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Did anyone else spend time these holidays thinking about what they’re doing with their lives?

After three weeks of no alarm clocks, no boardroom coffee, no waiting for that host to admit you to that meeting, I certainly had more time to think about what I’m doing with mine. Of course, thinking over a G&T is always more interesting, but time after time I kept coming back to the question of whether the negative stigma around property developers is necessarily justifiable.

One often thinks of property developers as just out to make a quick buck and, if lucky, make the front page of VISI occasionally, while causing a helluva inconvenience to the neighbours. And let’s not mention the dust!

Sound about right? So, the negative stigma seems valid. But are we really that bad?

Let’s take a closer look at one of the main charges we face: that developers exploit the municiplality’s densification policy to replace large spacious living areas with the maximum possible number of cramped little ‘units’. There’s no denying that densification is a hot trend in the property market today, but to me this makes the importance of things outside of bricks and mortar even more important.

Because property development is not just about bricks and mortar; it’s really about creating developments that enhance, enrich or improve communities. And it’s certainly not just about the developer’s success. In fact, the way I see it, it’s really about the community’s success.

I used to leave the dinner table when stereotypical discussions began about greedy developers creating havoc in the leafy suburbs, causing traffic problems, destroying eco-systems, habitats, historic buildings and beautiful landscapes. But now, I take a second sip of my drink, and engage in the conversation.

I like to pose questions and discuss how it’s interesting to see how property values increase in areas where developers have been busy. How new local restaurants spring up in these freshly developed areas, how green spaces are usually cleaned up, improved and landscaped with environmentally appropriate trees and shrubs. How with better infrastructure in place, diverse community members tend to unite, setting up recycling hubs, for example. And that’s before we even talk about job creation!

Now, everyone is asking for dessert at the dinner party while the conversation carries on, as opposed to the awkward silence just after starters are served. Suddenly, we are all getting on the train of being an active participant and growing our communities.

This allows me to introduce the idea that each industry has a duty to ensure that their 8am to 5pm day (well, 8am is sometimes a bit optimistic for me!) contributes not only to the economics of the country, but also to the wellbeing of South Africa, which we are incredibly lucky to live in.

If we all just took a bit of responsibility to make our own community better, we would probably all live more wholesomely, with more freedom and beauty. We need to fulfil communities’ needs, and this means different things for different people. For some, it may mean a big, safe, green space; for others, it may mean access to good schools and medical care. Everyone needs to be fulfilled as best as they can, and that starts with improvements to our communities.

Of course, we need to ensure the bricks and mortar are good, but most importantly, our real job as developers is to enrich communities so people of all ages can live a life that is most meaningful to them, in order for them to be successful in their own terms, and have a multiplier effect on the lives of those around them.

So let’s try not to see densification as a greedy developer to extract the maximum revenue from the minimum space using all natural resources. Let’s rather change that narrative to see developments as the economic and social driver of upliftment in the communities around us.

When you leave your home today, whatever that may be, take a moment to think about how you are bettering it. Maybe think about putting your compost in a local green space, not driving to the shopping centre 10 km away, and rather supporting your local community shop.

And next time you see the bulldozer in your area, think twice before assuming it’s those typical developers just trying to make a quick buck – we actually do care and do have an important contribution to make in building a better society.

Let’s work together to create better and safer communities, so we can all thrive. I’m confident that, in a few years, each community will have their own area to grow their own food. This would certainly help reduce my monthly Uber Eats bill!

But seriously, If we all took a moment to think about how our particular industry could have a positive secondary influence on South Africa, I’m pretty sure SA would really develop its full potential as one of the most incredible places to live! Maybe I’m biased, but damn, I love this place.

What do you think property developers could do to improve? Constructive criticism is always welcome!


Written by Kelly-Anne Hodge, Property Development Manager

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