If you live in Joburg you’ve probably enjoyed a Sunday afternoon at The Living Room. It’s a bar and eating area that promotes healthy living, community and green spaces in the city. As a commercial venture, it’s been incredibly successful. Situated in the eastern part of the city, the area is part of a well-documented urban regeneration project.
But, with urban regeneration and the ensuing gentrification, a number of issues begin to surface — namely that the original residents are not positively affected by the so-called “improvement” of the area.
The team behind The Living Room is part of a bigger collective called Tiakya. They are broadly defined as a landscape and design company, but they differ in that they work from a social and eco-conscious platform. They’ve previously run projects through AMBUSH, an initiative that has been instrumental in greening schools and urban spaces.
Their new community project is to build and maintain an edible food corridor for residents in adjacent Jeppestown. Over the last five years, Tiakaya have been running test gardens. They have also come up with a funding model that truly links their commercial venture with social upliftment.
Tiakaya’s Taryn Jacobson says: “We throw parties and corporate events that generate income. After the event we organise a tour through the Maboneng space and this pays towards funding the greening on the street. If you donate you can get a plaque in the area that you have greened, but it’s also about the interaction — walking on the streets and being present.”
A few months ago they teamed up with Bjala, a development company that builds innovative, low-cost housing designed to create communities for people living in the city.
The first project will take place in a semi-abandoned park that sits alongside Bjala’s new development in Maboneng. Working with community leaders and the residents in the area, the group will make sustainable gardens to provide free, available food for residents.
The funding model is as before: they use the existing customer base from Tiakaya’s commercial project as a reinvestment of money back into the area of operation, a true acknowledgement of what regeneration is supposed to be.
As mentioned, gentrification in the surrounding areas has encroached on residents’ space; this project provides a model of true integration and recognises that the space should be shared and productive for all.
“People really respond to the authenticity of what’s happening. We’re looking around to see what will actually work and what will be useful. It can’t just be about aesthetics. The planting has to be intentional. It’s for the people who live there — it’s their garden and their space, and it must be productive,” says Jacobson.