We have only been in our temporary home city for a few days, but I am starting to get a feel for the place. Jo’burg, or Jozi, is a huge, sprawling city, with an unfortunate reputation. Crime and violence often seem to come mind at the mention of Johannesburg, and that certainly is a problem, but the city has a lot more to offer. Everything that I have seen so far indicates a thriving and dynamic cultural hub.
Jo’burg is made up of hundreds of distinct areas called suburbs, which are really more like neighborhoods in the American sense. Some of these are very urban, bustling day and night with all kinds of activity. Some are quiet, green residential areas of walled-in private homes, and others have big shopping areas and malls. There are wealthy suburbs, and poverty-ridden townships; there are safe areas and no-go zones.
So far, Spencer and I have only been able to visit a handful of them in our house-hunt, mostly in the residential areas of the northwest of the city. One of our favorites so far has been Melville. Popular with students, the heart of Melville is a strip of trendy restaurants, shops, and bars. It actually reminds us an awful lot of H St. in D.C., which made us feel right at home!
Running through Melville and neighboring suburbs is a small nature preserve, called the Koppies. We did a quick walk up to the top of a hill in the Koppies and got a great view of the whole city. It highlighted one of the most surprising things about Jo’burg – how green it is. In fact, we have been told that with over ten million trees, the city is the largest man-made urban forest in the world.
That short uphill walk also served to remind me that Joburg is at an altitude of 6000 feet above sea level. It also reminded me that I am out of shape. On the bright side, if I can start training here I’ll be able to run marathons by the time I get back (no promises).
Other suburbs we have explored include Rosebank, with a shopping mall to rival anything you can find in the U.S., Parktown, which has a great selection of restaurants, and the urban and exciting Braamfontein, where Spencer’s school is located.
But our favorite suburb by far is Westcliff, because that is where we have found a place to live! Westcliff is one of the oldest and most established suburbs in the city. It is very safe, very walkable, and very green. We will be in a little bungalow next to a family home, and we love how private, secure, and centrally located it is. Stay tuned for more details about Westcliff and surrounding areas once we move in next week.