One of the most striking features of Voortrekker Road is the coexistence of the old and the new. It points to a city in transition; a city in the process of remaking. Stretching 17km west to east from Salt River Circle to Stikland Bridge, this important road – centrally located in the city region – is now the subject of a number of strategic interventions by public and private interests. Voortrekker Road, as its namesake indicates, has always played a primary transport role in Cape Town, first for migrating Afrikaners, and today for thousands of people passing through the neighborhoods of Salt River, Maitland, Kensington, Goodwood, Parow and Bellville.
Pay close attention to the buildings you pass on a trip down this road, be it by car, taxi, train or bicycle. You will notice light industry and car dealers, discount bulk retailers and large shopping centres, impressive office blocks and run-down housing estates. Schools, hospitals, parks, large parking lots, and government offices and service centres - the so-called ‘higher order social facilities’ - are also plentiful. If ever there was mixed use in Cape Town, Voortrekker Road is a good example of this. Retha Ferguson’s photojournalism illustrates the subtleties of these incremental changes.
But the opposite is also true. Following the construction of the N1 national freeway, many of these once viable high street environments have fallen into decay. Businesses, shops and residents moved to the large new housing developments sprawling at low density north of the freeway. Despite the apparent decay, these neighborhoods are home to a truly integrated society today. Notice the mixed demographics in Goodwood and Parow mapped in Adrian Firth’s popular dotmap analysis of racial distribution based on 2011 Census data. In Bellville CBD, for example, a thriving community of East African migrants have reinvented the city centre, hosting possibly some of the most successful informal trading zones in Cape Town.
While these organic changes are reshaping these neighborhoods, city planners at the City of Cape Town are forwarding convincing arguments that the Voortrekker Road corridor could play a significant role in housing the growing population more centrally. In planning speak, the corridor is also referred to as the ‘urban core’ of Cape Town, supporting 183,000 jobs in close proximity to industrial, logistical and service nodes. It is bounded by the N1 to the north and the R300 and Salt River to the east and west respectively, and 8 200 hectares in size. View this presentation by Tony Marks at the Western Cape Property Development Forum conference for a comprehensive overview of the plans.
Many of these strategies have been developed in response to the new Urban Network Strategies agenda of National Treasury, a relatively new voice and significant force in shaping urban policy and monitoring implementation. The National Treasury is offering conditional grants – such as the Integrated City Development Grant – to qualifying city governments who can demonstrate ‘spatial targeting’. It’s a loaded term, but boils down to the City’s ability to showcase evidence that ‘public investments, services, regulations and incentives are focused in defined spatial areas (spatial targeting) to optimise overall connectivity across the urban network hierarchy’.
In order to access these new funding streams, city governments need to declare ‘Integration Zones’, which have the potential to showcase these ideals. Voortrekker Road was declared the City’s Integration Zone, alongside the Metro South East rail corridor, stretching from Khayelitsha to Mutual Station in Pinelands. Significant research and programme design feeds into Integration Zones, and the Voortrekker Road status quo report runs over 300 pages of analysis. This truly is a significant moment for cities to remake the spatial form of the apartheid city.
Integration Zones also feed directly into the City’s new Integrated Transport Plan, which aims to achieve densities of 40-45 dwelling units per hectare. At the moment, the average density along Voortrekker Road is 15 dwelling units per hectare (ignoring the large empty sites of Belcon, Wingfield and Maitland cemetery). There are exceptions; the flatted developments in Boston, which reaches 75 dwelling units per hectare, being an example. The Transport Plan aims to achieve these densities through ‘transit oriented development’, or simply put, housing many people in close proximity to public transport. This area also largely benefits from relaxed parking requirements in new and existing developments, known as the PT1 and PT2 areas. These measures could move the city towards a more sustainable city less car dependent.
Given Voortrekker Road’s well endowed transport capacity, such as the railways, the road network, and the last phase roll-out of the MyCiti bus network, it is essential to get more people to live on the corridor. These plans are also based on data from the City’s ECAMP system, which pulls together various data streams from the City’s SAP database into a scoring matrix to rank areas according to economic opportunity and performance.
Much has already been achieved in a short time. In September 2015 the City announced that it has spent R170 million on the corridor, which included infrastructure capacity investments in wastewater treatment, electricity substation, transport control centre, and housing schemes. In June 2016, budget allocations in the City’s 2016/17 budget prioritises Voortrekker Road and up to R350 million will be spent on Bellville station and Elsieskraal open space network and flood prevention, in addition to infrastructure.
Lobbied by local business, the City established the Improvement District VRCID in 2013, which is approaching five years of operations. This is the largest CID in the city, stretching south of N1 along Durban Road and nearly 7km along Voortrekker Road in Bellville and Parow. It does not cover the entire corridor. The VRCID provides top-up services in cleaning, security and social development services, and in 2015/16 created 242 jobs in its services. The Greater Tygerberg Partnership was established in 2012, and is leading the partnership formation between prospecting developers by offering property services such as GIS asset mapping and pre-feasibility studies. The GTP is also building cultural connections through Open Streets events, wall murals by young emerging artists, and the newly launched food mile.
Things start to get tricky when spatial planning strategies, such as the Integration Zone and various ‘spatial targeting’ investments, hands over to the real estate process. In her book Change and Continuity in Spatial Planning: Metropolitan Planning in Cape Town under Political Transition (Routledge, 2002), Prof. Vanessa Watson of the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at UCT assessed the earliest attempts at metropolitan spatial planning in Cape Town. She warned that many developers and citizens ‘found it difficult to relate to the four spatial concepts (nodes, corridors, edges, and the open space system) which, planners claimed, were intended to address the problems’ (page 65). And these strategies are full of these terms – and add new ones, such as Transit Orientated Development and spatial targeting.
The language of the ‘compact city’ - nodes, corridors, open space - also needs to contend with the seemingly contradictory trends of edge-city developments, such as WesCape. This has been discussed quite a bit on Future Cape Town, so I won’t foray into that territory. Suffice to say: The success of Voortrekker Road corridor stands in direct contradiction to building WesCape and other edge-city developments. We will need to see a lot more take up of development sites from ‘gap-market’ social housing developers and subsidy-based housing schemes, and not spend this funding in far-off peripheral locations.
Another area that the City and its development partners need to get right is the sensitive and tenuous relationship between formality and informality. The City is clamping down on the so-called ‘Problem Buildings’ – buildings that violate the City’s zoning and use code, for example residential uses in an office building, and other regulations on health and safety, fire risk, and overcrowding. True, these buildings significantly contribute to and even cause urban decay, but what happens to the diverse people who stay there? Cape Town needs to learn from the mistakes Johannesburg made in its corridor strategies, sometimes leading to mass evictions in neighbourhoods such as Jeppestown.
Voortrekker Road has the potential to significantly change the spatial form of Cape Town. It has all the right ingredients: a well functioning public transport network, higher order social facilities, and lots of open space to build new housing projects. Car ownership is not required, and can encourage people who live here to change their mode of transport, leading to less congestion and carbon footprint.
Planning and promotion of the corridor, supported by National Treasury, is charting a innovative new practice, and is receiving international attention, such as this recent investigative report by American consultancy Urban Land Institute. It might to too early to judge the success of it, but a focus on ‘good’ urban outcomes and integrating the existing demographic and energy are vital success factors.
Note: This article first appeared on Future Cape Town on 27 June 2016.