Every residential estate understands the need for a people-focused environment, but a few truly stand out as accessible, integrated and human-centric.
People have always been an important element in estates. But, in an age where inclusion is expected, estate managers and developers now have to ask the question: ‘How community-friendly is our estate?’
At a basic level, community is about connections with other people – who, in the case of a residential estate, are your neighbours and fellow residents. Most estates work hard to facilitate this kind of engagement, either through card games in the community hall or through social meetings and get-togethers.
Mzuri Residential Estate, located on the outskirts of Somerset West, recently completed a six-month, R25 million infrastructure upgrade to improve its roads, water, sewerage, electricity and stormwater. It was, in the grand scheme of things, a fairly standard operation, but the comments of Mark Teuchert, MD of Lazercor Developments, really stood out.
‘The improved road network will unlock the full potential of the greater property, and will allow even better access for property owners at the estate as well as residential neighbours,’ he said.
His sentiments were clear: while the upgrades were good for the estate’s property values, they also made life easier for the residents and the wider community. The issue of community focus is a significant trend in the estate space right now, as the focus shifts from property to people.
Kyalami Estates, for example, offer numerous clubs and sporting and/or social activities. If you or your family don’t find something that suits you among the drama academy, cycle club, running club, walking club, social squash league, ballet school, wine society, yoga, dance or moms-and-tots gatherings, you probably aren’t looking hard enough.
Meanwhile, despite – or perhaps because of – its 1,200 homes, Dainfern Golf and Residential Estate is divided into small villages, each with its own character, and all sharing in regular community events and activities. Again, you’ve got a yoga club, running club, bridge club, dance club … all aimed at fostering that sense of community.
Estate management and boards need to engage with the broader community – as Simbithi Eco-Estate on KwaZulu-Natal’s north coast confirms. Simbithi’s CSR work includes the Partners for Possibility (PfP) initiative, which sees nine business leaders connecting with nine principals from neighbouring schools.
Simbithi Eco-Estate General Manager Malcolm Samuel, who partnered with RA Padayachee School principal Aleen Maharaj, explained the thinking behind this in an interview with the local North Coast Courier.
‘Simbithi embarked on a community social investment engagement with our neighbouring communities, specifically Shakashead,’ he said.
‘Most individuals who live in Shakashead and surrounding areas find employment at Simbithi. In return, the Simbithi board found it appropriate to partner with the community in their attempt to be socially responsible. I use the word “partner” as we did not want to adopt, handout or undignify anyone by what we were going to do. We believed that some of the social and economic issues that the communities around us faced were a shared responsibility. And choosing to partner with the community was a more dignified approach.’
Numerous estates across South Africa engage in community outreach or charity work, with some enabling residents to donate to local projects via their mobile apps. Val de Vie even has a faith-based foundation that does tremendous good in the Paarl-Franschhoek Valley. Its efforts include developing a local junior school rugby tournament, and recruiting staff from local disadvantaged communities.
Over and above the community spirit, almost every South African residential estate has security as its main selling point. But here’s the thing with security: the fences, checkpoints and gates that prevent intruder access can – if managed poorly – impede resident access. You want to slip out to the shops down the road? No chance if you don’t have your access disc.
That’s where an estate like Thesen Islands gets it right, with pedestrian bridges seamlessly and securely linking the estate to Knyna’s town centre.
Access within the estate is also focused on the human experience, with a pedestrian- and bike-friendly environment allowing residents (especially children) to move around safely and freely. Traffic circles and arched bridges enforce the 30km/h speed limit, while tall plants and swales create a barrier between cars and pedestrians.
Pedestrian mobility must be a consideration for people-focused residential estates. How far do visitors have to walk to get from where they park to where you live? How far do staff have to walk from the gate to where they work? While safety is, understandably, of paramount importance, it needs to be balanced against the needs of the people it’s seeking to protect.
Ultimately, then, to measure how people-friendly an estate is, you have to consider its efficiency.
How easy is it for residents to come and go, to make friends, to connect with each other? How accessible is the estate, both in terms of transport and in terms of whether its broader community sees it as a friendly neighbour or a distant castle on a hill? Do the pedestrian paths allow for easy movement? Are the common areas well ventilated? Do the environmental interventions allow eco-estates to effectively fulfil their commitment to sustainability?
While these are tough questions, most South African estates can answer them positively. But those that really put in the work to make life easier for their residents, staff and neighbouring communities are starting to emerge as the places where you’d really want to live.