Wescape and the future of Cape Town

Future Cape Town was party to a packed meeting hosted by the African Centre for Cities (ACC) at the Cape Institute for Architecture (CIA) on Wednesday night at which Wescape’s defenders were able to take questions from professionals of the built environment.

The project planners and architects, ARG, were presented by principals Gita Goven and Alistair Rendall. Their defence was able but free of surprises, or any of the major breakthrough ideas that social media commenters had hoped for. After a spirited discussion, the audience was left with no new rationale to justify a project of this scale in this location. Wescape’s proponents chose to lead with an economic argument for the viability of the new exurb, which raised more questions than it resolved. The consortium’s sums on job creation, the reservation of housing by income level, operating costs and bulk services inspired lively debate, but unfortunately the developers of Wescape were not present to answer these in greater detail.

Comments from the audience, and from discussants Vanessa Watson, tended towards the negative. Several prominent professionals questioned the most fundamental aspects of the project, including the figures and transit/mobility figures produced by the CommuniTgrow consortium driving the Wescape project. The nuclear aspect – Wescape will lie mostly within Koeberg’s evacuation zone – is perhaps the most concerning of these. The consortium’s evacuation proposals seem founded on a series of optimistic assumptions more reminiscent of Zurich than Cape Town.

However, Goven and Rendall rebutted with a historical analysis of why their vision was different from similar projects attempted elsewhere, and why it would succeed where more orthodox initiatives inside the existing edge had repeatedly failed. The thrust of their argument was that the glacial pace of densification and economic diversification inside the existing edge meant that a compact Cape Town might yet be generations away, and that exciting and potentially liberating new spaces and opportunities were possible at the land prices and densities Wescape would achieve. However, some voices in the audience said that faults in the current system did not justify an embrace of greenfield development so far beyond the city limits.

The city has currently approved the extension of Cape Town’s urban edge to accommodate Wescape – which currently sits with the MEC for Environmental Affairs at the Western Cape Government – but environmental impact and zoning approval are still pending. All parties agreed that another meeting, at minimum, was in order.

Future Cape Town will in addition to its participation in Wednesday night’s event be releasing the proceedings and major themes from the inaugural Future Cape Town Summit which covered the topic of urban sprawl in Cape Town.