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Monday Sep 11, 2017

Mixed-use suburbs draw fed-up commuters

Suburbs that offer residents employment and schooling options are becoming extremely sought-after in the Western Cape as more people become fed up with the daily commute.

Ever-increasing traffic congestion, combined with the unreliability of travel times due to broken down vehicles, accidents and road works, is resulting in more people looking for work closer to home - ideally in the suburbs in which they live.

"People are prepared to quit their jobs and take salary cuts to find work close to home," says Zelda Pieters, a practising industrial psychologist and managing director of HR Inspiration.

"Employees making these decisions think about the money they are giving up, but the emotional stress related to traffic congestion and commuting is too high."

Although there are some employees who, after weighing up the stress against the money, will still commute, the decision to take a salary cut to work closer to home is a decision many are making, agrees Natalie Mabaso, an industrial psychologist at Paragon Interiors.

"In the absence of a petrol allowance, sometimes the reduction in salary equates to what they were spending on petrol every month."

Suburbs that offer both living and working options are prized.

For these reasons mixed-use suburbs are no longer an emerging trend but, according to Lew Geffen, chairman of Lew Geffen Sotheby's International Realty, have now become firmly-established features of the architectural landscape in metros.

Other real estate professionals are also seeing this trend.

"With the frustration of spending hours in traffic, many real estate decisions are based on eliminating or decreasing traffic-related stress,' says Mike Greeff, chief executive of Greeff Christie's International Real Estate.

"Traditionally, the school traffic commute has always been a significant factor in high demand for family homes in the southern suburbs since a number of leading schools are located in and around these areas."

Greeff says one of the fastest growing mixed-use areas is Claremont, which "for some time" has been home to a large retail and expanding business hub, with many corporates establishing headquarters in the area.

Another mixed-use suburb is Kenilworth. Greeff says while its residents have traditionally viewed Kenilworth as a "village", with a residential component comprising houses and apartment blocks, and a small collection of specialty shops, the suburb is growing into a strong business hub.

"Woodstock is (also) a rapidly growing mixed- use area, with offices, new apartment blocks, restaurants and shops popping up all the time."

Greeff says Green Point is also a "huge hub of development".

"Westlake and Steenberg are successful mixed-use areas with large office parks, Reddam House School, the US Consulate and two significant shopping centres, Steenberg Lifestyle Village and the Blue Route in neighbouring Tokai.

"Residential opportunities here largely comprise security estates, but there are also single residences. Here office space is minutes from home, and there is growth in the numbers of people who work from home."

Laurie Wener, Pam Golding Properties senior executive for developments, says the rise in mixed-use developments has definitely been followed by the emergence of mixeduse suburbs.

"With limited land availability, increasing congestion and rising home ownership costs, there is growing demand for sectional title properties as people are willing to sacrifice space in return for a more convenient location and less of a commute to work."

Suburbs that have healthy commercial, retail, and even industrial components hold good potential to become known as mixed-use suburbs, says Wener.

"These areas offer an easy commute to highways and airports, a tourist interest and good public transport."

The CBD and City Bowl have both transformed over the past decade or so with residential developments going up next to prime office space, Wener says.

"The need for a live-work-play lifestyle has grown in part because of increased traffic congestion. People are willing to sacrifice larger plots or gardens to live closer to work opportunities."

Although there is not the same demand in the southern suburbs as in the CBD, Lindsay Beck, Pam Golding Properties area manager for southern suburbs, says agents are seeing "pockets of interest" in Wynberg Chelsea, Observatory and lower Claremont.

Just as more people are choosing to work in suburbs close to their homes, so too are businesses moving their offices and operations into the suburbs, says Rowan Alexander, director of Alexander Swart Property.

One reason is to be closer to their workforces and cut time wasted on commuting.

"With the decentralisation of businesses from the CBD, suburbs like Brackenfell are seeing businesses moving into them."

Along with the emergence of new business hubs in suburbs such as Brackenfell, Somerset West, and Century City, Alexander says there is "huge" business investment. Companies are more willing to back decentralised projects because of bigger workforces in the suburbs, and workforces will be happy they do not have to travel far to work.

"If you look at these suburbs, the catalyst has almost always been development of retail space first, and then the residential and schooling component. The business commercial space tends to come last."

  • The stress of fighting traffic twice a day takes a toll on productivity

    Daily commutes in heavy traffic are having a detrimental effect on the health and well-being of employees, and industrial psychologists agree that many are not coping with the stress and anxiety it causes.

    "We have found through our research that in the Sandton area alone, an average of 73% of employees spend more than an hour commuting to work and back every day."

    This is according to Natalie Mabaso, an industrial psychologist at Paragon Interiors, who adds: "This is a significant amount of time spent idle in the car. Due to extensive development in the Sandton area and repair of major roadways, this situation is exacerbated."

    She says at a fundamental level, it is the sense of a lack of control experienced by people during their commutes that really affects their psychological well-being.

    "One leaves home with more than sufficient time to make it to the office on time, and then finds oneself stuck in traffic due to a robot that is out or a police roadblock.

    "It is this feeling of frustration and essentially of being trapped with no way out that can set a person's day off on the wrong foot, and cause a knock-on effect."

    Zelda Pieters, a practising industrial psychologist and managing director of HR Inspiration, says long or congested daily commutes increase people's anxiety levels.

    "People wake up in the morning, but while they can prepare for the journey to a certain extent, a lot of what happens is unexpected.

    "By the time people are at work they are stressed and drained and feel they need time to unwind. This is all a direct impact of traffic congestion and commuting."

    An indirect impact, Pieters adds, is that the stress affects both the employer and the worker's productivity levels.

    "Later in the day they are now behind with their work, which causes more stress and increases anxiety levels again. And on top of that, they then need to get back into their cars for another trip home."

    Mabaso adds: "They feel the time they spend travelling is wasted. They may also be late to collect children from school or late for social appointments in the afternoons - which takes its toll on family relationships and friendships.

    "It is not the length of the commute that is the issue - although this too can be tiresome - but what one encounters on the journey such as traffic, cars cutting across lanes, robots out and so on."

    Both Pieters and Mabaso agree that women are more prone to this stress due to the responsibilities they have at home before and after the commutes.

    "Women often have to pack lunches in the mornings and get children to school, while in the evenings it is getting home, sorting out groceries and making dinner, doing homework, bathing children," Pieters says.

    Mabaso agrees: "I find gender differences in this regard. Men appear more prepared to travel a distance to work - perhaps because, historically, they were often the breadwinners for their families. Moms with children often actively seek out opportunities to work, live and have their children at schools nearby."

    Pieters says people who live and work in the same areas, or very close by, are definitely less stressed, and the indirect effect of this is higher energy levels, better health, and more productivity.

    Pieters says employers generally think "very narrowly" about people coming in to work.

    "The trade-off should not have to be quitting their jobs to work in the suburbs. For example, people can work from home and go into the office at 10am after the traffic has subsided. They can work until 2pm and go home before the traffic, and then carry on working from there.

    "Many people love their jobs but will leave because of the stress of the commute. Employers need to think more openly. There are other options available."

    Pieters says most employees are equipped to work from home, with both data and hardware.

    At her company, she implements "very flexible" arrangements and measures her employees' productivity levels by their outputs.

    Mabaso says her company encourages their clients to allow their employees flexitime.

    "We find employees are better able to schedule their personal responsibilities and commitments around this and are happier as a result."

  • Beating peak hour congestion

    When Zelna du Plooy and her family moved to a suburb suitable for their children's schools, she had a big decision to make about her job.

    Her 3.5km commute had been easy, but with her new home now 40km away, Du Plooy had to weigh up whether the stress of sitting in traffic for at least two hours a day was something she was willing to live with.

    "Traffic stresses me out. One of the robots on the route would sometimes stay red for seven minutes."

    Du Plooy resigned, but three months later her employer asked if she would reconsider provided alternate working arrangements could be made.

    Du Plooy was more than happy to go back - as long as she did not have to face the traffic every day.

    "My employer and I came to an agreement. I work from home four days a week and only go into the office once a week. I travel the hour to work each day, although I am a bit stressed when I get into the office.

    "I hate to be late because of traffic. I have to make sure I give myself enough time in case something on the road delays me. I could not do it every day of the week."

    Ben Fourie, an IT software specialist, was in a similar predicament. His work was only 25km from his home, but he struggled with the daily traffic congestion.

    "Most of my route is on freeways, but because of the sheer number of vehicles travelling it in rush hour, it would take me about an hour to get home - and that is if there were no accidents."

    He approached his boss about his working hours, and they agreed that if he could be at work by 7am every day, he could leave at 4pm, missing the peak traffic period.

    "There is still traffic but it flows a little quicker. If there are no accidents or road works I can be home in 45 minutes."

    For marketing manager Tracy Davids though, eliminating the daily commute was not as easy, so she decided to cut some of the stress out of her life.

    "I gave up my job for another closer to home. The money was not as good, and the position itself was like taking a few steps backwards, but I weighed up my options and made the decision to leave.

    "I now work 5km from my home, and my children are at school 3km away. I do not earn as much as I did and am not doing as well in my career, but my quality of life is priceless."

    Davids says she has a simpler and more convenient way of life which has left her, and her family, happier.

    Bonny Fourie
    Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

    Independent Property appears every Saturday in the Weekend Argus

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