City building - identity

Change can create resistance, even in the most progressive communities.  When the Chinese developer, Zendai, bought 1,600 ha of land in South Africa, the public did not support the project universally.  A certain amount of nervousness began to surface about details such as who would live there and what the architecture would look like.  These concerns started to detract from the positive momentum surrounding this exciting and potentially influential project.  The message started to blur as the project identity became unclear. 

Fear of change is often aggravated by either a lack of information or the spread of the wrong kind of information.  In this case, the project identity needed to be refocused so that the public could start to appreciate the benefits that could come from this new development. 

The project is located in the heart of Johannesburg along the only high speed rail line in all of Africa and a new station is planned for the centre of the site.  The project is called Modderfontein Regeneration.  

Modderfontein has the potential to create:

150,000 new jobs in the first 40 years

13 billion rand of tax revenue in the first 10 years of business operations

43.5 billion rand of GDP contribution to the economy by full project delivery

These are significant benefits that will change lives. 

Atkins knew that focusing on these benefits would make the greatest positive impact and could start to change the perception of the project.  Zendai commissioned Atkins to create a short animated film that illustrates how development on this site could benefit greater Johannesburg.  The film does not contain a masterplan but rather focuses on the social and economic impacts of the project.  Zendai understood that maximising these impacts both within the site and beyond could only be achieved if they were integrated from the very beginning of the project – even before the masterplan. 


After the release of the film, the public perception of the project started to change.  The identity of the project shifted from a fixed image of what it might look like to a much stronger association with the benefits the development could bring.  A greater understanding of the external and indirect benefits of the project also lead to a greater appreciation of the viability of developing in Modderfontein.  In fact, in an article published in the Wall Street Journal where international megaprojects were being questioned regarding their viability, Modderfontein stood out as having a realistic, bankable and deliverable market driven strategy.

Peter Welborn, a partner at Knight Frank, said that the Modderfontein project is possibly “where fantasy meets reality.” **

The identity of Modderfontein was redefined by a film that made a significant impact by reaching the public in a new way.  Support for the project increased as social and economic benefits became the focus of the development.  This innovative approach produced a better outcome and helps to ensure the quality of the project for many years into the future

 **  Watts, Jake Maxwell and Fung, Esther.  “Builder Have Huge Plan Abroad.”  Wall Street Journal 2 March 2016:  9.  Print. 

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