Cape Town goes 24/7

By on April 17, 2013

The 24- hour city urban–planning model proposed for Cape Town’s City Centre is ripe with economic, infrastructural and social development opportunities. Whats more, it delivers a strong message about how the city centre is affirming its progressive creative image.

Earlier this year, the Cape Town Partnership held a symposium to discuss how the inner city could be revived. Here, the notion of the City of Cape Town as a 24-hour city – a city that never sleeps – was debated as a means to boost the city’s economy, create new employment opportunities, improve safety, and fuel industries such as tourism and entertainment.

The idea has received renewed attention since Cape Town was named World Design Capital 2014, but it first started taking shape in 2004 in the Western Cape government’s 2004 Integrated Development Plan.

The first strategy in the document – shifting growth to the urban core – details how “mixed-use, mixed-income, high-density development in well-located and accessible areas…” stimulates economic opportunities. Until now, the city’s poor have been housed in low-cost housing at the urban periphery. Not only does this limit employment opportunities, employed residents also have to travel great distances to work. “This combination of factors tends to trap people in poverty and imposes massive long-term social costs,” the document reads.

After hours

Urban researcher and artist Ismail Farouk points out that while 55 000 people live in Cape Town’s City Bowl area, an average of 400 000 people travel in and out of the city daily between work and home. But population densification in the city centre stimulates a night-time economy. At present, the city centre operates from 8am to 5pm, with limited services and amenities available outside of these hours.

“For a city centre to be effective,” says Robin Carlisle, Western Cape MEC for Transport and Public Works, “it cannot be an eight-to-five habitat. For instance, schools in the city must operate from early morning to late at night: conventional school from 8am to 2pm; summer school or daycare centres from 2pm onwards; and evenings maybe ABETs [adult basic education and training].”

“This is typically because of increasing costs. Everything needs to work harder and longer. And where you extend your day, you’re going to grow employment against a fairly static cost base. The city must buzz till late.”

A case in point is retailer Woolworths. The company has teamed up with the Engen fuel-station network to create Woolworths Food Stops, a chain of 24-hour convenience stores.

Matt Keogh, Woolworths Group Director of Retail, remarks, “The Woolworths Food Stop on Orange Street [Cape Town City Bowl] is trading well. We have been pleased with its performance since it opened in 2000. A strong presence in the 24-hour convenience market means that we are reaching new customers. We’re making the Woolworths brand available to younger, urban customers in a safe environment.”

“The rationale for creating a 24-hour city is to create vibrant spaces,” states Farouk. “It also provides more flexible models for investment, attracting young professionals in search of a vibrant city life.”

Longer public-transport operating hours and a more efficient public-transport system in and out of the city centre are added benefits. “When operating properly, [public transport] is the instrument that bridges the apartheid city with Khayelitsha or Duinefontein, for example,” says Carlisle. “It allows people from these outlying areas to swim at Sea Point Pavillion and people to go to work. But this drains at 5pm. It is essential that we get a mix of people living in the city centre, not just the very rich.”

Mixing it up

Several studies caution that the aim of a 24-hour city should not solely be entertainment 24/7. With deregulated liquor controls and extended entertainment hours, many such city precincts suffer noise pollution and social degradation.

This highlights the need for mixed-use and mixed-housing land use. With people living in the city, services and amenities will sprout to support their everyday needs.

In its Central City Development Strategy published in 2008, the Cape Town Partnership committed to trebling the city centre’s population density. This has not yet been achieved and the city centre continues to be home to high-income earners and short-stay holiday-makers.

One way to counteract this housing trend is to diversify housing options available in the city centre.

Farouk explains that this is no easy task. “According to our constitution, we must make the city centre more inclusive and increase the density there,” he says. “But the specific challenge to Cape Town is the high cost and low availability of land, which makes mixed-income housing almost impossible.

“There’s a conservative political environment opposed to densification. They view densification as a negative word, regarding it as unmanageable, high-rise types of environments the likes of Shanghai and the Johannesburg CBD. The city has therefore fought against this densification process.”

This opens the way for social-housing institutions.

In the 2004 Integrated Development Plan, the Western Cape government identified the opportunity for ‘gap’ or ‘infill’ housing: accommodation for households earning just too much to qualify for national housing subsidies.

Joel Mkunqwana is President and Chair of the National Association of Social Housing Organisations, and Social-Housing Director of Communicare, a Cape Town-based non-profit social-housing company. Social-housing organisations provide subsidised rentals at below market value to households falling into the low- and middle-income brackets.

“A monthly income of R7 500 per household is the cap for receiving social-housing assistance,” states Mkunqwana. “There are two components involved: households earning below R3 500 (the primary social-housing market), and households earning below R7 500 (the secondary social-housing market).

“In certain social-housing projects in other parts of the country, the current rental pricing has been reduced to R1 800, with some support from government,” Mkunqwana says.

“Mixed-used/mixed-income combinations increase capital,” Carlisle adds. “The state puts up the land and the private sector provides the cost of development, the capital and management, and both share the profits. The profits become more substantial as time goes on.”

“We’re trying to get public rental-stock properties [held by the state] transferred to us because the social-housing institutions’ management and efficiencies are better than those of government,” Mkunqwana elaborates. “We have better collection rates and better customer relations compared with the state. Communicare holds 3 600 stock rentals with [rental] collections above 98 percent, and turnaround vacancies below 2 percent.”

Furthermore, organisations like Communicare have social-development programmes in place to support the tenants in social-housing complexes. Communicare’s enterprise-development project, for instance, involves residents in the gardening, landscaping and painting of their properties as part of its housing-stock maintenance and upgrading.

Carlisle warns, however, that “you do great harm when you start granting housing to the unemployed because their distress becomes the city’s distress”. For this reason, he says, assisted housing will be the focus of the city’s urban-densification programme.

Farouk adds, “Creating a 24-hour city in the Cape Town City Bowl speaks to South Africa’s challenges: eight-to-five cities were related to apartheid where the CBDs housed a particular race and class.” Marginalised communities were bussed in and out of the city to work. An integrated city centre would therefore have the added benefit of addressing this legacy from the past.


You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply