Founder, Joint Plans Committee East, Johannesburg Heritage Foundation
Johannesburg’s built heritage and social history are remarkably rich and complex for a city that is only 130 years old. Sadly, the state institution that is tasked with preserving and promoting this heritage — the Provincial Heritage Resource Agency of Gauteng (PHRAG) — is underfunded and lacks the capacity to successfully perform this role. In this vacuum, the role of civil society is particularly important.
Alexandra Parker has applied herself to this challenge with great energy and considerable success. She began volunteering at the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (JHF) while a student at Wits, and this is where much of her journey began. Recognising the importance of the built heritage of Johannesburg’s eastern suburbs, and the enormous developmental pressures that are eroding that heritage fabric, she founded the Joint Plans Committee East (JPCE). The JPCE is an organ of the Heritage Foundation, and is responsible for assessing heritage applications and town planning matters that have an impact on the eastern suburbs of Johannesburg. Parker has created a network of heritage, architectural, town planning and urban design professionals that provide professional guidance, free of charge, for heritage applications in this area. “The work that I do for the JHF is important because the history of this country will continue to be relevant for generations to come and one way to continue to learn from it is to conserve the built environment heritage — heritage that is both painful and heritage that should be celebrated,” says Parker.
The JPCE now has the support of residents’ associations from Kensington to Modderfontein, and in the 18 months of its existence has assessed over 100 heritage applications. Under Parker’s leadership, the JPCE has not only protected built heritage but has also found innovative ways to accommodate densification and the diversity of uses that are required to make Johannesburg a more inclusive and resilient city.
Parker (33) is also a researcher at the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO) and serves on the board of The Architects’ Collective, a nonprofit. “The city is a complex place full of diverse people — attempting to understand this complexity is partially what drives me,” she says. “There are many different histories and stories and there are many reasons for the way things are. My job is to uncover this, to explain and understand, and to recommend what should be changed and what should remain.” — Aaisha Dadi Patel