Bridging city’s spatial gulfs
Vigorously promoted public transport initiatives offer best hope of overcoming Cape Town’s apartheid-era divisions, write Brett Petzer and Rashiq Fataar
that are difficult for other interest groups to dismiss.
Ivan Turok of the South African Human Sciences Research Council has indentified the continued devolution of national and provincial powers to municipalities as a second aspect that could empower planners. This devolution renders elected representatives more accountable to their immediate constituents for the overall quality of the built environment, thus strengthening the planning professional’s case against narrow commercial interests.
However, it is clear that the greatest potential agent of change in the spatial economy in Cape Town would be the emergence of citywide residents’ groups or commuter groups as a major metropolitan constituency. Such a constituency would be able to fund its own expert commentators and lobby for its own long-term interests, while articulating the voice that is so deafeningly silent in planning debates.
Where issues of infrastructure, or commercial development projects, are discussed, current rules favour the participation of immediately- affected residents, the city, planning professionals and developers. But, since the voice of the residents of greater Cape Town is missing, the Nimbys (those who oppose development because it is close to them – Not In My Back Yard – rather than in principle) prevail. Local residents feel the costs, in disruption and loss of open space, strongly while the benefits, which may be greater, accrue evenly to a larger number of people. This creates a classic problem of economics in which the return on opposing a project is great, because a few people pay a large individual cost, while the return on promoting a project is small because an enormous group receive a very small individual benefit. In this way, value is destroyed for cities and regions.
Examples such as the continuing and resilient growth. Turok points out that the quantified demand for housing in densification schemes in central Cape Town, for example, should be a key informant of planning projections from the start. Poor Capetonians, in essence, will not survive in the city unless the CBD’s higher prices for basic groceries are more than offset by the savings in transport costs.
Economic growth prospects towards 2025 in Cape Town are expected to average just 3.5 percent a year, according to a report by PwC. This, coupled with an unemployment rate of 21.7 percent, presents a significant challenge for the city. There are no easy answers to the challenge of creating an inclusive, resilient economy in an environment of slow regional growth and the severe mismatch between the lack of skills of the unemployed and the shortage of specialist and high-skilled labour. There are only local, small- scale answers and a necessity to experiment and start from first principles.
The recently launched Fare ( Future of Agriculture and the Rural Economy) process by the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership and the Economic Development Forum, is one important example of fostering dialogue and building partnerships around economic challenges. Recent wage strikes and conflicts in the De Doorns farming community in the Cape Winelands and in other farming areas have brought the challenges facing the agriculture sector to breaking point. The protests there were an acute example of opportunistic local politics exacerbating a global sectoral problem – the increasing mechanisation of agriculture in a context of shrinking demand for unskilled workers in South Africa.
The Fare process is open-ended and non-partisan, without defined outcomes except information. All other outcomes are secondary to the production of knowledge of the interests and perspectives of all stakeholders, especially some of those least likely to articulate a position in a public, formal way – such as seasonal and migrant labour. However, and importantly, the gulf between stakeholders whose views and interests are known – farmers and government – and those whose views are either unknown, or known only through spokesmen who may or may not represent the broader view, is to be bridged through discussion and consultation. Fare is at once a pragmatic indaba and an acknowledgement of the huge information deficit underlying South Africa’s failures to reconcile its two economies and its two types of city, the formal and the informal.
In this context, Cape Town’s designation as World Design Capital 2014 represents an important opportunity for the urbanist discourse in the city. The hitherto fragmented debate on the spatial future of Cape Town might now be overhauled into an organised body of knowledge that acknowledges the value of lived experience and measures the longterm consequences of the effects of spatial inclusion and exclusion. The 2014 theme, “Bridging the Divide”, would gain some heft if knowledge itself became the bridging infrastructure to enable a sharing of ideas and a contestation of rival visions for the city.
In this vein, the Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading project (VPUU) is an attempt to create built interventions and a long-term programme of research. As an information- gathering initiative, the fundamental restructuring of the spatial landscape in Cape Town in decades, affording the city an opportunity to re-shape and re-wire for the future.
The investment in transport infrastructure over the last decade has largely been road-based, with major investment in road improvements, and the MyCiTi bus system.
With Phase 1 of the MyCiTi bus rapid transit system under way towards the West Coast, Phase 2 to the Metro South-East in planning, and the promise of 3 600 new rail vehicles over the coming decade at a cost of over R50 billion, the opportunity for spatially connecting the city is stronger than ever before. But building connections through public transport investment is not without its challenges. Where these connections – physical or other – are implemented, how does one measure and define the success? For example, the introduction of an express service on the N2 freeway, the chief road linking the city centre with Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha, merely provides additional capacity while the rail system remains poorly maintained and unreliable. It does not propose to cut through and connect different parts of Cape Town and thereby foregoes its own potential for fostering social and spatial cohesion.
Fataar is the director and Petzer a researcher at Future Cape Town, a non-profit think tank for ideas on the future of cities. This article forms part of a collaborative series between Future Cape Town and Urban Africa. It originally appeared on the Urban Africa website at http://www.urbanafrica.net