Recently, the future of Cape Town was officially compromised when the seemingly concrete decision of resisting urban sprawl by retaining the integrity of Cape Town’s urban edge was reversed by Anton Bredell, Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning. The edge of Cape Town has now officially been pushed out to encompass lands on the Cape Farms area.

This decision brings Cape Town one ominous step closer to the highly contested development, WesCape.

As a development WesCape addresses very pertinent and immediate ecological, social and economic sustainability issues that intend to alleviate Cape Town’s 400,000 housing back log while providing access to equality and opportunity. WesCape also considers resilience to climate change vulnerability but more importantly and in their own term, the development seeks to build a “self-sustaining community” in an “integrated and holistic development”. The truth is however that this is simply a band aid solution to a long term, complex and multifaceted problem that centres around Cape Town’s historical and future urban form.

Urbanisation is going to be a reality for around 3/4 of the world’s population by 2050 with most of the growth occurring in the Developing world. According to Bhatta, “cities provide poor people with more opportunities and greater access to resources to transform their situation than rural areas”. The growing global trend of cities in adapting to growth is through urban sprawl, mainly on city peripheries leading to unavoidable consequences such as insecurity of tenure, oil insecurity, lack of mobility and access to opportunity. The greatest consequence of urban sprawl is that while seeking to provide housing for an increasing population it inevitably encroaches on productive farmland  and native habitat at the cost of urban food security and local ecosystems. Sprawl in African cities is also often characterised by slums which are seen as polluted, unsafe and lacking basic services. It is true that tackling these issues are complex, multifaceted and costly, especially when having to address legacy apartheid fragmentation. Bhatta, like others in the urban development arena, believe however that it is very feasible to develop a city without sprawl. So is WesCape really addressing these issues?

01_MAPWescape

The potential of the WesCape development in solving the housing needs of more than 200 thousand households by leap-frogging sprawl to 25km from the urban centre is shadowed by the fact that the development lies within the Koeberg 16km radius nuclear red zone,  which if initiated will potentially require the evacuation of more than 800,000 people within 16 hours. Although it may still be too early with the development not scheduled for completion until 2035, the WesCape development also does not acknowledge who from the housing wait list will be receiving housing and where the new inhabitants will be relocated from. Any relocation often results in dislocation from community, social networks and support infrastructure. In addition, Cape Town like many cities around the world is facing multiple natural resource constraints and, according to a report from the City of Cape Town’s Department of Economic and Human Development is projected to run out of water by 2025. With a population of 3.7 million already feeling pressure from increasing fuel and energy costs, why are we not pressuring the city to look more closely at densification and optimisation of existing inhabited areas rather than increasing the urban edge?

NuclearWescape

The question is rather, are there more affordable, equitable and sustainable alternatives to increasing the city’s edge to accommodate a new R140 billion development 25km from Cape Town? The answer is a clear and resounding ‘YES’. Not only are there according to Simon Nicks multitudes of transition spaces between our spatially fragmented suburbs that could be developed to, as Brett Petzer states “knit our city together” but there are several concept projects supporting development within the urban fringe such as the Greater Tygerberg Partnership’s Voortrekker Road corridor development and the Two Rivers Urban Park Development that advocate density and mixed use development.

Comments from our network including that of Masters of City Planning student, Brett Petzer point out that “we should rather be renovating our institutions, our local democracy and our citywide conversation so that we can house all Capetonians more equitably within our already ample boundaries”. Walter Fiew, a young urbanist states that “Developments to the north of the city, many only aimed to be completed by 2050, will destroy any hope of building a more compact city in the short and medium term. It’s high time we get serious about compacting and densifying the city, for this might be the only hope we have of building a more spatially just and equitable city where the poor and the rich have equal access to the opportunities the city offers. ”

GTP Voortrekker Rd

Cape Town has one of the lowest densities in the world hence the clear opportunity to harness the multiple possibilities that come with increasing urban density such as walkability, accessibility, creating places of closeness, safety, healthy communities  and better quality of life all the while providing much needed housing and places of business. Add integrated public transport, abundant green space in conjunction with water harvesting and conservation, renewable energy and local support for innovation and creative industries and you have a true sustainable community. Sadly our city falls short of delivering a suite of such integrated benefits focusing rather on fragmented solutions within a fragmented system. With no overhaul of the status-quo in sight, will WesCape really be able to live up to its promises within the current system?

References:

Bhatta, B. 2010. Analysis of Urban Growth and Sprawl from Remote Sensing Data, Advances in Geographic Information Science, 17.
Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, DOI 10.1007/978-3-642-05299-6_2,

Nicks, Simon C. 2003. Designing the Interface: The Role of Urban Design in Reconstructing Apartheid Villages, Towns and Cities. Urban Design International 8: 179–205.