Reconnecting Cape Town to the sea

What does the Atlantic Ocean mean to Cape Town?  How can we leverage our unique geographical location to re-constitute the city for the 21st century?

There is no question that developing and expanding the city’s ocean-facing precinct, i.e. the V&A Waterfront and foreshore areas, is key to addressing this question.  It is also clear that, by doing so, Cape Town will tackle and re-inform the debate around urban regeneration, the green economy, social re-integration, and, crucially, economic development.

Consider the V&A Waterfront.  It is very much part of the character and sentiment of Cape Town as a city port.  It mixes a working harbour and port with world-class shopping, museums, an aquarium, hotels, a theatre school, businesses, and exclusive marina properties.  History, industry, commerce and tourism are all intertwined at the V&A.  It covers over 180 hectares of land and around 16,000 people work there each day, servicing some 23 million visitors a year.

The V&A also boasts considerable green credentials.  In December 2012 it won the coveted Eskom ETA Award in the commercial division (beating ABSA and Spier Wine Estate) for its energy efficiency capabilities.  A number of these programmes (started in 2008) have to date resulted in annual savings of R5.6m and a reduction in grid demand of some 10.6%.

This green strategising is just what Africa’s most-visited tourist destination should be doing: leading by example.

Today the foreshore area boasts several activity hubs, including the Artscape Theatre, the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), and a number of hotels and other commercial developments.  With the planned expansion of the CTICC, and the R1.5 billion plan to revamp the Artscape into an iconic cultural precinct, we can soon start to expect more on the Foreshore.   In addition, UCT’s Engineering & Built Environment faculty is actively working on ideas to re-develop the architectural future of the precinct.

What is interesting to note (and less commonly known) is the existence of yet more land still to be developed at, and around, the V&A Waterfront.  And a broader waterfront/ foreshore precinct means good things for Cape Town in the next 10 to 20 years.

Cruise liner docking station: a boon for ocean-borne tourism

In December 2012, Transnet, the holding company for cruise liner docking rights in Cape Town, approved the planning and development of a cruise liner terminal.  This has been a long time coming and is much-needed, with the work scheduled to be completed within two years.

This extension to our current harbour would be a boon for Cape Town. The construction process alone will bring more jobs. A fully-functional new terminal (with arrival and departure points and restrooms) will make cruises to Cape Town the world-class experience they should be. The ancillary employment associated with a permanent cruise liner industry is also immensely attractive: jobs in hospitality, marketing, entertainment, management and maintenance would all be created.  Perhaps as importantly, it sends a loud and clear message to the world – Cape Town is open for business!


Cape Town’s City Canals: ecology and socialisation for the future

Cape Town’s cultural and historical founding principles as a city are based around water.  When Europeans first began arriving in the Cape (from 1488), water was a very visible resource: storm water running off Table Mountain, and some 15-25 natural springs in the area, provided an abundance of hydration to the locals populating the land.  Indeed, the resident Khoi people had always referred to the Cape as ‘Camissa’ – ‘the place of sweet waters.’  And now, a local NGO called Reclaim Camissa has developed exciting plans that focus on re-instating these water systems which are currently channelled below ground (and which, interestingly enough, were struck from the City’s asset resource register in the 1990s).

Reclaim Camissa advocates that the city re-establish this ecological link between the mountain and sea.  This, it claims, would address Cape Town’s chronic water shortage problem while simultaneously re-developing public spaces around water principles (irrigation, fountains, canals, safe pedestrianised spaces).  Reclaim Camissa calls for Cape Town to open up and re-develop its (largely unknown and unheard-of) underground network of canals (some 6.5km), thereby creating a canal-based portion of the CBD.

Crucially, there is also a social and economic aspect to this narrative: the promise of jobs and industry connected to this ‘canal culture’.  The renewal and maintenance of the system would create employment, while a sense of community, as well as big and small business and enterprise, would evolve from living and working on the fringes of this very public asset.  Urban regeneration and city-living – both for locals and visiting tourists – could flourish.

Reclaim Camissa is an idea based on the very essence of sustainability and future forward thinking.  It is the type of thinking that typifies the most innovative, long-term-centric cities around the world, and it deserves widespread support.

What does all of this mean for Cape Town?

In short, it means economic advancement through employment generation, civic pride in beautifying our surroundings with ecological intent, and increased social integration through networking, collaboration and commerce.  But perhaps most crucially, a broader waterfront/foreshore precinct in the next 10-20 years would position Cape Town as Africa’s premier city port, conscious of its natural assets (the oceans, fresh water, a working harbour, a beautiful location, and commercially-driven inhabitants) and how best to utilise them in a post-apartheid, global context. It is essential to exploit, develop and expand Cape Town’s relationship with the sea in order to meet our future challenges.

Critics and sceptics are often quick to point out that an economy heavily driven by tourism can hide greater social problems beyond the immediate CBD precinct. The thoughtful response to such claims is to call for debate and collaboration, and for making a case for positive new ideas.   Cape Town belongs to those who live in its spaces; Capetonians need to reshape it for their own needs.

Finally, consider also that Cape Town is the World Design Capital for 2014 (WDC 2014). The build-up and planning to this global experience – not unlike our successful hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup – is ushering in a sense of innovation and excitement.  It is intended to cement our reputation as a city of systems thinkers, focused on solving seemingly-intractable problems.  The intended legacy of WDC 2014 is a consciousness of the value of “design thinking”: that which is user-centric, collaborative, and creative.  An innovatively expanded waterfront/foreshore area fits squarely into this description, and is an idea whose time has undoubtedly come.

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