Dear Premier Zille,
As an architect and urban designer I am a passionate advocate for social and spatial equity. I also live and work in Cape Town, and am a passionate advocate of this my adopted city – having lived all over the world. But I’m deeply saddened by the fact that Cape Town remains a poster child for the apartheid city – it was and still is the most successful spatial expression of the apartheid project. It is also a city in which socio-economic equity remains deeply entrenched, one where access to jobs, schools, parks, shops and even the mountains and beaches, favours the wealthy. It is a city riven by violence – drugs, gangs, crime and sexual violence – and this is exacerbated by a spatial structure that concentrates poverty in areas remote from opportunity.
Madame Premier, we have to change the legacy we have inherited. It is not enough to simply seek to upgrade the areas occupied by the poor. This approach remains exclusionary. We do not have a choice – we must restructure our city to become an inclusionary city, and one of the fundamental ways of doing this is to create opportunities for the working poor to live close to their places of employment. This applies to the wealthy suburbs as much as it does to the inner city. This approach is common in many parts of the world – in New York, London (where I lived for many years), and Hong Kong. Why should Cape Town be any different? Achieving this goal will take political will and substantial political leadership. Only the state can create the conditions in which the goal can be achieved – through appropriate policies, through creating tax or other financial incentives, and through using state-owned land for achieving social benefits.
The Tafelberg site in Sea Point is one such site. It won’t on its own make a significant dent in the huge demand for affordable housing for those in need; but as a symbolic gesture it is immeasurable. And it needs to be the first strike in a new direction for city and provincial policy – one that will shape the future of Cape Town as we all wish to see it: a city of equal opportunity for all who choose to make it there home.
Architect & Urban Designer