FUTURE CAPE TOWN | Density Syndicate Symposium: Live Blog


The Density Syndicate is a think-tank initiative by the African Centre for Cities (ACC) and International New Town Institute (INTI) with the support of the City of Cape Town, the Dutch Creative Industries Fund, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Consulate General, Cape Town and the Goethe-Institut. It is also a programmatic component for NL@WDC2014, an initiative of the Netherlands Consulate-General in Cape Town. Read more here

Edgar Pieterse opens the Density Syndicate Symposium

“we are not dealing with abstract sites or parcels of land, but challenging locations in three different parts of Cape Town. Within the framework and guidelines set by public authorities we are aiming to stretch our thinking and imagination about each site. What is at stake is a global and urgent conversation”

Also read:

Michelle Provoost (International New Town Institute) presents a lecture: Density and Access

New cities are being seen as an instrument to guide urbanisation, in some of the most prosperous areas and regions in Africa. Asia and Africa have been rapidly urbanising, so what lessons can be learnt from Asia which has been experiencing better economic times.

The pace and way in which these new cities are developed depends on the political system e.g. in cities in China, an existing university is picked up and placed on the outskirts of the region, and a new town is built around it.

Provoost taking us through some examples of new towns and cities

“some of these new cities and towns, including some smart cities are often based on outdated models and ideals of modernism and American cities of the 60’s and 70’s”

Examples: Wuhan, Shenzhen, New Songdo

Many of these cities don’t provide housing for migrants, creating an immense segregation – and many politicians  now have this high on their agenda to prevent social unrest.

Read more about the R84 billion new town for Johannesburg in Modderfontein here

New towns are in a sense “eating up” the arable land for agriculture in metropolitan or urban areas, which will impact on the long term security of cities

“How can urbanists and architects offer new ideas for Africa?”

Provoost reflects on ideas from a floating school in Lagos, to a  multi-functional recreation centre in Brazil by Urban Think Tank,

In Rotterdam, 12,000 hectares of building sites are being identified to redeveloped and densified – so what would a plan like this look like in Cape Town, especially those sites already connected to infrastructure.

Provoost reflects on the three different types of urban fabric of the Density Syndicate:

  • a green space acting as a backyard to different neighbourhoods – Two Rivers Urban Park
  • an informal area near transport – Lotus Park
  • a corridor of existing development within existing neighbourhoods – part suburban (Maitland and Voortrekker Road corridor)

A key element of each of these site is maximum engagement with people and communities and self-reliance – since it is not possible for local and provincial government to provide for all the needs of the urban poor.

Edgar Pieterse introduces two respondents:

  • Martin Kearns – Development Executive at the V&A Waterfront
  • Zackie Achmat – Activist and co-founder of the Treatment Action Campaign

Zackie Achmat

“Today I speak from a perspective of pain, justice and extreme exclusion.”

Townships exclude people from the city in every conceivable way and the post-apartheid era city is the worst social engineering we have ever seen, because it has pushed and pushed and pushed the working class to the further outskirts of the city. So where do we go to? What are the legal and constitutional possibilities?

Achmat references the property clause: It has be to be interpreted in terms of our bill of rights, history. We cannot adopt a private law perspective in a constitutional period. The constitution imagines a radical transformation of property law, and this is a tool we can use

The second question: Which laws have come into effect? SPLUMA came into act, and is one of the most radical tools to transform our cities and bring the poor into our cities and city centres. It calls for spatial justice – no development can takes place without this. It defines it as priority being given to the urban poor. The preamble of the property valuation act includes mention of redress – not just giving rural land back – but equal access and rights to the city.

“I want every child to grow up knowing that the mountain is owned by them, by all of us.”

We will in the next few months take the City of Cape Town to court to stop the sale of land in the City Centre which does not include spatial justice or does not have the urban poor in mind. The same goes with the Provincial Government, wanting to sell the land of a school for disabled children in Sea Point.

We need to address expropriation. We cannot let Rondebosch, Claremont and Salt River remain the way it is, without any areas of transformation. And in my mind Wescape is one of the most evil projects Cape Town has ever seen.

We need to twin upgrading of townships like Khayelitsha with densification. For example in Harare, Khayelitsha, where even after years of German investment and work of VPUU, it still experienced the highest number of murders in Khayelitsha.

Martin Kearn 

We cannot make an area dense without amenities, facilities and services to make an area more liveable.

How does the private sector respond? At the base there needs to be a business model, which is not always profit driven.

Many areas of South Africa have existing infrastructure. While the jury is still out on Wescape, I don’t understand why we need to take up arable land far away from the City Centre when we have existing land and infrastructure.

Density is good. Access is also good. I look at developments along the Atlantic Seaboard, which all promote access to a facility or leisure or to the ocean.

It is not all about housing. Let’s look at an example:

  • You have to create momentum for a project. You can overplan and overdesign. Find the catalyst and start somewhere and bring the whole project to fruition. Government can assist with tax incentives. It is not just for the wealthy as the examples in Ireland shows. Tax incentives if directed into the right projects can promote change in the way the private sector responds
  • Another model is the concept of shared equity or shared ownership: over a long period of time it provides some dignity for people to bequeath a home as an asset to their chilren

The current model of getting up early to get a train to work will change, because cities and our work environment will change. We don’t need big buildings and offices anymore, but think of a kitchen table where different people can work and engage e.g. the one on a notepad, the other having a meeting, another having lunch.

What is life in our cities going to look like in the future?

Questions from the audience:

  • How can we change the culture of private sector developers to redevelop areas and communities for a public aim e.g. Maitland, to not become Woodstock or Observatory.
    • Provoost: For any regeneration and improvement of the city, we do need the private sector. It is understood that . What is lacking in a lot of countries, and perhaps in Cape Town: for any private developer to work in a constructive way, it needs a partner in govenment with a strong vision, in which the developers can work and it is the task a vision for the common good to defend the common good. When the strong vision is lacking the balance is off, and my hope is that the projects today will visualise the vision, and embody the necessity of the common good.
    • Achmat: For the me the most important business interest e.g. banks and supermarkets. They have a real interest in densification e.g. 100 supermarkets rather than 10. Retails and banks see cities as engines as economic growth. We need to In reality property developers have set the agenda of all tiers of government. The real question: Which are the business interests we want to work with
    • The removal of District 6 removed the energy and vibrancy and mixed use
  • I would like the panel to comment on mixed-use development. Where are the employment activities? How will the incentives promote jobs in other areas e.g. a mixed use development building in Khayelitsha? It is easier if at the V&A Waterfront.
    • Provoost: There is a strong case for mixed-use development.
    • Achmat: The most iconic example of non-integration of development is the Old Biscuit Mill.
  • What are your thoughts on India, where a developer has to commit a certain % towards upgrading informal settlements or slums?
    • Answer: This has not really worked e.g. if I am developing in an affluent area, and have to provide funding for slums. 1. Do we need how government will spend this or waste it? and 2. Is this not another tax to be paid in addition to the existing taxes

SESSION: Two Rivers Urban Park Plus

Edgar Pieterse introduces Christine de Baan as moderator, who has been instrumental in the formation of the Density Syndicate. Read more about her recent work Department of Design and Dutch DFA


  • This is the largest team working on the largest site as part of the Density Syndicate – introducing a proposal for a highly contested area for which many plans have already been developed, turning the negative into positive, and finding space for the expansion of the city within the city perimeter. The starting point is working from the ecological qualities of the site.


There are 2 comments

  1. anna

    The only way you can possibly densify the city is by rescuing the moribund public transport and making the “to-be-densified area” safe, attractive and pleasant for pedestrians.
    New York city is dense and can be made even more dense because nobody in New York needs to own a private vehicle. There is safe and reliable public transport and the city was designed for walking. Every New Yorker is proud of that. Every tourist has appreciated New York’s walkability.
    Cape Town still insists on going in the other direction, while talking up a storm about densification.
    1. Neglect of public transport infrastructure.
    The rail and bus services used to be so efficient, clean and convenient that when I started working, nobody needed to own a car unless you worked shifts or you were a top executive who needed to rush from one meeting to another. Property details always included “close to public transport”. This has been abandoned in favour of planning that favours private vehicle ownership. These days even a dedicated public-transport user like me would not go anywhere near a train or a bus (the mini-bus taxies are far more convenient and cleaner).
    2. All planning still puts motorcar traffic first. Life in “densified areas” can be made so much more pleasant by the simple expedient, for instance, of closing rat runs to rat-runners avoiding robots. But still the motto is “motor cars first; road traffic first” “people second; pedestrians a nuisance; habitability unimportant.”

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