Dear Premier Zille,
In support of a more just and equitable city
Both the City of Cape Town (CoCT) and the Provincial Government of the Western Cape (PGWC) support the idea of enabling a more just, equitable, sustainable and inclusionary city. This support is expressed in the local government’s Integrated Development Plans (IDPs), its Spatial Development Frameworks (SDFs), and in the Provincial Government’s affordable housing and other strategies. One of several approaches adopted by the state to meet these aims is to utilise its landholdings more effectively, efficiently and creatively. Both tiers of government also hope to leverage investments generated from the (re)development of underutilised state landholdings in order to enhance access to affordable housing and public services (including education, welfare and health care services), while stimulating the local economy by creating much needed job opportunities for residents who are economically stressed. In other words, the state’s spatial planning policies and guidelines are explicitly geared towards redressing, once and for all, the inequitable and unjust spatial legacy inherited from apartheid planning policies and implementations.
Taking into account the progressive policy directives found in the City’s IDP and SDF, or in the Provincial Government’s housing and other strategies, it seems somewhat disappointing—if not entirely regressive—that well located public landholdings, such as, for example, the Tafelberg site in Sea Point, are being sold through tender processes that conform to market rationalities alone. Securing the highest price for a parcel of land via the open market is thus assumed to be the only ‘rational’ approach available to the state. Yet, such a myopic conceptualisation of state owned land served not only to nullify opportunities to redress spatial inequalities, it also nullifies opportunities to explore more creative, and even income-generating, uses of state owned land (via, for example, establishing leaseholds as opposed to merely selling public land to the highest bidder). Argued differently, by selling the Tafelberg site to the highest bidder in the open market, the possibility of earmarking this site for a mix of activities, including affordable housing, will, forever, be relinquished. This concern is heightened by the fact that the Tafelberg site is the only remaining parcel of state owned land in Sea Point that is suited for a mix of tenure options and housing typologies. By contrast, creative urban design interventions that purposefully seek to accommodate a fine-grain mix of activities and housing opportunities will contribute to the unique quality of Sea Point’s existing social, economic and built fabric—namely, its “spirit of place” (or genius loci).
Reimagining the Tafelberg site as an active and attractive urban node that includes both affordable and market-related housing has the potential to become the City of Cape Town’s flagship project for real integration, socio-economic equity and spatial justice. By means of such a project, we will debunk our dated understanding of affordable housing. By means of such a project, we may also stem the tide of unmitigated urban gentrification taking place from Sea Point to Woodstock. It’s time, once again, to fight for a more just and equitable city. Such a city is respectful of, and celebrates, diversity. It accommodates a range of housing typologies and a mix of tenure options. It promotes affordability. It provides access to job opportunities and public services in centrally located places. It is a city of inclusion and not exclusion. Above all else, it is a city for all its residents.
School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics
University of Cape Town