Case Study: The Berg River – Reconnecting the urban fabric of Paarl

Paarl, the 3rd largest town in the Western Cape, faces numerous urban challenges, as do many South African towns and cities. In our first look at smaller urban entities in the Western Cape; we examine the Berg River corridor, that forms the backbone of Paarl, and reimagine its structure, historic divisive planning and its future potential as an economic growth node in the Winelands. 

Current State of Paarl

Paarl, the largest urban entity in the Winelands (pop: 190,000), is the economic heartbeat of regions to the north-east of Cape Town and in particular, the Drakenstein Municipality. It is blessed with tremendous historic assets and serves as a touristic focal-point for the surrounding wine route. Tourism infrastructure, although not as developed as Stellenbosch, still surpasses surrounding larger towns like Wellington, Malmesbury and Worcester.

Geographically, Paarl has a unique urban setting. Very few South African towns can boast a river of this magnitude, flowing directly through the urban core. In fact, the town’s linear development is orientated to this north-south axis between Paarl Mountain and the Berg River, forming South Africa’s longest continuous rural main street.

The advent of segregation left an urban blight on Paarl, like any South African town. The river was used as a wedge rather than as glue for the urban fabric. It effectively divides the previously advantaged west and previously disadvantaged east. To further cement this Apartheid-planning divide, industrial areas were zoned along this axis to further act as a racial buffer zone.

Methodology of the Urban Development Corridor Project

The Berg River should be the centre of urban life in Paarl, along with its historic Main Road. Most towns, worldwide, utilise their rivers as an activity corridor for public life. In Paarl, this is not the case and this project aims to breathe life back into one of Paarl’s greatest untapped assets. It is intended to turn the town’s face around from looking inward towards the mountain, away from eastern Paarl and the greater Berg River Valley; the Berg River corridor development will encourage the town to look outward.

To destroy the Apartheid urban construct and forge a cohesive urban fabric, this wedge needs to be sown back together. Not only must it be developed, it also must act as a transit corridor linking this very north-south linear urban entity. As Wellington and Paarl merge together, so transport pressures will mount along this axis.

Design Overview

From the south, the arboretum will be upgraded. A tremendously rare urban asset, especially at this scale, the Paarl Arboretum remains under-utilised, often unsafe and poorly connected with the town. This will serve as an NMT corridor in the south, linking the Paarl South node with the town core itself.

Paarl Arbortrerium

Paarl Arboretum

The town centre requires the most attention. Currently, industrial development and insensitive commercial development from Langenhoven to Lady Grey has left the Berg River poorly utilised for public-life. The area has almost no pedestrian focus whatsoever. It’s proposed that the Bella Vista, Huguenot and Paarlbridge areas be vigorously upgraded. It should be declared an UDZ (Urban Development Zone), with a focus on property conversion to foster mixed-use, inner-town residential densification and smart-tech development; this may include a hub for agricultural and food sciences and associated business.

Streets should also be subjected to “placemaking” upgrades, improving both hard and soft landscaping, improved lighting and pedestrian prioritisation. The R301 will remain the one exception, serving as the main arterial thoroughfare linking Wellington and Dal Josafat to the N1. An upgraded transit interchange is proposed at Huguenot Station.

Industry may be coerced to find alternative locales due to industrial-to-mixed-use conversion and town core revitalisation; plainly put, relocation should be actively encouraged to less sensitive sites. Thus, industry priority growth areas and plots are indicated. Heavier industry, logistical services and “placemaking” simply make bad bedfellows.

Poorly utilised industrial land north of the Huguenot precinct is earmarked for GAP housing, to bring the less-affluent economically active closer to the town and places of employment. It is crucial to bring residential activity inward, to forge a vibrant urban core. It’s also vital to destroy the Apartheid urban construct. Across the river, the Zandrift Sports Grounds should be upgraded, providing a recreational node for the Berg River corridor.

Further north, urban infill is proposed. This includes the extension of Berg River Boulevard and the logical inclusion of high-visibility linear commercial development. The Groenvlei node also acts as urban infill.

Anchoring the north end, delineating the recommended maximum urban extent, the North Berg Town Centre is proposed. This blends seamlessly into the fabric of Northern Paarl. Unlike the south of town, the north end is comparatively poorly serviced with urban amenities. This development aims to address this, with the inclusion of additional affluent, mid-range as well as GAP housing, integrated within this small area.

The proposed town centre has a village feel, keeping the rural ambience of the town. It also acts as a node that can serve the growing urban-infill between Wellington and Paarl.

The entire Berg River is demarcated as a greenbelt, should be upgraded and maintained as such and forms the public-activity spine of the entire development. Certain areas are assigned Vineyard Heritage Conservation status, as to not obliterate the Winelands character that makes Paarl unique.



The PRASA (Metrorail) rail lines form the transit backbone of the corridor. This rail links the entire corridor and fulfills the long-distance transport needs of the Berg River corridor and Paarl as a whole. It is proposed all stations be upgraded and integrated with other modes of transport, including NMT routes and taxi services.

The Berg River also forms the backbone of the NMT routes spanning the entire length of Paarl. Ideally, this should be extended further to link the communities of Mbekweni, Newtown and Wellington to the north. The urban entity in Drakenstein is compact enough and the terrain flat enough, to make NMT a viable option throughout.

Due to the prioritisation of industry towards Dal Josafat, the need to preserve the historic character of Main Road and the additional development along this north-south axis, Berg River Boulevard is extended to link with the realigned R45-Malmesbury in the north. This provides the arterial access to all areas along the corridor and opens up Main Road for additional pedestrian improvements and tourism investments; most importantly, with the Van der Stel Link, it connects the R44-Klapmuts/Cape Town and R45 to the Saldanha IDZ, seamlessly with Dal Josafat Industrial. Heavy freight traffic is effectively taken directly out of the town and onto main arterial routes.

Trucks will be accommodated on Berg River Boulevard, but will be banned from Main Road, excluding local deliveries.

Jan van Riebeeck Drive (R301) will be upgraded to a dual-carriageway along its entire length to accommodate this growth, facilitating access between Dal Josafat, Wellington and the N1.

Click here to download/view a large format (2.2mb) overview of the project concept.

There is one comment

  1. Jo Nel

    I am excited to see his project set in motion. My thesis is dealing with this same area, and potential thereof. Well done Andres.

Comments are closed.