UCT Master of City and Regional Planning, Honours in City Planning, Classes of 2015

Dear Premier Helen Zille,

As graduates of the University of Cape Town’s Masters in City & Regional Planning and Urban Design, we feel it is our responsibility to condemn the sale of the Tafelberg site in Sea Point. This condemnation extends to the disposal of any other Provincially owned land, without giving due consideration to the Province’s legally enshrined socio-economic obligations.

This sale is especially problematic given the lack of holistic and integrated planning around the use of state-owned land to meet these obligations and that this lack of planning must be viewed within the context of a city which has hitherto failed to achieve any meaningful urban transformation. We note with deep regret and worry that not a single affordable housing unit has been produced in and around the CBD and surrounding suburbs since South Africa became a democracy. We know this means that we are building a city on sand and that the time for serious action is long overdue.

Apart from not following due process relating to the disposal of Provincially owned land in terms of the Government Immovable Assets Management Act amongst others, as well as the failure to meet the legislated bare minimum requirements for public participation the sale must be condemned for its substantive disregard of government policy. The sale of Tafelberg undermines national, provincial, municipal and district spatial development plans.

Notably, the sale flies in the face of the foundational principle of ‘spatial justice’ as enshrined in s7(a) of the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA) and s59 of the Western Cape Land Use Planning Act (LUPA). This principle is encapsulated in the Province’s Spatial Development Framework as;

“A socially just society is based on the principles of equality, solidarity and inclusion. While equal opportunity targets everyone in the community, social justice targets the marginalised and disadvantaged groups in society. Inclusionary settlements focus on the public realm rather than on private enclaves; support civic interaction and equitable access throughout the public environment; and make urban opportunities accessible to all – especially the poor. Past spatial and other development imbalances should be redressed through improved access to and use of land by disadvantaged communities”.[1]

 

The sale also fall short of the principal of ‘spatial efficiency’ which is contained in s7(c) of SPLUMA and s59(3) of LUPA. This principle is also unpacked in the PSDF as follows;

 

“Efficiency relates to the form of settlements and use of resources – compaction as opposed to sprawl; mixed-use as opposed to mono-functional land uses; residential areas close to work opportunities as opposed to dormitory settlement, and prioritisation of public transport over private car use. When a settlement is compact higher densities provide thresholds to support viable public transport, reduce overall energy use, and lower user costs as travel distances are shorter and cheaper.” [2]

 

Furthermore the One Cape 2040 plan which spells out the agenda for joint action on economic development within the province calls for ‘Settlement Transition’,

“From unhealthy, low access, often alienated, low opportunity neighbourhoods to healthy, accessible, liveable, multi- opportunity communities” [3] (PSDF, 2014:20). In order to achieve this it calls for the  “consolidation [and] management of state land and property assets for optimal use”. [4]

The optimal use of state assets cannot be limited to parceling land off to the highest bidder. This inadequate concept of the value of land is highly problematic as it fails to take into account the true economic savings of creating well-located human settlements over the long term and fails to acknowledge the opportunity costs lost in terms of achieving social integration. Importantly this approach which is deeply rooted in a neo-liberal ideology fails to account for the social, cultural and environmental value of land.

As a class we have come to the study of urbanism from many fields, such as law, anthropology, sociology, archaeology and architecture.

Although we are young, our understanding of the problem thus has many dimensions; in many ways, city and regional planning has merely equipped us with the tools to spatialise the problems we had studied before.

Because we are young, however, the promise of the SDFs, IDPs and other policy visions are real to us. The words mean something. We have not been in the field long enough to see successive iterations of the disjuncture between policy and practice, or see the resilience of inequality, or ask ‘who benefits?’ from the extraordinary persistence of Apartheid spatiality.

This emboldens us to hold you to account when low-hanging fruit goes unpicked and rots on the stem.

We know enough, despite our inexperience, to understand what excluded and marginalised Capetonians have always known: the many ways of making a city can be divided into two.

The first way is what we’ve already tried; it is cheap initially, and expensive forever. It means putting those on the lowest incomes furthest from the centre of opportunity. It is a sort of Archimedean model as if the poor were so great a burden that only the longest possible lever could ever lift them.

The second way is what we ought to have done and can still do: expensive now, and cheap forever. It means foregoing initial revenue from privileged groups in order to secure transformational real estate for those who need it most and have needed it most for a very long time.

We know how it goes in too many ward meetings, where the most comfortable people in our society use the full force of their hard and soft power to ring-fence their neighbourhoods from change and risk. We know that this problem is magnified, for you, by every wealthy ward in the city. The tenor of these debates and the codes in which they trade are not lost on anyone; we understand that an implicit bargain reigns in Cape Town, whereby the wealthy cross-subsidise the working class in exchange for not having to encounter them in prosperous neighbourhoods outside of working hours.

The Tafelberg site offers a moment in history with which to part from the deeply problematic inertia of ‘business as usual’. It offers Cape Town, the oldest city in the country and therefore the city with the longest history of spatial exclusion, the opportune moment with which to demonstrate in real and tangible terms that it is dedicated to unpacking our apartheid legacy through political will and innovation. This above all else would make Cape Town worthy of its longed claimed mantra of being a ‘world class city’. And this above all else will begin to dismantle the cynical and reactionary attitudes of NIMBY interests who hinder efforts by government to realise a more just and inclusive city.

How much longer will we be selling off scarce assets in wealthy areas in the name of concentrating construction in cheaper, less well-located areas? That is even if we assume that the proceeds of the sale have been ring-fenced for this purpose. The main object should not be the accumulation of masses of money in the short term, it should be to leverage well-located land to catalyse fundamental change that can endure in perpetuity. Even from a purely economic point of view the short term cash injection made from selling a strongly appreciating and strategic asset such as Tafelberg makes very little sense indeed. That is without even taking into account the immense, and finite, integration value that sites such as Tafelberg possess.

We should be aiming towards rebalancing the city, not merely and plainly housing those that cannot house themselves. We must understand that functional neighbourhoods, more than anything are a function of their people and of its place. The former relies on diversity for dynamism and resilience and the latter rests on access and proximity to economic opportunity, social amenities and services and enabling infrastructure such as public transport.

We want to halt the perpetuation of living in two Cape Towns, even if it comes at an initial monetary cost or disrupting the comforts the wealthy and powerful. We believe that the high value of the land in Sea Point, coupled with political will and innovation, could see a financially sustainable form of subsidised housing that could be held up as a shining example of good governance across the country. Until this is done the Province and the City will have little good will to bring to the table when they lobby for and negotiate with national government, parastatals and other state entities who also own large tracts of well located land in the province that are desperately needed for the purpose of human settlements.

Tafelberg offers a chance to lead by example and to show that the Provincial government is serious about dismantling apartheid spatial planning.

Sincerely,

Catherine Nicks, Azraa Rawoot, Brett Petzer, Julian Sendin, Guillaume Narainne, Tarryn McCan, Yannick Marie, Adam van Heerden, Luciana Acquisto, Palmira De Almeida, Kate Hogarth, Divesh Guttee, Hendri Bezuidenhout, Ryan Fester, Sameul Vanderwater, Frank Kleinschmidt

City & Regional Planning and Urban Design Masters Students of 2015, University of Cape Town

[1] Provincial Spatial Development Framework (2014) p.22.

[2] Provincial Spatial Development Framework (2014) p.22.

[3] One Cape 2040: from vision to action. The Western Cape agenda for joint action on economic development (2012) p.7.

[4] Supra.

 

 

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