“…will this development be a model for inclusive regeneration?”
Claire du Trevou explores the new Phillipi Village development and wonders what inclusive urban regeneration means.
by Claire du Trevou
The large silos up ahead are a slumbering landmark of an old cement factory site in the monotonous landscape of Phillipi, a predominantly low income township of over 200,00 people, 22km on the national highway from the city centre.
While walking around the site there is a very distinct boundary between what is outside the complex and what belongs inside it. A series of containers which include repairmen, food shops and crafts open onto the street edge of the site and are very distinctly within the boundary. On the opposite side of the road the pavements are lined with informal traders selling fruit, and basic supplies, benefitting from some pedestrian traffic from the nearby local shopping centre.
On an average week day, the area does not yet capture the energy and excitement of things to come.
A hub for entrepreneurs
A new R120 milllion development called The Hub has just been built within the fabric of the 5-storey old factory building. The project seeks to provide secure, accessible and affordable infrastructure that allows members of the community the ability to meet, host events collaborate and, importantly, locate their businesses locally.
The Hub compromises a call centre, stalls for vendors, conference spaces, reception services, an eatery, personal storage areas, cleaning and utilities, and meeting amenities.An on-site crèche is already open to accommodate working parents, and a college also operates from the premises. A City library located at Crossroads will soon relocate to the building’s ground floor. (Source)
It is the centrepiece of a major precinct called Philippi Village which over the next few years, proposes to include a four-storey hotel, a nightclub, a private hospital and an education zone – as well as the biggest container-shopping mall in the country.
The factory building was initially purchased by The Business Place Philippi in early 2000, part of a greater long-term vision to transform the surrounding and marginalised area into a thriving ‘central suburbs’, and was subsequently refurbished as a thesis project in sustainable design by Cape Town architect, Philip Briel. (Source )
The renewal of the broader precinct as a business office space required development funding of a completely different order. An R80-million cash injection came in the form of a joint investment from the Bertha Foundation, based at UCT’s Graduate School of Business, and the Jobs Fund. This enabled the construction of the The Hub and set the ball rolling for the remainder of the project.
Already the ground floor has been fully let. Half of the offices on the first floor, which has been configured to offer much smaller premises, have been taken up. And the top floor has been designed to accommodate large companies such as call centres. (Source)
The location in Phillipi is quite significant.
Only 62% of the labour force (aged 15 to 64) is employed with 78% of households have a monthly income of R3 200 or less. The area also has a very large percentate of young people with 50% of residents aged 24 or younger. While some 22 km and 16km from the Cape Town city centre, and Bellville CBD respectively it can be considered to be a reasonably well-connected node, transport interchange and commercial centre.
An urban challenge
Repurposing such a large industrial, production facility into spaces appropriate for offices was always going to be technically difficult and equally so, the re-stitching of the hub into the loose peri-urban fabric. The ‘noise- and mess-‘ factors of the original facility would have dictated the design planning and its lack of connection with the surrounding urban fabric.
The bigger challenge however is whether the development will have similar exclusionary repercussions that many other developments in Cape Town are being accused of, or whether it will be a model for inclusive regeneration?
On face value, one argument is that if a development in this form – a old warehouse like structure transformed into a mixed-use development – had been proposed Woodstock, it would almost immediately be associated with the term “gentrification”. In this case, the term is partially irrelevant. But it does beg the question: what does inclusive township regeneration look like when a large scale development to promote economic inclusion is juxtaposed with realities of Phillipi, physically and socially?
A potential answer comes from the project’s website which states that “South Africa is in need of a new definition of communities, where integration is felt on all terrains: working, living, socialising and shopping in an area that is safe, accessible, of mixed usage and allow for the integration of all economic classes and races.” And, as one of the first large scale, mixed-use infrastructure projects in the Metro South-East offering potential economic opportunity to local aspiring business owners, in some sense this begins to turn the tables on the apartheid spatial planning.
“The vision behind The Hub, and the greater mixed-use Philippi Village, is to create vibrant, creative ‘new urban space’ in which to work, learn, create and play. A space where two worlds – that of the Philippi township and the rest of Cape Town – can meet and interact.” says General Manager of the Philippi Village, Amor Strauss
An evolving neighbourhood
In the 70’s Philippi East was rezoned from a farming area to an industrial zone and ever since became a growing industrial node of Cape Town. But it was the local government’s R45 million investment in the Philippi Interchange and Bus Terminus, in the late 1990’s, which drastically increased the number of people moving through the area.
The daily exchanges and routine passage of commuters create the ideal conditions for commerce and resultantly one sees informal traders lining the heavily trafficked routes. There have also been a number of proposals for the Philippi cement factory site – one of which, by the former Noero Wolff architecture practice, the Philippi Sustainable Housing Project.
The proposed phase 2 of the precinct, a container retail edge, situated along a small service road, away from car-dominant New Eisleben Road attempts to create a pedestrian-scaled, permeable street edge; while offering retail space to emerging business owners.The success of this public interface will largely depend on the occupancy and viability of the container retails spaces.
Speaking to some of the informal traders in the vicinity, the general response was that the spaces were too expensive for them. Many said they could afford between R500 and R800 a month for a spac. The cheapest 20ft container will cost R1000 a month and will be equipped with an electricity meter, which the tenant is responsible for. With 78% of the population of Philippi earning R3200 or less, R1000 a month might not be affordable to a wide enough range of entrepreneurs.
Speaking to Simphiwe, of Simphiwe’s Shoe Repair which currently occupies a container, he expressed how it was a big risk for him signing the lease, but that he had to ‘do something’.
“Before, I was just sitting in my shack and people would come in. Now, I get lots more customers who just walk off the street. And I make keys now too. Some months, it is tough, but I just have to get the money for the rent, because I can’t go back to just sitting in my shack.”
According to Strauss, there are a number of containers which will be subsidised, over 3 years, allowing startups to establish themselves before having to pay full rental for the space. The business support and training opportunities offered by the hub are also considered in ensuring the longevity of the new businesses that move into the space.
For decades, South Africa has seen a daily exodus of workers from peripheral areas to South African inner cities, seeking access to economic opportunity. Usually, money is leached from the peripheral settlements, through transport costs and spending. According to the Transport Development Index, 95% of public transport commuters in Cape Town fall within the low and low to medium income groups and the low income group spends on average R45 out of every R100 (or 45%) of their monthly household income on transport.
The New Philippi Village offers local residents the opportunity to spend their money closer to home, while affording local entrepreneurs better, more accessible opportunities to start and grow their businesses
With the participation of local grass root tenants a potential future housing and hotel component, these might be some of the essential building blocks for inclusive regeneration and act as a model for fast-gentrifying areas like Woodstock.
The test will be how the development manages the market forces and rising rents over time – as the desirability of the spaces grows. With planned upgrades to the street network, the MyCiTi bus system expansion into the area, and overhaul of the train stations, the story of regeneration can now unfold for decades to come.
- Can a game help plan the future of a township?
- The future of Woodstock: A review of the Change by Design workshop
- South Africa’s hopes of planning better cities and communities
- Photos by Claire du Trevou
Renders by noero architects
- Renders by PHILIP BRIEL Architecture & Urban Design