From a ‘waste­land’ to a clean, busy town

Shared pub­lic space is key to Cape Town over­com­ing de­cay and de­spon­dency

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - MICHAEL MOR­RIS

IN MID-2001, for­mer MP Sheila Camerer wrote a peev­ish news­pa­per ar­ti­cle about neg­a­tive in­ter­na­tional per­cep­tions of South Africa’s crime risk.

The gist – un­re­mark­ably – was a call for bet­ter-re­sourced polic­ing, but a de­tail about Cape Town leaps out a decade and a half later.

Camerer noted one of the rea­sons for “our bad im­age” in Ger­many and Aus­tria, in par­tic­u­lar, was “ex­tremely neg­a­tive ref­er­ences” on the coun­tries’ of­fi­cial web­sites.

Ger­many, for in­stance warned that “gen­eral crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties... have not let up, es­pe­cially in the cities” and – sin­gling out Cape Town – that “the area be­tween the Wa­ter­front and the CBD… should be avoided af­ter dark and dur­ing week­ends”.

Not ir­ra­tionally, sub­ur­ban res­i­dents from Mitchells Plain to Ta­ble View prob­a­bly would have agreed: parts of the CBD were no-go zones once com­muters had gone home.

A man who had the acutest sense of the risks of that time and who re­mains en­gaged in fash­ion­ing a safe, liv­able city is Tasso Evan­geli­nos.

In an in­ter­view on the 15th birth­day of the Cen­tral City Im­prove­ment Dis­trict (CCID) this week, its chief oper­a­tions of­fi­cer looked back to a very dif­fer­ent city and an at­mos­phere of in­se­cu­rity that de­fined its main chal­lenge.

“Crime and grime” was the phrase that cap­tured the tar­get of the new ini­tia­tive and the model up­per­most in ev­ery­body’s mind was New York City mayor Rudi Gi­u­liani’s “bro­ken win­dows” pol­icy.

It wasn’t Gi­u­liani’s idea, but so­cial sci­en­tist Ge­orge Kelling’s, who rea­soned in the 1980s that if you fixed bro­ken win­dows ( cleared litter and erased graf­fiti), you de­terred fur­ther anti-so­cial be­hav­iour and petty crime and cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment in­hos­pitable to se­ri­ous crime.

Gi­u­liani made the pol­icy a key plank of his may­oralty from 1993 and later stud­ies showed crime de­clined and con­tin­ued to drop for the fol­low­ing decade.

In 2001, Cape Town was keen to emu­late New York’s suc­cesses.

“We all had some idea of what the bro­ken-win­dow strat­egy meant,” Evan­geli­nos ac­knowl­edged wryly, “but we didn’t really understand what it meant for us other than to say, well, we are man­ag­ing this space… let’s get out there.”

Cape Town’s strat­egy was mod­elled on the hop.

“We didn’t have e-mail or cell­phones with GPS and cam­era func­tions… you had a brick for a phone, a clip­board, a pen and a good pair of shoes and you walked the beat, eight or nine hours a day.”

The raw data was dis­may­ing: “Dirt and de­cay, litter, graf­fiti and a pro­lif­er­a­tion of ‘to let’ signs as CBD busi­ness fled and property own­ers lost con­fi­dence.”

No­body would want to linger, let alone in­vest, in an en­vi­ron­ment summed up with stark econ­omy in the Week­end Ar­gus head­line of that time: “CBD: a waste­land.”

Yet tack­ling the small stuff block by block and forg­ing part­ner­ships with the po­lice, city, property own­ers, NGOs, re­tail­ers and even the home­less be­gan to yield re­sults.

They learnt small, daily in­ter­ven­tions had a cu­mu­la­tive po­ten­tial in fos­ter­ing op­ti­mism.

A sig­nal illustration is the CCID’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with the NGO Straatwerk in cre­at­ing jobs for street peo­ple. It be­gan in 2004 with a team of six on a monthly bud­get of R5 000 and has grown to a R2.1 mil­lion-ayear en­ter­prise em­ploy­ing 300.

They fo­cus on what Evan- geli­nos called “aes­thetic de­fects” – dam­aged paving, unkempt tree wells, blocked drains, bro­ken bol­lards, graf­fiti, miss­ing chunks of tar and road mark­ings; too small to war­rant con­stant mu­nic­i­pal at­ten­tion, but which sub­tly main­tain the sense of a cared­for ur­ban fab­ric.

“The city pro­vides the ma­te­rial. We, through Straatwerk, pro­vide the labour and ex­per­tise,” he said. Street peo­ple are given skills and in­come and the over­all ur­ban at­mos­phere is en­hanced.

In the 15 years of the CCID’s ex­is­tence, the ef­fect of projects of this kind was sel­f­re­in­forc­ing.

“In 2000, up to 80 per­cent of the build­ings in the city didn’t look good. Peo­ple didn’t want to in­vest. To­day, it’s rare to find a build­ing that has not been up­graded or given a coat of paint in the past five years.

“It has a domino ef­fect – the clien­tele changes, you get bet­ter ten­ants, the re­tail offering ex­pands. As a re­sult, we have the low­est re­tail va­can­cies in the coun­try for the core of the CBD be­tween Strand and Wale streets of about 3 or 4 per­cent and an over­all va­cancy rate of 6 per­cent.

“And you achieve that by build­ing re­la­tion­ships, un­der­stand­ing that there’s no per­fect so­lu­tion – you are of­ten deal­ing with things you have no con­trol over – but that if you make an ef­fort and are con­sis­tent you can achieve a mea­sure of cer­tainty and of making ev­ery­one feel that you are walk­ing to­gether.”

Fif­teen years down the line, en­vi­able head­line sta­tis­tics show a tra­jec­tory of ben­e­fits: to­tal property val­u­a­tions in the CBD have risen from just over R6 bil­lion in 2006 to al­most R24bn this year.

Per­haps most sig­nif­i­cantly of all, the num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing in the cen­tral area has grown ten­fold, from 750 to more than 7 000.

In the first years, es­pe­cially, a sharp fo­cus on se­cu­rity cut crime dra­mat­i­cally and the CCID’s sus­tained safety-on-the-streets ini­tia­tives – which in­volve ex­ten­sive col­lab­o­ra­tion with the po­lice and the city’s law en­force­ment agency, reg­u­lar pa­trols, mo­bile kiosks and 24-hour mon­i­tor­ing – con­tinue to yield ben­e­fits.

Yet, Evan­geli­nos noted, the key to making a bet­ter city – the “Safe, clean, car­ing, open for busi­ness” hub of the

look­ing to add

value ... we

know that if you

don’t look af­ter

the ba­sics, they

CCID’s brand­ing – is peo­ple and that meant al­ter­ing per­cep­tions, not least by fix­ing bro­ken bol­lards and ar­rest­ing pickpockets.

But even with early suc­cesses in cut­ting crime, a neg­a­tive per­cep­tion per­sisted.

“You still found tourist ho­tels urg­ing peo­ple to by­pass the cen­tral city. There was that lin­ger­ing neg­a­tive per­cep­tion.”

What changed that was the Fifa World Cup in 2010 and par­tic­u­larly the Fan Walk link­ing the cen­tral city to Cape Town Sta­dium.

“Peo­ple had to dis­cover for them­selves that this was no longer a no-go zone and we saw an amaz­ing turn­around in per­cep­tions.

“That has only grown since… and we see it in the cre­ation of the ‘cof­fee cul­ture’, shops open­ing up on to the pave­ment, peo­ple feel­ing com­fort­able on the street, ar­rang­ing meet­ings out­side their of­fices, where be­fore they’d never leave their build­ings, they’d com­mute in and out and that would be it.”

Har­ness­ing this change en­abled the CCID to step up its ac­tiv­ity in pro­ject­ing the city cen­tre as an at­trac­tive, vi­brant busi­ness and res­i­den­tial hub.

From 2012, it be­gan pro­duc­ing an an­nual state-of-the-cen­tral-city re­port, which seeks at once to ac­cu­rately mon­i­tor progress and change, iden­tify or ex­plain new projects and sell the city as a key African metropole, “the coastal city of Africa, the world’s gate­way to the con­ti­nent and Africa’s gate­way to Europe, Asia and Amer­ica”.

The am­bi­tions are bold, yet, as Evan­geli­nos em­pha­sised, the ba­sics are daily, in­cre­men­tal, of­ten mod­est­seem­ing ac­tiv­i­ties aimed at sus­tain­ing the ba­sic re­quire­ment; a pub­lic en­vi­ron­ment peo­ple vol­un­tar­ily share.

And this, over the CCID’s next five- year bud­get term, will in­form new ini­tia­tives – in se­cu­rity, bet­ter man­age­ment of pub­lic squares, a direc­tory of city-cen­tre con­fer­ence venues, ex­tend­ing pedes­tri­an­i­sa­tion and ex­pand­ing pro­grammes to help the 600 peo­ple for whom the cen­tral streets are home.

“We’ll be stick­ing to our knit­ting,” Evan­geli­nos said. “We’re al­ways look­ing to add value, but we know what the ba­sics are, the build­ing blocks … and that if you don’t look af­ter them, they crum­ble.”

‘We’re al­ways


THEN: Th­ese im­ages from the end of the 1990s show a cen­tral city area which a con­tem­po­rary head­line de­scribed as ‘a waste­land’. ‘To Let’ signs pro­lif­er­ated and busi­ness con­fi­dence slumped.

OPER­A­TIONS OF­FI­CER: Tasso Evan­geli­nos.

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