Designing cities for all

iZimvo zase Kasi: Your city – your views

Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana is the managing director of the Cape Town Partnership.
Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana

The Cape Town Partnership recently launched the Central City Partners Forum for 2013 under the new banner of iZimvo zase Kasi – designed to jointly tackle the city's diverse challenges.

What we have realised over more than a decade at the Cape Town Partnership is that none of us can solve the challenges we face in the City alone.  

If we are to have a cohesive urban fabric in the future, we need a cohesive human fabric on which to build it today.

We need a network that helps us connect town to township, city to city, people who are here today with people who will live here tomorrow.

With this in mind, the Cape Town Partnership recently launched the Central City Partners Forum for 2013, under the new banner of iZimvo zase Kasi.

This Xhosa phrase translates to “views from the city” and represents an invitation for everyone in the city to get involved and share their views, their ideas and their time on how to make Cape Town a more sustainable and inclusive city.

The first iZimvo zase Kasi of 2013 kicked off on Tuesday 26 March 2013 at the Fugard Theatre, at an event co-hosted with the South African Institute of Black Property Professionals(SAIBPP).

Focusing on the morning’s conversation: Co-creating the 24-hour city, the event featured international urbanist and planner, Lance Berelowitz who spoke about his experience working with the City of Vancouver in Canada and other cities around the world and how lessons learnt along the way could apply to Cape Town.

Additional addresses were made by SAIBPP chairperson and Cape Town Partnership board member Thabo Mashologu, Cape Town Partnership managing director, Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana and Ward 77 Councillor Dave Bryant.

Why the focus on a 24-hour city?

While the title is something of a misnomer – there are many perfectly healthy, 'liveable', vibrant cities around the world that operate on 16-hour or 18-hour cycles – it symbolises a city with extended operating hours, a vibrant street life, a range of available activities for people of all ages and backgrounds, active transport networks and a growing mixed-income residential base.

In short, this refers to a city that is filled with people. In Cape Town, all of this translates into a more socially cohesive space, as opposed to the segregated City we have inherited.

Thabo Mashologu’s theme was How can we bring the soul back into the city?

He opened with a series of soul-searching questions: “There is little doubt that Cape Town is a world-class city – in the space of a few weeks, we’ve hosted the third largest jazz festival in the world, the world’s most beautiful marathon, and the largest individually timed cycle race.

"It’s an amazing city and yet it’s also a place of great contrasts.

"How do we solve the conundrum that is Cape Town, a place that has so much promise yet for so many people it does not resonate as home?

"We live in one of the most diverse yet least inclusive places: If you’re poor, if you’re middle-class and black, chances are, you don’t feel like you’re a part of it.

“We’re poised to become one of the great destinations: Yes, Cape Town as a city appeals to so many people from outside the city, but do we really meet the needs of those who live here? … Is this a caring city if, by its structural definition, it causes the separation of families? Can we call it a caring city yet?”

While Thabo outlined many questions we need to ask and answer about our city, his suggestions for how to move forward centred on one thought: That we all need to work together to create change: “As citizens, we need to come together for positive change. We can sit on the sidelines, or we can get involved and influence what we hope to see.

“ I’m very interested in this idea of finding a soul for Cape Town, a soul that resonates with you. What would you like to see on the streets that would make you feel like you belong?”

Lance Berelowitz’s theme was The importance of density, diversity,design and the devolution of power.

A Capetonian by birth and an international urbanist by virtue of experience, he started his presentation with a disclaimer: “Having an outside perspective can be helpful, but that’s by no means to say that I have answers to some of the things you think about every day.”

In pointing to possibilities for how Cape Town’s city centre can extend its life by a few hours every day, Lance outlined some key issues in our city that need to be taken into consideration: that Cape Town isn’t concentric and that most of the city or its residential population isn’t located in the City Bowl, and so it’s very important to think through how to bring people downtown.

Drawing on examples from Vancouver, Montreal, Barcelona and Paris, Lance talked about the importance of pedestrian and non-motorised pathways (“Streets are for people – and most of the time, we’re pedestrians.

If you create your city for the small and the tall, the abled and the disabled, then you’ve created it for everybody.”), public space connectors (“urban knitting of the spaces between the buildings”), public-private partnerships around public space (“Given our current political and fiscal context, you do need to engage with the private sector.

The public sector can only do so much.

A good example of how this could apply in Cape Town is public bathrooms in exchange for commercial advertising – a small but important way to unlock private capital for public benefit.”) and connecting the city back to its origins – in Cape Town’s case, its port.

Showing an aerial view of the port and the Foreshore, Lance highlighted all the empty or poorly used space: “Remember, in re-imagining this city, to consider how much space you have. Fill it in, reclaim it. All of that [what currently exists] can and eventually will go. It has changed and it will continue to change. Don’t let what it is stop you from imagining what it can be.”

A truly 24-hour city has four key ingredients, Lance argued:

Density;  of people, activities and infrastructure Diversity:  of economy, experience, people and ideas Devolution:  of power, authority, decision-making and choice Design:  of urban infrastructure and form (an often under-rated or dismissed ingredient)

The prerequisite ingredient, however, is densification. In his talk and the question-and-answer sessions that followed, Lance emphasised the importance of affordable housing.

He argued for using the huge amount of land available, some of which is no longer in use, and matching it to the city’s missing component in our city – people.

He also highlighted the importance of ensuring more complete communities in the places where people live, recognising that there are other economic nodes across the metropolitan area.

Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana’s theme was: 'A vision for the central city in the next three years'.

In her presentation, Makalima-Ngewana, took the audience through the Central City Development Strategy  – a 10-year vision for the area between Salt River and Green Point, mountain and sea, from 2008 to 2018 – detailing a few of the highs and the lows since 2008, and what the organisation is looking to achieve in the next few years: “What we want to see is more and more people reclaiming their downtown, for city life to be extended by even two to three hours in the next three years … We want this to be a socially cohesive space, where diverse groups can congregate, a space that they can co-own.

To ensure this, we need to focus on our residential population and the provision of more affordable housing options in a much more sustained way.”

Read the full story plus a feature on the importance of public private partnerships in the next print issue of Service magazine.

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