Planning for the future development of Cape Town : 8 key areas the Municipal Spatial Development Framework must address

Future Cape Town has taken the opportunity offered by the City of Cape Town to make comment on the Municipal Spatial Development Framework (MSDF 2017-2022) draft and contribute to the vision of our future city.  

The MSDF establishes a 10-year vision and proposes spatial strategies to help realise the key focus areas of City’s Integrated Development Plan (IDP). It is vital that the MSDF captures the imagination of all sectors of the community to ensure that its vision for the future of our city becomes a reality.

Full document access here: MSDF full draft

Future Cape Town believes the MSDF is a positive to step towards achieving our shared vision for a more inclusive, integrated, and vibrant Cape Town. Yet, in its current state the MSDF is lacking some key ideas for the future or does not reasonably engage with some of the challenges and opportunities in the future.

Here are our 8 key ideas.

Key idea 1 : Mega-trends of the future

The MSDF must directly respond to global mega-trends of the future;

  • Rapid urbanization

Today, more than half the world’s population live in urban areas and almost all of the new growth will take place in lesser known medium-sized cities of developing countries.

  • Climate change and resource scarcity

As the world becomes more populous, urbanised and prosperous, demand for energy, food and water will rise. But the Earth has a finite amount of natural resources to satisfy this demand.

  • Shift in global economic power

Some emerging economies that were growing rapidly are now in recession. Commodity prices have played a considerable role in sending these economies into reverse

  • Demographic and social change

By 2030 the world’s population is projected to rise by more than 1 billion. Equally significantly, people are living longer and having fewer children.

  • Technological breakthroughs

The digital revolution has no boundaries or borders. It is changing behavior and expectations as much as the tools used to deliver new services and experiences.

These mega-trends will shape the decisions we make around land use and development in Cape Town, particular regarding essential resources such as food, energy, water and air, and must be confronted at the beginning of the document to frame the future in which the MSDF will need to operate.

Key idea 2 : Cape Town as a city-region

Cape Town is interdependent with its surrounding region, including the Winelands, which is one of the city’s greatest assets. The MSDF should more directly position the Cape Town metropolitan area within the spatial context of the city-region and its ecological, social and economic flows.

“In the world that I live in there are no examples of successful cities that don’t have flourishing regions working around them or successful regions that don’t have at their core a leading successful city.”

Greg Clarke, OECD

While the urban edge is essential for containing urban growth, the municipal boundary is somewhat irrelevant to  operation of the city and the MSDF should further emphasise the importance of the city-region in order to capitalise on the opportunities its offers.

The MSDF does not make sufficient reference to the importance of the city-region with most references limited to mobility, in particular public transport. The MSDF indicates that several municipalities surrounding Cape Town are some of the fastest growing in South Africa and Technical Supplement B: Provincial Planning Informants to MSDF provides a useful context for the positioning of the MSDF in this broader city region. However, the Framework’s spatial vision, strategies and policies must be embedded in the document and inform its responses.

The MSDF risks missing out on capitalizing on the opportunities that the region offers. For example, the Cape Winelands is home to an urban economy with established networks across the city and region. The potential for enhanced international trade, investment and tourism in the region is inextricably linked to Cape Town and is an incredible asset that should be given greater consideration by the MSDF.

Key idea 3 : The urban edge

The removal of the urban edge from the MSDF is contradictory to its vision to prevent urban sprawl and achieve the benefits of a denser and more consolidated city. The urban edge is a clear and definitive mechanism and should be reintroduced to the MSDF.
The urban edge is a clear and definitive mechanism that can be understood by the private sector and wider community and is considered to be perhaps the most fundamental tool the MSDF can implement to both communicate and achieve its vision. More nuanced discussions about the spatial focus of development can still be had with the edge in place, but the importance of retaining the edge as a concept and a practical tool cannot be overstated. The MSDF should be clear about defining and reinforcing the importance of the urban edge. Removal of an existing tool appears counterproductive.

The introduction of ‘speculative’ areas where the public sector carries no cost or risk appears problematic, and without a clear process and fee structure, could be open to abuse and the perpetuation of apartheid spatial planning.

Key idea 4 : Spatial restructuring

The Spatial Vision of the MSDF to build an inclusive, integrated, vibrant city through greater integration between spatial planning, Transit Oriented Development and public transport investment is to be commended. The practical and moral imperative for this vision to address the spatial legacy of apartheid is more prevalent now than ever. As the National Draft Integrated Urban Development Framework states “most of the post-1994 infrastructure investments have unintentionally served to reinforce the apartheid status quote. The cumulative effect is that it is harder to reverse apartheid geographies in 2014, than it was in 1994.”
The vision of the MSDF to address the spatial legacy of apartheid can be strengthened with bold, visionary proposals to demonstrate what an ‘inclusive, integrated, vibrant’ Cape Town could look like in the future.

The MSDF must acknowledge the fundamental broken-ness of the city’s spatial structure and include deliverable actions and initiatives that directly address how the deep divisions in the city will be overcome, along with measurable indicators to assess their effectiveness.

In addition to strategies and policies of spatial restructuring, the approach to spatial restructuring must include deliverable actions and initiatives that directly address how the  deep divisions in the city will be overcome.

Key idea 5 : Designation of nodes

The designation of urban nodes is supported as a strategy to contain, focus and consolidate urban growth, however the role and function of different scale nodes needs to be clearly defined in order for investment priorities to be identified.

For example, the MSDF map designates Philippi/Metro Central and Somerset West as Emerging Metropolitan Nodes. Cape Town CBD and Bellville are defined as existing Metropolitan Nodes. It is unclear what the specific strategy is for emerging nodes to develop and what the ultimate objective is for these places within the wider metropolitan area in practical terms. If Philippi is to become a comparable node to the Cape Town CBD in the long term, much more detail is required on how this might happen and what it will look like.

It is also unclear how informality and informal settlement upgrade will be considered in the development of the Philippi node in particular.  

The success of particular nodes will rely on more than just improved public transport infrastructure, but also on public and private sector involvement, and in some instances investment in a catalytic project to spur on development interest.

Key idea 6 : Quality of place

The success of urban nodes will, to a large degree, depend on the quality of these places. The MSDF must provide a commitment to promoting the importance of high quality urban design with a focus on the public realm, human scale development, vibrant public spaces and pedestrian priority. The development of places must be equitable and inclusive and respect the legacy of the existing neighbourhood.

In its discussion of these places, the MSDF must establish an aspiration for the kind of integrated, safe and vibrant city we want. Through the five principles of equity, place making, integration, minimalism and generation, the design of places throughout Cape Town should aspire to:

  • contribute to a process of urban renewal through the creation of positive & beautiful places where people can enjoy a sense of dignity and hope
  • initiate integrated development – to be a ‘strategic lever’ to promote a shift in local government delivery practices
  • to use limited investment in the public environment strategically and positively to take a lead in creating community and development confidence’

The urban design of nodes as places must consider the quality of the place at all scales. For example, MyCiTi infrastructure at Civic Centre and Adderley has provided excellent connectivity and access at a metropolitan scale, but at a local scale has created a sterile and unsafe environment that is dominated by traffic.


Key idea 7 : National land parcels

A legacy of Cape Town’s spatial planning history are a number of large, well-located remnant pieces of land that are currently vacant or underutilised. These include Wingfield Aerodrome, Youngsfield Military Base, Culemborg industrial area, much of District Six and the Athlone Power Station, among others. Much of this land is owned by the national government and is unlikely to be released for urban development in the short to medium term. These are significant land holdings that when released will have a major impact on urban land values and infrastructure provision and will create opportunities for spatial restructuring discussing in Key Idea 4 above.

Regardless of the landowners’ intent for each of these parcels, it is considered paramount for the MSDF to include a stipulation for the highest and best use of the land as well as strategic objectives for each site’s role within the city. Including this designation will help to inform public debate around prioritisation for how the post-apartheid should be achieved. For example, the Athlone Power Station site was used as a tool of spatial division between Pinelands, Athlone and Langa. The MSDF should indicate how the redevelopment of this site could act to overcome these spatial divisions and play its role in achieving the spatial vision for an ‘inclusive, integrated, vibrant’ city.

Key idea 8 : Development and delivery mechanisms and agencies

Future Cape Town has long advocated the need for a ‘super-development agency’ or a number of agencies and institutions to oversee and co-ordinate development across the city.

The implementation of the MSDF provides the perfect opportunity to further explore this and bring such an agency(ies) into effect. Future Cape Town believes there is a need for fast and nimble institutions with transactional capacity to build market and societal confidence. This would be entirely independent, sitting outside the political structures of government. The agency would be free to pursue the difficult decisions to help to bridge the silos between current departments and complement the work of the Transport and Urban Development Authority.

The MSDF should include in its action plan the intent to enable and create development and delivery agencies which will contribute to the spatial development intention of the City over the next few decades.


  1. MSDF draft Report
  2. Accelerate Cape Town
  3. Cape Town Partnership

Learn more about the MSDF:

Take Part: Comment on Cape Town’s draft Spatial Development Framework