A template for urban innovation

In an interview published in the Weekend Argus on Saturday (September 27), Professor Ivan Turok discussed the lessons Cape Town could learn from Colombian city Medellin’s remarkable turnaround. (Click here to read)

The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance’s Chairman, Len Swimmer responds to Professor Ivan Turok’s published opinion piece;

Weekend Argus
Saturday, 11 October 2014

Today, we publish the views of Chris Whelan, chief executive of business think tank Accelerate Cape Town and
Len Swimmer, the chairman of the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, a group of more than 156 civic organisations stretching from Gordon’s Bay to Simon’s Town, including Atlantis, Manenberg, Grassy Park and Strandfontein.

I AGREE with much of what Ivan Turok has said, but certainly not all. One cannot transplant a fern growing  in the Knysna forest to a plot in Springbok in the Namaqualand and expect it to grow.

Cape Town is unique, with a varied history and a rich culture which has today been forced to recognise the forces of change, change which has come in the never-ending pressure from migration from a “failed state” – the Eastern Cape. These are people seeking a better life for their children and themselves – some don’t come to Cape Town looking for jobs but for bare necessities, an infrastructure of better medical facilities and schools.

However, into the mix of expectations is the ever-sought-after culture of entitlement that has been created, mostly by the party ruling the country.

This needs to be changed to a culture where open opportunities and hard work count, and I know this is the policy of the ruling party in the Western Cape.

But this change is dogged by too much in-fighting. The Greater Cape Town Civic Association firmly believes that local government should not be politicised, which is a wishful dream as politics prevail in South Africa.

So, in this I agree whole-heartedly with Turok, that politicians must put their differences aside and work together for the greater good of the people who inhabit our city I also agree that “short-termism” is a plague which must be set aside and the long-term good of Cape Town should be the goal.

The unique natural environment of Cape Town must not be cast aside, as is true at present, where the emphasis is on economic growth even at the expense of the environment. This will ruin Cape Town -and, when it’s too late, and tourism declines, the destruction will be irreversible.

What is forgotten in all this is that tourism is an economic engine that creates jobs. All political parties, as well as civil society, have a role to play in’ shaping the Cape Town of the future, free from crime, with opportunities for all in a natural environment that is cherished for all to share. At the moment, civil society’s voice and democratic space is being systematically closed down – only choreographed and sham public participation takes place. Centralised decision-making and an attitude that “we know best what’s good for you” is the order of the day, and, when challenged by civil society, the local administration is quick to respond: “Take us to court” – and they have plenty of money (our ratepayers’ money) to defend high court actions. These attitudes and difference must be set aside for the public good. A central goal with proper long-term plans must be established. Trust must be re-established between the administration and civil society.

Turok’s mantra of “urban planning is about integration, densification, consolidation” may well be appropriate elsewhere, but we must consider local circumstances. Densification without consideration of the natural environment and densification where it is not appropriate would amount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Densification must be appropriate and in areas along commercial nodes where people can live and be employed.

Finally, shack farming, where a house is provided and the recipient immediately sells or rents out the house and then constructs a shack on the property, must be outlawed. Also, informal settlements must be firmly controlled and not simply be consigned to Less Formal Township Establishment Act status, where anything goes and no infrastructure is contemplated.

This creates slum conditions and stimulates crime. Massive squatter camps need to be transformed according to proper formal town planning, with sanitation, water, roads, schools, employment opportunities, clinics, places of worship and civic buildings for meetings and entertainment.

This can only take place when there is no politicking and the people are not used as political footballs by politicians eager to gain short-term advantage with a view to being voted into power.


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