Can a state run project with all the challenges of bureaucracy and unsupportive & contradictory legislation, result in a truly sustainable, integrated human settlement that is an example of best practice and showcases a true understanding of the conceptual domain?
Oude Molen (OM) spans approx. 14 Ha on the edge of the CBD of Cape Town. It is well-located near public transport and an industrial area, yet provides opportunities for recreation along the river network to the east. It is a heritage site with multi-layers dating back to the Khoisan era and the early days of the Cape Colony. It has been a farm, a sacred burial site, a hospital and now an ecovillage in the making. The land is owned by the Provincial Government of the Western Cape (PGWC) and was last officially used as an asylum for blacks only during the Apartheid era. Since the deconstruction of Apartheid, the land and buildings were left to degrade, un-maintained as low density rental stock pending a decision for its future.
In recent years people began to move there for the opportunities it provided for cheap electricity and premises, open space and community. A Villagers Association was formed with an unusual eco and socio-conscience. When deciding how to develop the land, one of the primary questions for PGWC was what to do with the people using it. Instead of evicting them, it was decided that all stakeholders including inter alia the neighbouring social housing scheme, the villagers’ association, the Khoisan elders council, the Two Rivers Urban Park etc. would be included in a robust social process that would see the developments occur with the people in place.
A vision was developed in partnership with the people that resulted in a mixed-use, medium density rurban ecovillage. The village seeks to produce its own food, recycle its water and use electricity from renewable sources. Existing buildings were renovated and restored, whilst new buildings tread lightly on the earth using materials selected for their low embodied energy and health-giving properties. In addition, new buildings were designed to utilize passive solar properties for heating and cooling, and old buildings renovated to achieve the same. As a showcase project, it has been earmarked by the City of Cape Town, for the Cape Care Tourism Route.
The project reflects the complex nature of human life; the links we make to nature, history, prevailing politics and neighbouring communities. Against the backdrop of massive homelessness and housing shortages in South Africa, it is hugely challenging for the state not to revert to the tradition of simply building dwellings of mass-housing for the poor. The project has not maximised density, but kept the threshold levels to an optimum medium to high density so as to provide spaces that are both bustling and quiet within the fabric of the village. It is the first sustainable project of its scale to be instigated by a state organisation in South Africa and sets a precedent for sustainability previously not seen.