READ: Voortrekker Road Corridor: Planning and Real Estate Development

In this first article in the #READ series, I profile my MSc Dissertation research. Other #READ articles will include book reviews, interesting academic research, popular fiction, and so on. Have you read something interesting and want to write about it? Get in touch. 

Fieuw, W. 2016. An investigation of development processes in a strategic spatial planning intervention: Bellville node on Voortrekker Road Corridor in Cape Town. Unpublished MSc Minor Dissertation, University of Glasgow. 


Abstract: Opportunities to intensify urban growth along the road-rail transport corridor of Voortrekker Road have been identified since at least 1960. Property investment trends have conversely tended to sprawl, which has entrenched existing patterns of spatial exclusion in Cape Town wrought about by colonial and apartheid city planning. Within the current phase of local government characterised by an outcome and performance based approach, new urban policy directives have been established to counteract these pervasive and enduring impacts of spatial exclusion in South African cities.

This dissertation sought to understand the ‘development process’ – a well-established theoretical framework in established property markets – unfolding in a strategic spatial planning intervention. An inductive interpretive study was conducted to investigate the motives, values and approaches adopted by four stakeholder groups, as identified in literature: (1) planning authorities, (2) developers, investors and professionals, (3) land owners, and (4) commercial and residential occupants. Primary data collection in the form of qualitative interviewing was sourced from sixteen interviewees. The primary data was triangulated with policy analysis of secondary data.

The study identified divergent views on development opportunities and constraints associated with the following topics: (a) nature and scale of development, (b) crime and urban decay, (c) ‘problem buildings’ and absent landlords, and (d) bulk rights and development charges. Furthermore, it was proved that literature on the ‘development process’ can be successfully applied to this strategic spatial planning intervention, and could be useful in improving policy considerations.

Voortrekker Road in c. 1985. Source:  HiltonT on Flickr

Voortrekker Road in c. 1985. Source: HiltonT on Flickr

Summary of Findings: This research investigated the development process underway in Voortrekker Road corridor, which is currently being promoted as a solution to problems associated with urban sprawl and segregation in Cape Town, South Africa. A previous article on the topic gives more background. Following a review of literature on state-market relations and how planning plays an important role in mediating difference and contested development, I turned to understanding how Voortrekker Road evolved over three distinct phases (pages 17 - 20). 

  1. A trade route (1845 – 1940): By 1845 Voortrekker Road (then called Maitland Road) was completed as a hard road over the shifting sand dunes, but the railways proved to be transformative. 1885 and 1872 existing rail lines passing along Voortrekker Road reached Kimberly and Johannesburg following the discovery of diamonds and gold in these respective locations. The mineral boom years saw an influx of international migrants, and Cape Town grew from 45,000 residents in 1875 to 67,000 in 1891, and by 1904 reached 171,000. Small towns like 12 mile post (denoting 12 miles/20km from the Cape Colony), today called Bellville, grew to municipal and then city-status. 
  2. A buffer zone (1940 – 1980): An intensive period of house building activity fuelled by an unprecedented post-War economic boom period between 1940 and 1980 transformed the northern suburbs of Cape Town (see Fig 3-2). Even today, the Boston neighbourhood in Bellville displays street names such as ‘Lincoln’, ‘Washington’, and ‘Cleveland’. Listed pension funds and American, British and Afrikaner speculative house builders had active real estate interests in the sprawling northern suburbs. Two scenarios emerged. In the first scenario, a study by D. Hywel Davies in 1960 argued that the land uses along Voortrekker Road justified the development of a 'business ribbon' akin to those in USA, understood at the time as a way in which to organise a development corridor. In the second and prevaling scenario, apartheid-era planners found the long straight Voortrekker Road-Rail corridor utility to enforce segregationist planning ideals, which can be understood in terms of 'hard edges' to separate race classes. 
  3. Space in flux (1980 - present): Following the repeal of oppressive laws, a trend has been observed in which neighbourhoods are progressively integrating across racial borders. At the same time, the trend of 'capital flight' has been observed and during this period the northern suburbs of Cape Town expanded rapidly. High street retail viability on Voortrekker Road decreased and this has subsequently introduced lower value uses such as bulk discount retailers, second hand motor dealers, and furniture shops which dominate the retail sector. Six shopping malls totalling 500,000 sqm prime retail space were constructed between 1972 and 2006. In the town centres on Voortrekker Road (e.g. Bellville, Parow and Goodwood), informal retail and living arrangements have increased poor people’s access to markets, but also resulted in slum living conditions. 
Davies' land use study of 1960 indicated potentials of developing a higher density 'business ribbon'

Davies' land use study of 1960 indicated potentials of developing a higher density 'business ribbon'

A typical representation of the 'model apartheid city', which the road-rail corridor acting as a 'hard edge' to separate race groups. 

A typical representation of the 'model apartheid city', which the road-rail corridor acting as a 'hard edge' to separate race groups. 

16 interviews were conducted to investigate how 1) planning authorities, 2) developers, 3) landowners, and 4) tenants were responding to the development of Voortrekker Road. The study found that the combination of development incentives (UDZ) and the formation of a regeneration company and the services provided were major factors in influencing the choice investors were making to refurbish or rebuild buildings. For example, student housing developers have added close to 2,000 new beds in refurbished buildings over the past three years. Commercial developers have expanded their premises. What do these share in common? The belief that Voortrekker Road Corridor will continue to regenerate over the longer term, and they see their roles as being that of 'pioneer developers'. 

On the other hand, professionals representing the views of the larger scale real estate development industry (e.g. developer forums, commercial ratepayers associations, etc) were unconvinced by the grand ideals for Voortrekker Road Corridor. They share in common a view that the area has degenerated beyond the point where large scale investments are feasible, and that other areas in the city are more appealing places to invest in commercial, residential and retail real estate. 

The study concludes by calling for more pointed regulatory and and stimulus tools to make the spatial planning strategy of the City of Cape Town more effective. Regulatory instruments can be used to limit the continued growth of gated communities on the peripheries of cities, which sprawls the city unsustainably to the north. Improved stimulus tools will be more attuned to the needs of the producers (e.g. developers) and consumers (e.g. tenants) of real estate space. For example, it might require a 'whole of government' approach to attract the right space producers and consumers into the corridor. 

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