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The future success of our cities must begin today

Opinion editorial, by Warren Hewitt, CEO of the Greater Tygerberg Partnership.

The City of Cape Town’s transport directorate published a report late last year that showed the city’s economy loses R2.8-billion every year due to traffic congestion. When traffic is gridlocked, goods can’t be delivered, worker productivity is reduced and investors are reluctant to invest.

The report also reflected on the sobering statistic: low-to-medium-income commuters spend up to 45% of their household income on transport.

These figures have a deep impact on the social and economic health of our society. While globally cities are beginning to respond to some of these problems, budgets, capacity — and in some cases, political will — seem finite.

A new year, and a new decade, is an opportunity to urgently seek new solutions here in Cape Town. Bellville, Cape Town’s secondary city, hosts the infrastructure, assets and opportunities to significantly reduce the traffic burden on the central city.

The Bellville central business district (CBD) is located around 20 km from the Cape Town city centre and around 12 km from Cape Town International Airport. It hosts the busiest public transport interchange in the Western Cape and is connected by two major national highways and several regional arteries. In addition, services infrastructure in the area is well-developed, including established, fast fibre networks and robust utilities infrastructure.

Bellville is also a well-established commercial centre. Its economy is diverse enough to support important informal trade, small, micro- and medium-sized enterprises as well as multi-national corporates operating in sectors ranging from retail to logistics to financial services, business-process outsourcing and more. In the financial sector alone, six of the country’s financial services corporations are headquartered in Bellville, including Africa’s largest financial services company, Sanlam.

The area features existing buildings with large floorplates ideal for high-density employment. Attendant to this, various parcels of land in Bellville have been earmarked for the development of affordable accommodation for low- to medium income earners. Building affordable homes isn’t enough if those same households need to spend nearly half their income on getting to and from their workplaces.

This is an opportunity for business owners — particularly those who offer high-density employment opportunities — seeking more affordable, more accessible locations that will enable them to reduce costs and also access a skilled workforce living nearby.

Bellville is also a hub for quality education and healthcare, with over 150 educational institutions and six hospitals and over 900 medical practitioners operating in the area.

Private developers are beginning to see the inherent value of Bellville. New developments represent early adoption in an area that is ripe for what we call ‘intelligent densification’ — development that will benefit the community and investors alike.

Two examples bear this out.

The R1.2-billion mixed-use, transit-oriented development at the Parow Centre will provide much-needed economic stimulus to the area, and will furnish a new community with affordable accommodation close to work opportunities.

Over the highway, in the newer part of Bellville at Tyger Valley, DevMark’s plans to introduce a new R7-billion precinct has the same potential. The Galleria Development prioritises pedestrians and comprises office, residential, event and leisure accommodation. This development will be augmented by the possibility of the much-needed revamp of community sporting facilities in the Bellville CBD.

Other affordable accommodation developments elsewhere, in Bellville South and Elsies River provide additional opportunities to build more sustainable, live-work-play communities.

Ultimately, the success of the city of the future relies on an urgent shift in development focus towards cities that prioritise the needs of the community while also offering investors attractive returns; and a commitment to grasp opportunities presented in the face of shifting realities.

The Greater Tygerberg Partnership is positioned to facilitate this new approach and is leading the conversation about Bellville’s future. Our doors are open to developers, investors, policy-makers and city and provincial administrators who see the value in maximising Bellville’s opportunity for everyone’s gain.

If we begin, today, to think, act and interact differently, we will be able to maximise those opportunities, for the benefit of existing and future generations.

Warren Hewitt is the CEO of the Greater Tygerberg Partnership in Cape Town, a not-for-profit company. 


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