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

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

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

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