Community project the Makers Way, on the eastern edge of the inner city, received a massive boost with a two-year R2,1-million grant from the US Consulate.
The Makers Way aims to promote community well-being by creating better access to markets and networks, where people of all backgrounds come together to learn how to work with their hands, to explore, experiment, and where barriers are overcome.
The Makers Way is a placemaking implementation project that will develop 16 placemaking areas within six suburbs collectively called the Makers Valley. The two-year grant will sponsor a range of engagements, skills development and making workshops.
“We are thrilled to be supporting and incubating this very exciting initiative through a grant award from the US Mission to South Africa,” says Anne Steffny, a director at the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership ( JICP).
Makers Way is an initiative of the Makers Valley Partnership (MVP). The grant application was driven by the MVP partners, in particular creative project company The Coloured Cube (TCC), with guidance and help from the JICP.
“The initiative fulfils so many of our objectives aimed at supporting the regeneration of the inner city of Johannesburg – partnership building, skills transfer, access to market, jobs for the youth, community building and active citizenry,” adds Steffny.
The Makers Way is a collaboration with residents, businesses, property developers, institutions, local government, and makers operating in suburbs on the eastern edge of the city, in the valley, which is made up of Troyeville, New Doornfontein, Bertrams, Bezuidenhout Valley, Lorentzville and Judith’s Paarl.
The makers include artisans, craftspeople, artists, recycling entrepreneurs, stunt people, music producers, make-up and props people, photographers, drivers, dancers, urban gardeners and carpenters.
The application was successful because it delivers on “making where experimenting is encouraged, barriers are overcome, and makers work on practical and ‘glocal’ solutions towards urban renewal and greater community well-being”, according to the grant proposal. “Glocal” refers to work that connects globally but takes place locally.
The glocal programme aims to broaden the impact through research and partnerships internationally. Current partnerships include the Centre for Built Environment Studies at Wits University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, and the Wellbeing Economy Alliance or WEAII. The Alliance is concerned with the transformation of the economy, society and institutions so as to prioritise shared wellbeing in the world.
The MVP is also in partnership with Maker City in San Francisco. “Across the world there are remarkable interpretations of the concept of making and participatory urbanism,” says Peter Hirshberg, co-author of The Maker City. “Providing communities access to the modern tools of prototyping and production can be transformational— almost anyone can now participate in addressing urban problems or making new products or businesses.”
Hirshberg explains that encouraging community skills development helps fight poverty and feelings of hopelessness. The maker movement is taking place in over 100 American cities, uplifting local communities. “We are particularly excited to participate in this project in South Africa to find how making will be applied to the revitalization and development of Johannesburg, and how this will reflect local culture, arts and economic needs.” He describes the maker city as a “jazz city”, where ideas can be “shared, improvised, riffed upon globally”. “The rich culture of South Africa joins this maker city movement and the world awaits your creations,” he says.
“We aim to build on their experience through our programming in the very different context of Johannesburg,” explains Simon Mayson, project advisor and Interim Co-Director of the MVP.
Local partners include the Skills Village in Judith’s Paarl, TCC, the Boys & Girls Club South Africa in Bertrams, and the Bertrams Residents’ Movement, among others. The key roles in the MVP are filled by the youth.
“The power of ideas, creativity and taking action and collaboration has led us to this point. Thank you to the US Consulate for seeing the potential in the Makers Way – we have an exciting two years ahead of us!” says Mariapaola McGurk, the managing director of TCC.
The MVP’s goals will be achieved through “tactical urbanism”. This refers to “creative place-making through physical interventions”, and it is a phased approach to encourage long-term change through low-cost, low-risk initiatives. This involves people taking responsibility for creating sustainable neighbourhoods, connecting makers from Troyeville to Bezuidenhout Valley.
The genesis of Makers Way goes back to 2017 when creative businesses and artists from the area got together initially to get to know one another. This developed into brainstorming ways to help one another, and market the area. “It initially had no name but we started realising that there was great energy and creativity happening around us,” says McGurk.
The TCC, established in 2014, combines innovation, skills and ideas and develops a “one stop creative shop” where it designs, develops and installs science exhibits, curating, furniture making and artwork, among other creative projects.
In 2017 the TCC, together with UrbanWorks Architecture and Urbanism and Keithsons Property, submitted a proposal to the JDA for funding in the Our City Our Block initiative.
“The proposal focused on the value an area could hold in the inner city of Johannesburg by bringing people together through making – skills development, innovation, problem solving, critical thinking and creative thinking,” explains McGurk. “Imagine we could prototype ideas to solving problems people were facing and test them out.”
The ideas they proposed in their JDA proposal were innovative street bins, manhole covers, solar lighting, street seats, and knowledge boxes of books, an effort to get the precinct recognised “as one where creativity and innovation flourishes”.
Although it didn’t get the funding, it gets support from the JDA in expanding its work with creative businesses, residents and property developers, all tied by a love of making. Working together with UrbanWorks, the idea of a corridor connecting areas and the makers precinct was born.
Makers Valley Collective
The Makers Valley Collective was created in April 2018 as a community interface for the MVP. It is managed by Tumi Moroeng, who, together with Mayson, got three property developers and owners to sponsor three Makers Valley hubs.
The hub at Victoria Yards in Lorentzville hosts a monthly Makers Market. Victoria Yards is an inspiring development where a collection of defunct light industrial buildings have been converted into artisan studios and an urban farm.
The Skills Village hub is in the valley where carpenters, events, props hire and party venue organisers, potters, car mechanics, metal workers, and artists, among others, work in a collaborative space.
The Ellis House hub is a creative space where artists and silkscreeners have studios and galleries in the building in Voorhout Street.
“We hope through the Makers Way project to establish these three hubs further with unique identities that can benefit makers and future makers of the area,” says McGurk.
“The original artists, the property developers, the individuals, JICP, residents and makers – gardeners and hair braiders, hawkers and security guards, youth and children, funders and givers, teachers and participants – all play their part in making things happen in the Makers Valley!”
The MVP hopes to create “decent livelihoods” through this collaboration, aided by private developments and government initiatives. It aligns with the City of Joburg’s Inner City Transformation Roadmap, which is based on the city’s Growth and Development Strategy 2040. Three roadmap pillars that the MVP has adopted as their core goals are creating an inner city that is productive; inclusive; and a clean and safe inner city.
The productive goal sees experienced makers paired with local unemployed youth. This involves skills development workshops so that future makers can generate an income to boost their entrepreneurial ability and employability.
The inclusive goal sees collaborations where everyone is valued, so as to overcome barriers arising from race and socio-economic diversity.
Encouraging a clean and safe inner city involves public-private waste management systems that minimise the build-up of waste. Prototype corner security hubs that include local residents and volunteer marshals are ideas coming out of the community design thinking process.
“A huge thank you to our amazing Makers Valley partners – it’s really because of you that we got this generous funding,” says Mayson. “There’s already so much that makes this neighbourhood great, from urban gardening to makers’ spaces to the diversity of people living here. Now let’s work together towards a good life for all!”