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Florida Road: Focus moves to renew, grow

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From dandy to decaying and back to delightful, the area benefited from an initiative to clean up and manage public spaces

Florida Road on the Berea was long the residence of the city’s well-heeled and leaders, leaving their legacies in a landscape of architectural beauty embracing Victorian and Edwardian-style buildings.

By the early 1990s, that heyday had dissipated and the area was suffering urban decay. It received its first wave of urban regeneration when far-sighted investors and property developers began acquiring residential houses that by then were jaded versions of their glory days. 

It was to signal the original shift in the neighbourhood’s characteristic from a strictly residential zone to a mixed-use one where smaller businesses opened offices and restaurants began stretching boundaries by seating patrons at tables placed on the pavement.

However, a decade or so later the area was again struggling against decay, with uncontrolled night life upsetting residents and attracting unsavoury elements that threatened the safety and security of patrons and owners. 

Florida Road: Mixed-use offers many advantages

Letters to newspapers complained about noise and unruly behaviour, and sustaining the urban mixed-use vibe was teetering towards failure.

In 2013, following the success of a similar initiative in Umhlanga, local property owners, businesses and community groups banded together to form the Florida Road Urban Improvement Precinct (UIP). Ground services began in October with the UIP tasked with managing the public space along Florida Road’s full length, including properties on both sides of the road.

Its aims were retaining existing investment and building investor confidence; creating an environment supporting vibrant and responsible business activity; improving safety, the general environment and the quality of life to wholly benefit its residents and users; and responding to the challenges of environmental sustainability.
Brian Wright, owner of the precinct management company Urban MGT, says the positive effects of UIP structures are being felt across KwaZulu-Natal with property values enhanced, business activity supported, and the environment and quality of life for users improved.

Ducking down alleyways behind the Florida Road street front reveals tranquil courtyards also buzzing with popular commercial enterprises. Picture: Terry Haywood Photography

Urban MGT established the Florida Road UIP and was contracted to manage the initiative.

“Urban decay is a reality of most cities throughout the world. The creation of public space management structures is one way to ensure this phenomenon does not negatively affect an area, but instead shifts the focus to growth and urban renewal,” says Wright.

The car guard issue and vagrancy were key problems hindering the neighbourhood. According to the UIP’s website, this was affecting every aspect of the road, from perceptions of safety to the quality of the experience for visitors. In 2015, with the support of the eThekwini Municipality, Metro Police Services and South African Police Service Berea, the initiative rolled out the Florida Road sidewalk monitor programme that introduced a uniform, well-managed sidewalk monitoring service from vetted individuals to discourage criminal behaviour.

Today, Florida Road boasts a strip covering more than 2km of restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, art galleries and eclectic shops like tobacconists, tattoo parlours or spaces retailing knick-knacks. 

Florida Road: Mixed-use offers many advantages

It has emerged as a prime destination for visitors to Durban as well as the hub of the city’s entertainment on the southern side of the Umgeni River.

Restaurants dominate the neighbourhood and range from strictly Durban brands, like Taco Zulu, Afro’s Chicken and the Italian eatery Spiga, to national franchise brands like Steers, Debonairs and Vida e Café, and the latest offerings in the international brands, Starbucks and Pizza Hut.

Florida Road is an example of the perfect symbiotic relationship between the serious investor and the UIP, says Yianni Pavlou, company principal of Portfolio Property Investments. This in turn leads to cleaning up of the area.

“From this we saw an improvement of the quality of tenant being attracted to the precinct and ultimately the transformation of Florida Road into a destination location where people want to be seen.”

Although there is still work to be done in the precinct, Pavlou – who has personally been responsible for the sale of 11 erven in the road, including buildings that were never initially up for sale before his involvement, and is in negotiations with five or six others – says this Florida Road model will set the benchmark for further regeneration in areas in and around Durban.

“We are far down the line in the identification of new nodes. Soon more precincts undergoing urban regeneration and using the Florida Road model will come to be, so watch this space.”

Wright says the UIP management team constantly responds to the ever-evolving needs of Florida Road – whether that is service levels or special projects – but the fundamentals of managing crime and grime remains the top priority and the foundation of the UIP’s success. – Additional reporting by Bonny Fourie

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