Archive | February, 2011

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Spaces and Places: Johannesburg – A Guide to Joburg’s Hidden Gems

Posted on 06 February 2011 by Phillipa Mitchell

What is it that makes Johannesburg, also known as Jo’burg or Jozi tick? What spaces and places are at the heart of this metropolis? To uncover the answers Gerald Garner is publishing an unconventional guide to Jo’burg; a very personal impression of his resident city. This facebook group will provide a platform for discussion on Johannesburg’s best attributes, places and spaces.

Author and photographer, Gerald Garner embarks on an adventurous project to reveal Joburg’s many urban nodes and village streets, as well as its green heritage and struggle legacy. Written in a subjective style, Garner travels with you to his favourite Jozi places and provides incredible insight into the richness and diversity of the city’s places, people and spaces. 

Spaces & Places – Johannesburg provides essential insider’s knowledge on how to make the most of your time in this extraordinary city. By devouring author and photographer, Gerald Garner’s 300 pages of writing and pictures, you will be empowered to venture out confidently in order to experience the incredible vibe, people and places of the city. Discover the city’s tranquil havens – ranging from nature areas and parks to mountain biking or running trails along rivers, and cafes on sun-drenched sidewalks. Get off Joburg’s unsightly highways and you will encounter a community living within a leafy, urban forest, enjoying one of the best climates and the bluest skies of any city in the world. 

Garner embarks on an adventurous project to reveal Joburg’s many urban nodes and village streets, as well as its green heritage and struggle legacy. Spaces & Places – Johannesburg is the quintessential guide to the city. Written in a personal and subjective style, Garner travels with you to his favourite Jozi places. In the process you gain incredible insight into the richness and diversity of the places, people and spaces.

Garner admirably succeeds in creating a guide for all to experience a safe and enthralling Johannesburg. 

Questions posed to author and photographer, Gerald Garner

What inspired you to write this book?

I have grown to love Johannesburg over a period of 15 years of living in this remarkable city. My initial impression was of a grey, dreary and featureless city. But as I began to discover its many hidden gems I learned to appreciate its beauty, energy and vibrancy. Today Joburg is one of my favourite cities in the world. Yet, many people I meet harbour a negative impression of Johannesburg. It saddens me tremendously that so many visitors pass through this city without ever experiencing any of its amazing culture, people or places. This is not only true for visitors, but also for Joburg’s millions of residents – so many of them live in their own enclaves where they feel safe and comfortable and never venture out to experience new things, places and people. My book sets out to give them the confidence to go and experience Jozi’s best attributes for themselves. 

Although I have had the idea of a Joburg guidebook in my head for many years, it was really in the last two years that I realised the dire lack of accurate information on what this city has to offer. Up till now a visitor to Joburg really has been at the mercy of hotel concierge desks with very little available in terms of visitors guides. This fact was proven to me when I took several overseas visitors – friends of friends – on tours of Joburg’s heritage sites recently. They were fascinated by the richness of our history and the inspiring stories of our city. Yet without a friend showing them around, they would never have discovered these Joburg gems. My book intends to be just that – a friend that shows you around the city and that gives you insider’s knowledge of what to do and where to go. 

How long did the project take?

It is a tough one to answer. From concept to completion it took probably two years. But the bulk of the writing and photography was done in the five months between June and November 2010. Of course the research and scouting for worthwhile places started earlier. But it was essential for me to produce an up-to-date and current guide and therefore I worked day and night – taking photographs throughout the day and doing most of the writing at night or early in the morning. 

Why did you take all the photos yourself?

For many reasons; most importantly I wanted to reflect Joburg as it really is and I therefore have steered clear of publicity photos where venues are dressed up to look more glamorous than they really are. Also, the book is written in a personal and subjective style. This is my take on Joburg and what I like about the city. I wanted to reflect this in the photos too and to ensure that there is a thread that runs through the book. 

Why the format – size and kind of paper?

This is not a coffee table book. The intention is not for the reader to marvel at some impressive pictures and then to put it down, never to open it again. This is a book that is meant for everyday use. The A5 size makes it easy to carry with you – in a handbag or simply in your hands. It can also fit into your car’s cubbyhole or be read while making use of public transport – be that an aeroplane, train or taxi. 

It is not a precious book. Rather it is meant for everyday reading and use. The paper is rough, thick and matt to allow for continuous handling. But we also chose the type of paper in order to make the book “friendly” and accessible – this is not a book filled with glamorous pictures of intimidating people and places. Rather it is unintimidating, friendly and inviting. 

For me the matt paper with ‘rough’ toned-down grey printing reflects the real character of Joburg. It is a city with rough edges but that hides amazingly beautiful gems. The book has the same arty character that permeates throughout Joburg – especially in its many villages and the inner city. 

The graphic/information design was done by Carina Comrie of Bon Bon. She has done a remarkable job by ensuring that the photographs and text work together. The light grey colour text was chosen in order to complement the photos, rather than competing with them – and the type of paper and printing method were chosen to create a mottled and uniform look so as to avoid the many photos competing for attention. White space is used cleverly to emphasis both photos and text. 

How did you choose the spaces and places that you included in the book? Why are some obvious Joburg landmarks missing from the book?

Spaces & Places – Johannesburg is not an independently researched and objective guide to the best of Joburg. In the preface to the book I clearly state that the writing reflects my personal bias – my subjective opinion regarding what I like about Joburg.

Broadly, the book is structured into three sections. The first part focuses on Joburg’s urban villages. This is one of the most amazing aspects of Johannesburg. It is not a uniform and continuously sprawling city. Instead it comprises a series of villages, each with its own distinct character. The second part focuses on urban spaces – the various noteworthy urban nodes – ranging from the inner city to Rosebank and Sandton. The last part is the most revealing as it uncovers Joburg’s amazing heritage – especially in terms of South Africa’s recent history pertaining to the struggle against apartheid and the subsequent endeavours to forge a new democratic society. Another noteworthy aspect of Jozi’s heritage is its green legacy – a verdant urban forest interspersed with astoundingly picturesque parks.

Working within this structure, I chose to focus on areas that offered a mix of things to do – be it coffee shops, sidewalk eateries, amazing shops or galleries and nature areas or sports facilities. My departure point is that a reader will be looking for a series of different things to do within one day and within a specific area. I therefore exclude some Joburg gems that are really deserving of a mention as they don’t form part of a precinct covered in the book. Some obvious omissions include the Radium Beer Hall and the Troyeville Hotel as the book does not feature the surrounding areas.

Also excluded from the book are the obvious tourist destinations as these can hardly be called “hidden gems” – for example Gold Reef City and Montecasino. I feel that most visitors and locals will hear about these tourist “traps” in any event and therefore choose to focus on the undiscovered side of Joburg instead – places like Arts on Main, 44 Stanley Avenue and the Braamfonteinspruit trail. I feel these places personify the real spirit of Jozi, instead of the fake glamour permeated by the casinos. 

Who is your target market?

I am targeting a dual market. The first focus is on visitors to Joburg. In this grouping I include the many business travellers – either on short stays or extended corporate assignments as well as leisure tourists staying over in the city. But as important a market comprises Joburg residents. The book is written for them, empowering them to explore the city beyond their own comfort zones.

Is it is travel guide or a personal memoir?

It certainly is a guide for Joburg travellers and residents. But my approach in writing this guide is very different from the standard travel guide. I believe that most of the information on how to get Joburg, the grading of hotels and restaurant reviews is available online these days. Therefore Spaces & Places – Johannesburg is not a directory of venues as this information is available through a quick Google search. Instead I have attempted to provide the reader with an insider’s knowledge on Joburg. How to best spend your time in Joburg, but also some background on how the society works as this is what visitors normally want to know most (and struggle most to understand about any place they visit). To make the reading a bit more entertaining and engrossing, I have written it in a very personal style focussing more on my experiences of Joburg than the physical spaces and places alone. 

What are your favourite places, personally in Joburg?

Suburbs: Craighall Park as it feels like a sleepy countryside town and Fordsburg for its vibrancy and community spirit

Park: Delta Park for its spaciousness, wildness and awesome views

Pastime: running next to the Braamfontein Spruit

Village street: 4th Avenue in Parkhurst

Coffee: 4th Avenue Coffee Roasters in Parkhurst

Neighbbourhood restaurants: Cnr Cafe in Craighall Park and Franco’s in Parkview.

Classy lounges for sundowners: Randlords in Braamfontein, ZAR in Sandton and the Polo Lounge at the Westcliff

Museum: Liliesleaf in Rivonia and Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto

Buildings: the Constitutional Court on Constitution Hill between Braamfontein and Hillbrow, the Old Concourse and Blue Room at Park Station and Soccer City (FNB Stadium) near Soweto.

Hotel: 12 Decades at Main Street Life

Guesthouse: Windmill Guesthouse in Parkhurst

Inner city destination for drinks, coffee or a good meal: Darkie Cafe

City spaces: the outdoor courtyards at 44 Stanley Avenue and at Arts on Main 

What makes this book special?

It is special in that it is not a standard type of travel guide that merely lists spaces and places. Neither is it filled with too many overbearing facts and history lessons. Rather it gives you insight into a person’s views of a city and its society. Reading Spaces & Places – Johannesburg is like reading your best friend’s travel journal. It makes you want to get off the couch to venture out there to discover and experience the city for yourself. 

Author biography

Gerald Garner lives in a Craighall Park “countryside” home overlooking the Braamfontein Spruit. From there he has the pleasure of walking, running and mountain biking through Johannesburg’s green spaces. He enjoys this as much as venturing out to explore the urban spaces and village streets of the city – right from the skyscraper inner-city to the verdant green northern suburbs and vibrant Soweto. He finds the magnetism of Joburg irresistible. 

As a professional landscape architect, and experienced writer and publisher in the field of the urban environment, specifically through the medium of business-to-business magazines, Spaces & Places – Johannesburg is his first book, published under his new venture, Double G Media. 

Spaces & Places – Johannesburg is a personal compendium of his writing and photography that takes the form of a detailed guide to every must-see place and every must-know aspect of this bustling metropolis.

Order your copy of Spaces and Places from Red Pepper Books and save R20 off the retail price of R295.00. Click here for more information…

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