Velodrome development to build business district

Galleria Bellville

What makes a CBD?

Is it the area with the tallest buildings, the largest companies and the most valuable real estate? Or is the CBD the centre point of transportation, where the sidewalks are filled with pedestrians, and the concentration of people and ideas makes it a strategic, exciting location?

A proposed 11.5 ha development around the Bellville Velodrome, called the Galleria, is now going to Council for approval. The application document lists the following as one of the motivations for development:

This would eventually become the catalyst for the development of a second Cape Town CBD within the northern suburbs of the City.”

This is a worthy goal, although it’s not new. When Bellville reached city status in 1979 its CBD was on Voortrekker Road and the big buildings were all within a 1.5km radius of the intersection with Durban Road. The CBD began to shift in the 1990s as the banks and insurers moved north of the N1, close to the Tyger Valley Shopping Centre.

Bellville 1987 from hilton-t  on Flickr

Bellville circa 1987 with CBD in background

The headquarters of Sanlam, once the main employer in Bellville, is still there on Voortrekker Road and the Telkom Tower remains the tallest building, but retail and leisure has moved on. It’s not a dying town, though. The growing community of Somalis in Bellville seems to have increased trade and the proximity of the taxi rank and train station means an abundance of people on foot. More recently, the Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Greater Tygerberg Partnership to “revitalise the Tygerberg area which forms part of the Voortrekker Road Corridor”.

Around Tyger Valley, pedestrians are scarce.  But according to the Galleria’s application, the developers want to change that.

They state that the Galleria will be a “pedestrian friendly area of conglomeration” that will present “the opportunity for improved community interaction”. The development is based on the international concept of New Urbanism, they say, that champions quality architecture, landmarks, pedestrians and diversity. It could work, but suburban consumer behaviour doesn’t change overnight. The developers are covering all their bases with 5060 parking bays.

The Galleria will consist of residential, retail and commercial space, a hotel and conference centre. To allow this, the entire 11.5 ha site needs to be rezoned from a private open space to a Central Business Zone. The Save the Drome campaigners can relax though; the athletics track will not be demolished. The rezoning can accommodate the Velodrome and athletics track without compromising their existing uses. The city’s Sport & Recreation department also advises that athletic clubs should be given reasonable access to the facility for training and school sports days. The athletics track will even be accommodated aesthetically, with a hotel planned to echo its elliptical shape.

Map of Galleria development

A new development in an area like this with no architectural heritage can be an aesthetic hazard. It’s easy to find housing estates in the northern suburbs that are appallingly uniform.  To avoid this, the Galleria proposes no architectural theme so that it will “feel like it was designed by a thousand designers”.  The application argues that the site does not currently contribute to the aesthetic value of the area, with no positive landscape or pedestrian quality. The subcouncil report states no objections from a heritage or landscape point of view, though City Parks suggests that Fever Trees be planted.

The people who have raised objections are neighbouring businesses concerned about unmanageable traffic and the possibility that their buildings will be dwarfed by the scale of the Galleria. The subcouncil report dismisses the scale objections but recognises that the Galleria faces a transport challenge. Mispel and Sportica Road will have to be upgraded to a dual carriageway. Even the main arterial road, Bill Buizendenhout Drive, may need capacity upgrading.

That makes the pedestrian-friendly plan attractive and practical. The vision of the Broader Tygervalley Urban Design Framework is to have a pedestrian spine linking the Shopping Centre to the south and a green walkway along the Elsieskraal River all the way to Danie Uys Park beneath the N1.

The old Bellville CBD actually has many of the elements the new one lacks: a transport hub, pedestrians, architectural heritage and a green walkway. Tygervalley will need these features to become Cape Town’s second CBD.