Dear Helen Zille,
We live in times of immense complexity, and pressure. Complexity, meaning that we cannot view one action or inaction in isolation of its relationship to a broader city system, with all of its political, economic and technical facets which act as moving and interrelated parts. Pressure, meaning that we live in a time of inherited failures, injustices and acts of greed that have left us with a limited fiscus, significant inequality in access to housing, services, jobs, education, healthcare and social belonging, and a polarisation of interests.
It is an unenviable task indeed to be required to act decisively in this context.
To lead in such times requires an appetite for nuance, the ability to integrate different agendas, to work incrementally and responsively, all while ultimately holding focus on broader public value creation, and getting things done.
Objections to the sale of the Tafelberg site cannot be viewed in isolation of broader development pressures. While the site itself is relatively unique in its ability to symbolically demonstrate political will for an inclusive city, Tafelberg alone cannot address Cape Town’s housing, transport and employment needs, or the fiscal crunch facing the state. The development decision for the site needs to a part of a broader inclusive, sustainable and viable development philosophy that underpins all decisions relating to private investments, infrastructural investments, service delivery models, and other state land.
Within that broader philosophy, it is indeed conceivable that there are alternative uses for the site – so long as, cumulatively, we create a more integrated and well-functioning city that serves its residents well.
Within that broader philosophy, there are indeed also many reasons to object to the sale of Tafelberg, and other state land assets, in favour of projects that advance inclusive densification and contribute to spatial redress. I can talk about social justice, rights to the city, fixing the Apartheid city. I can talk about the social benefits of integration and cities as social spaces, whose form and flows directly influence intersecting social issues such as employment, crime, gangsterism, discrimination and individuals’ health and wellbeing. I can talk about the economic benefits of mixed-income living, and the real economic costs at both an individual and a firm level of a spatially divided, sprawling city. All of these are valid perspectives, covered in objections to the sale of Tafelberg, many of which I agree with.
Your government claims to be a “jobs” government.
The location of housing is key to an individual’s ability to access and sustain employment. Inclusive economic growth imperatives lend themselves to residential intensification close to economic nodes, from where diversification and increasing complexity of economic opportunities can flow. Fine-grain, mixed-use, multi-income, multi-tenure development with low cost of entry is a the enabling urban environment that entrepreneurs, innovators and job seekers require. Tafelberg offers a unique opportunity to demonstrate a model worthy of replication along key corridors, building towards this inclusive city.
Your government is also claiming that the sale of Tafelberg makes fiscal sense. So let my comment respond primarily to that.
Land and property markets are central to urban form. Infrastructure systems and networks are central to urban flows. Both have long-lasting implications for the income and expenditure of the state. The state, through its own land holdings, through its land-use policies, through its infrastructure planning and through its incentives and fee structures, can influence both urban land markets, and urban infrastructure and services systems.
To argue that sweating state assets makes fiscal sense represents a short-term and single-sphere assessment of costs and benefits, and a narrow understanding of the states ability to shape urban land and infrastructure systems.
In the short-term, yes, selling the Tafelberg site will result in income to the Western Cape Government that can be used for much needed work on any range of development pressures.
This narrow view inherently lends itself to the pitting-off of immediate pressures against one another, and to stalemates between immediate price-value income and broader socio-economic planning agendas. Favouring the short-term in these competing agendas often results in development decisions that appear to be incoherent with espoused values of inclusivity, resilience, growth and joined-up government.
A more holistic view, one that takes into account long-term fiscal implications for all spheres and (operational and capital) functions of the state, would recognise that a more integrated, denser spatial form is a pre-requisite for overall fiscal strength.
Expanding the fiscal assessment in both temporal and functional scales thus brings the fiscal agenda in line with social, economic and sustainability agendas.
Yes, existing underdeveloped areas require significant investment in infrastructure, community facilities and services in order to stimulate development and contribute to the wellbeing of residents of those areas. This is a very real conundrum facing all administrations involved in providing investment and services to unequal cities and regions. Implicit in this sale, is an endorsement of a “sweat the centre to fund the periphery” mentality – one plausible response to this conundrum. A response that needs to be assessed, however, against more “radical” alternatives, and against hybrid alternatives.
In South Africa, fiscal impact assessments are rudimentary at best. Often limited to the price value of a sale or lease, development contributions and rates revenue generated. The latter two are, more often than not, not functions of the uniqueness of a site, but of demand in the market, and can thus be captured elsewhere within a particular land market – making them insufficient variables on which to base development decisions.
More sophisticated fiscal assessments tools of a joined-up government would model cumulative impacts on revenue collection as well as capital and operational expenditure across various state actors (spheres, departments and subsidy-receiving entities). Such integrated tools offer mechanisms to comprehensively assess development alternatives, and/or alternatives relating to investments in existing infrastructure (or innovations in the urban systems themselves).
Without the existence of such a tools locally, we are left to draw on international precedent and global thought leadership on these matters.
Fiscal efficiency being directly correlated to density and intensity of development, cities across the world are consistently warned that their fiscal sustainability is threatened by decisions that require ongoing investment in inefficient infrastructure and services.
Density trumps sprawl and integration trumps segregation when it comes to both the fiscal sustainability and economic resilience of a place.
Impact assessments of sprawling cities consistently show that sprawling development does not generate enough through development contributions and tax revenue to cover the costs it incurs the state to provide new infrastructure and public services.
We cannot afford, as rate payers, as tax payers – as the collective fiscus – to support decisions that bind us to the perpetual subsidisation of inefficient infrastructure and services.
Supporting the development of the Tafelberg site for mixed-income, mixed-tenure, mixed-use development, as has been shown to be feasible, is a powerfully symbolic gesture from the state to show that it is invested in an inclusive and efficient future for Cape Town. The next step would be working on inclusionary zoning and other practices to encourage the private sector to follow suit with investment in development that regenerates communities, corridors and economies.
I was a part of the feasibility study for social housing on Tafelberg in 2012/13. I have also been a part of numerous processes with civil society and private sector role players who want to see greater levels of innovation, coordinated implementation, and improved community engagement in land and housing issues in Cape Town.
The pro-activeness of the citizenry, of social housing organizations, of technical experts to engage in the opportunity presented by Tafelberg to model such a response is encouraging. This is an opportunity for cross-sector land partnering that your government, in the true spirit of “better together”, should not waste.
I know that many voters and ratepayers are confused by what is meant by “integration”, “social housing”, “affordability” or “low income housing”, and feel threatened by the inclusive development model being supported by the likes of Reclaim the City. Your administration does not have to stand alone to educate them and build a social compact in this regard. There are many of us who are willing to walk this path as society – to debunk myths about low-income housing and the impact this will have on a neighbourhood. To look to global city models for integration that contributes to, rather than detracts from, regeneration and economic growth.
To say YES to quality, inclusive, equitable development in our neighbourhoods.
I have no doubt that there are technical experts who will insist that a fiscally efficient city can be built on top of the apartheid spatial form, without changing its fundamentals. Even in the unlikely instance that that would be true, the words of Peter Dracker come to mind:
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
As a property owner in the inner-city, I do NOT stand with rate payers who claim that integration is bad. That integration will damage property prices. Or that the model of inner-city wealth cross-subsidising a sprawling, divided city makes sense. Neither my personal self, nor my investments, are threatened by the idea of living in a more integrated city. To the contrary, the alternative, one of increasing frustration with unequal access to the city and one of increasing pressure on the fiscus to support the apartheid spatial form, threatens me.
I do not want to live in a morally, or financially, bankrupt city.