Thinking About Cape Town


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In his 2010 book Ill Fares the Land, the late Tony Judt discusses how we know what things cost but we have no idea about what they are worth. Growing privatisation and commodification of our city’s public places is a worrying trend. As architects and spatial practitioners, we must play a pivotal role in ensuring that our city moves in the direction of becoming accessible to all of its residents.

The proposition that any society is only as strong as its weakest link, and an increase in global and local intolerance around economic inequality, highlights the need for a critical reevaluation of our present growth model for Cape Town.

Cape Town’s present mantra of ‘development at all costs’ is problematic at many levels (refer to Fig. 1). The roll out of exclusively private developments actively contributes to the erosion of our public realm (refer to Fig. 1). If our common, shared places and facilities are devalued by society and replaced by private services (available only to some of us), we will: “…lose the sense that common interests and common needs ought to trump private preferences and individual advantage.”

Figure 1: Privatisation of the street edge erodes the public realm

Zoning of projects in Cape Town into singular uses adds to the high degree of segregation that still dominates our city (refer to Fig.2). What we need for the richness of public well-being are shared places and programs that allow us to (re)connect with each other. Open Streets is a program that exemplifies this idea in action.

Figure 2: Singular use buildings with no contribution to the public realm breaks down opportunity for a more ‘just city’

Toni Griffin is an architect and planner at the Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City at the Spitzer School of Architecture in New York. She talks about the ‘just city’ as a set of urban conditions that contribute to our collective cultural well-being (refer to Fig. 3 and Fig.4).

Figure 3: Emphasis placed on the pedestrian  contributes to our collective cultural well-being.

Figure 4: Diversity and participation in the public realm

From this institute’s extensive workshopping and gathering of stories from various global communities, the following form some key criteria to achieving this:

Equity and Access: Proximity and access to good quality public facilities such as parks, clinics, schools or markets.

Choice: The ability for all communities to make selections among a variety of options including places, programs, amenities.

Connectivity: A knowledge network tying people and places together, providing access and information for all Capetonians.

Ownership/Agency: The ability to have a stake in a process, outcome or material good, such as property.

Diversity: Acceptance of different programs, people and cultural norms in the built environment and decision-making processes.

Participation: The requirement and acceptance of different voices and the active engagement of both Individuals and communities in matters affecting social and spatial well-being.

Intentional inclusion with a commitment to listen: In order for public place to foster integration, fellowship and safety.

Beauty: Everyone’s right to well-made, well-designed environments.

As spatial practitioners we are well placed to play an active role in mediating between the private and public interests of the built environment: “..it is clear.. that spatial production belongs to a much wider group of actors – from artists to users, from politicians to builders with a diverse range of skills and interests.”

[1] Judt, T. 2010. Ill Fares the Land, Penguin Group, London
[1] Judt, T. 2010. Ill Fares the Land, Penguin Group, London
*All images courtesy of CCNIArchitects

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