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The connectivity challenge facing Cape Town

27 March 2015

Marion Frederiksen MRTPI

I recently went home to South Africa and spent a few days in the beautiful city of Cape Town. Whilst driving to the Victoria and Alfred waterfront, I was reminded again of the local urban legends about why the city’s Foreshore freeway project has never been completed. For over 30 years, these elevated highway sections have been used daily by motorists but eight sections have been abandoned and the east and west arms do not meet.


One of Cape Town’s unfinished freeway sections


The result? A common twentieth century problem worldwide. The Foreshore area suffers from a lack of integrated planning, poor urban design and segregation. The central business district (CBD) is cut-off from its harbour, poor land-use exists, the elevated concrete structures spoil the views and motorists are forced to exit and navigate local roads which cause major traffic jams before re-joining the highway. In addition, the city suffers from extreme wind tunnels during the winter season as many streets in the CBD were widened as part of the road upgrades, in line with Le Corbusier’s thinking of order and uniformity.

Locals legends include the council running out of money, land owners refusing to sell or the engineer miscalculating. The reality was unresolved discrepancies between the different spheres of government. Most residents want them demolished but they have become part of Cape Town and abandoned sections are popular as overflow car parking and movie stunt locations.

Contemporary international planning advocates for strategic planning, connectivity, quality urban design, increased biodiversity, food security; and improved health etc. In South Africa, these ideas are particularly pertinent after the forced separation of communities during the apartheid era with contemporary planners now trying to stitch communities and cities back together again. The country now has a new spatial planning act and Cape Town is trying to resolve these issues.

My trip got me thinking, what would I as a planner do to try resolve the Foreshore freeway area?

I recall Cape Town being voted the World Design Capital in 2014. Design is considered an important tool in making cities more attractive, liveable, efficient, inclusionary and sustainable. The Foreshore freeway design concept was showcased by students of the University of Cape Town in partnership with the municipality. Students were encouraged to create new visions. The aim was to reconnect the city with the sea and create a vibrant, exciting place where Capetonians and visitors would want to live, work and play. Diverse ideas such as a rollercoaster, a skate park and waterway were proposed and handed over to the Municipality for evaluation and adjudication.

So, I’ve been looking at the projects submitted and the legacy of the 2014 World Design Capital and have come up with my own suggestions below.

I would firstly link the Foreshore with Cape Town’s historical origins i.e. its raison d'être by including a planted walkway; information boards and local public art installations from the Foreshore to the old Company Gardens. This is where the Dutch originally grew fresh produce for passing ships in the seventeenth century in order to alleviate scurvy. Without these provisions, the spice trade from Western Europe would have been severely hampered; and the garden is therefore deeply entwined with the course of global development and South Africa’s political, economic and social fabric. For 2014 World Design City, the Company’s Garden Vegetable Project aimed to restore the garden and its historical Dutch elements e.g. ‘lei-water’ irrigation supplied by Table Mountain spring water. In addition, herbs and fruit trees, indigenous edible and medicinal plants, a demonstration food garden, and a waterwise garden were also included. It is now a historical reference, educational space for schools and community groups and promotes environmental awareness. It also acts as an entrepreneurial enterprise incubator e.g. the use of herbs for candles, oils, soaps.


Cape Town’s Company Gardens


Secondly, I would encourage a more strategic link with other outlying disadvantaged communities. Philippi was established on the Cape Flats during the apartheid era and lies immediately adjacent to farmland which produces 80% of the city’s fresh produce. Foodpods, is a social enterprise/micro agribusiness that tackles food insecurity helping to improve skills and health; and reduce travel. By linking the Company Gardens with Philippi’s Foodpods and its hinterland, knowledge and skills would be shared, tourists encouraged to visit and residents would feel more connected to the city.

Thirdly, what to do about the disused elevated freeway sections? An example where a former freeway has been successfully converted to a popular linear park includes the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Parkway in Boston. Cape Town’s CBD lacks greenspace so some of these sections could be planted with local plants to form a park and recreational network. This would not only provide recreational opportunities, but also promote passive social interaction and walking; improve local biodiversity, reduce winter wind speeds and cool down the urban heat island effect. It would also improve design and encourage tourists to explore more parts of the city which would help boost the local economy.


Enjoying lunch at Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway


There are plenty of other ideas that could be incorporated but strategic planning is critical in creating a successful solution to the Foreshore freeways. Le Corbusier’s ideas; a lack of strategic planning and apartheid did not work for Cape Town but there is now a good opportunity to improve place-making, sustainability, connectivity, health and the transfer skills.

It will be interesting to see what the City eventually decides to do.

About Marion Frederiksen MRTPI

Marion Frederiksen is the RTPI’s International Policy and Research Officer. She is a chartered town planner specialising in environmental and international planning issues. Marion has worked in the UK and South Africa and understands both developed and developing world planning perspectives.