Cape Town: World class city or glorified fishing village?

CAPE TOWN - Cape Town is a beautiful city, residents revel in it believing that the sea and mountains make them cool, our cousins up north love visiting to play, before returning to their concrete jungles to make real cash - so they can come back the next year. Foreigners love it and tell their friends and family about it who then also come and visit. Sure, not everyone loves the place but there's no doubt Cape Town is a stunning city to visit and a great place to live. But can it enter the realm of world class city? One that can rival London, New York and Paris, not in size, but in becoming a vibrant, bustling city, one where inner city life becomes as desirable as the city's surrounding natural charms.

Yes, very much so says Cape Town architect, Mokena Makeka.

Makeka has just helped complete a two and a half year feasibility study on plans to sink the Cape Town railway line below ground, freeing up large swathes of land which would be developed primarily for residential use and lead to some much needed densification of the city. Something that is key to Cape Town elevating itself to world-class city status.

Makeka, owner and founder of Makeka Designs Laboratory is fast making a name for himself in the local design/architect industry. He was an active partner on the redevelopment of the new Cape Town train station, and although he sees the potential for Cape Town to transform itself, he also knows that it will take bold decision making by those in authority.

"Projects are not only about feasibility - they have to do with political partnerships and financial planning. This would be a vast undertaking," says Makeka.

"Unfortunately, now is not a good time for bold decisions to be made by people in power," he says, referring to the upcoming local elections.

At the turn of the 20 century Cape Town had about 100 000 residents living in its midst - it now has about 55 000. The area in question covers about 58 hectares and calculations show that the area could accommodate an additional 40 000 - 60 000 people. Add in the surrounding areas and the city itself and Makeka reckons Cape Town could accommodate an additional 90 000 people. "Large successful cities have densities sometimes triple ours and that allows these cities to be vibrant, lively and amazing."

When cities are denser, it allows for other economies to come into play and become more viable - coffee shops are more vibrant, supermarkets are busier, museums better attended and the city becomes more desirable and a more economically viable place to live, visit and work.

So studies have proven the plan is feasible but if Cape Town wants to run with the big boys, it has to make the tough decisions and make them sooner rather than later. Already the city's new world-class stadium is struggling, the managing agents, Stade de France, ran for the hills before their 30 year contract was signed and Cape Town needs to decide what it wants to be and make the decisions to make this happen. It has the amenities but it needs the people.

Says Makeka, "this could be a R20bn project, but raising that kind of money particularly in this economic climate, is not easy. This is now technically a political decision - but the plan is entirely in line with international precedent on how city's need to re-imagine their resources."

According to Makeka, if the project goes ahead it would encompass a mixture of living accommodation from middle income to luxury but a good mix of accommodation is crucial to making the project sustainable. "You cannot afford to have a low density city, it's too costly - for a city to be viable, it needs people." This is also a wonderful opportunity to complement places like District Six and Culemborg and bring people back to the city."

Its time Cape Town moved on from relying just on tourism,  but as a city it is not putting enough initiatives in place to attract local and  international business, in order for Cape Town to compete at the top tier if cities it needs critical mass.


This article was published on 28 February 2011 by Money Web