest man-made urban forest – boasting more than 6 million trees. And Cape Town’s CBD is set to change with the arrival of its first environmentally-friendly mixed-use development: Harbour Arch. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the most eye-catching features of this 5.8-hectare mixed-use precinct will be the complex’s green rooftop towering over the city’s harbour. 

With the rise of “smart cities” – mixed-use precincts – developers are driven to find ways to create green spaces innovatively in a bid to bring nature to the concrete jungle.

With the rise of “smart cities” – mixed-use precincts – developers are driven to find ways to create green spaces innovatively in a bid to bring nature to the concrete jungle.

Nicholas Stopforth, Managing Director of Amdec Property Developments – the group behind South Africa’s award-winning Melrose Arch and the new Harbour Arch – says green spaces are essential for people to feel safe and secure in an environment. 

Nature has long been lauded for its positive impact on the human psyche. There are countless studies and reports on the benefits of green spaces for our mental health.

One On Whiteley, Courtyard

New-urbanist precincts such as Melrose Arch and Harbour Arch revolve around the principle of being close to everything you need in daily life, with all your requirements accessible by foot. But it’s the outdoor spaces – the piazza-style squares and courtyards for dog walking or people watching – that give these inner-city developments a sense of community.

There has been huge demand for business, retail and residential spaces within Melrose Arch. So much so that a new residential complex – One on Whiteley – within the precinct is currently under construction.

But just what makes a smart city? Combining the perks of modern technology with the feel of old-time village living – with walkable, pedestrianised streets and green spaces. 

But “green”, by definition, can mean many things.

It’s the colour you allegedly turn when you’re sick, envious or inexperienced. You are encouraged to “eat your greens” to stay in good health. You can green an urban area by planting trees, or even green your home to make a positive impact on the environment.

The world over, developers are under pressure to drastically minimise water usage and incorporate eco-friendly technologies that will benefit the planet in the long-term. 

“Modern trends in development and construction are predominantly focused on issues relating to sustainability,” shares Stopforth. “Residents and investors want to know what is being done to reduce the impact on the environment.”

“Residents and investors want to know what is being done to reduce the impact on the environment.” – Nicholas Stopforth, Managing Director of Amdec Property Developments.

“Everything about development today is about sustainability and about energy-wise innovation, water-saving technology, heat-reducing aspects, and the like. And when you use sustainable technology, you also reduce the cost of occupation long-term and obtain a competitive edge.”

Sustainability and eco-friendly innovation is a key focus area of Amdec’s developments, with green building initiatives including refuse recycling, water-saving devices, low-energy LED lighting, and rainwater harvesting.  

With water scarcity being the new normal for South Africa, developers must be implementing water-wise strategies from the ground up. Harbour Arch, for example, has been designed to harvest rainwater to reduce the load on municipal supply.

“There’s huge benefit in executing water-saving measures at the construction stage, rather than retro-fitting. Not only is it better to have systems in place at the start, but it saves money in the long run,” Stopforth explains.

Recycled water – either rain harvested or greywater – will be used for flushing, gardening and landscaping.

“Ultimately, we need to reduce our impact. It’s better for business, and it’s better for the planet,” concludes Stopforth.