Foreshore development violates Cape Town’s transport policy, say experts

A losing bid contained many more affordable homes, according to UCT professor

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Graphic of planned foreshore development
Graphical depiction of the winning bid’s vision of the foreshore. Captured from Youtube video

Plans for the R8 billion development of Cape Town’s Foreshore have been slammed by experts, who say they violate the City’s own transport policy.

The qualifying bidder for the development of the Foreshore freeway precinct, Mitchell Du Plessis and Associates (MDA), plans to finish the freeway, elevate it above the height of Nelson Mandela Boulevard, and build 11 tower blocks between the sections of the boulevard for housing at market-related prices, and ten more buildings on the northern edge closest to the harbour, for affordable housing.

In all, 3,650 residential units are proposed, 450 of them for affordable housing. Most of these appear to be situated below the elevated freeways.

Honorary research associate at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies, Dr Lisa Kane, said the proposal went counter to the City’s Draft Comprehensive Integrated Transport Plan 2017 – 2022.

The City’s plan was to promote public transport over private vehicles, yet MDA’s proposal appeared to favour private cars, she said.

Kane said there seemed to be no policy justification for MDA’s proposal, which in her view was “the least innovative or creative of the bids submitted”.

“It simply continues the vision of the 1960s highway designers for a car-oriented Foreshore at great cost to the possibilities of a developing a truly iconic area as an asset for the city in the long term,” she said.

Along with concerns about the lack of transparency and allegations of mismanagement of the bid, she said the proposed new freeway offered “a bleak prospect for anyone on foot in the area”.

The proposed freeway was “twice the height of the existing roads and will block the sky from pedestrians at ground level”.

Kane questioned how the R8.3 billion scheme would be funded and whether the contribution required from the City for the provision of 450 affordable housing units could not be better used.

“Could the City contribution needed actually build more affordable housing units for the same cost to the City? How much ‘subsidy’ for this scheme will the developer require?” she asked.

The bird’s eye view provided by the developers was misleading, she said, and ground level visuals were needed to assess the impact of a proposed development that “turns its back on the sea and effectively removes any longer term future possibilities of linkages between the CBD and the sea”.

What the City asked for

The original prospectus allowed bidders to complete or demolish the unfinished freeways as they chose, but emphasised the proposed development must:

  • be “attuned to the social and cultural realities of the city”;

  • “unlock connectivity” within the city centre;

  • address congestion challenges;

  • be “iconic and clearly able to build the international brand and identity of Cape Town”; and

  • deliver “tangible and affordable housing solutions integrated with the other land uses”.

The prospectus said there should be mixed use of the land, including transport, affordable housing, the creation of social and economic opportunities, and the provision of open space.

Blocking off the sea

“It’s a surprise this bid was chosen,” said Professor Vanessa Watson at the UCT School of Architecture, Planning, and Geomatics. “It violates just about every criteria the City set up at the beginning for what the achievement of the project should be.”

Watson said the provision of 450 affordable housing units was “miniscule” and would make no impact on the spatial segregation of the city. She said another bid offered 4,000 affordable housing units.

MDA’s proposal would supply more high-end apartments which would worsen spatial segregation, she said.

Bidders had been asked to preserve the historical uniqueness of Cape Town and enhance the character of the city, yet the proposal “looks like a copy of Shanghai or Singapore”.

“It is a wall of towers between the city and the sea,” she said.

Watson said building more roads encouraged the use of private vehicles, resulting in worse congestion. As a result, Cape Town was “probably the only city in the world completing its elevated freeways rather than taking them down”.

The qualifying bid also did not provide public facilities and amenities or any mixed-use environment beyond residential and retail.

Following the announcement of the qualifying bid, Mayco Member for Transport and Urban Development Brett Herron stated that the proposed development “will provide residential units to a diverse cross-section of income groups, inclusive of affordable housing opportunities”.

A press release from the City media office states that the core development will cost R8.3 billion, “largely funded” by the developer. “MDA proposes to complete the unfinished highways, and to finance or cross-subsidise the new roads and affordable residential units through the development of upmarket and mid-market residential units.”

With 3,200 market-related units, each will have to sell for an average of R2.6m to break even, assuming costs do not escalate.

According to the chair of the bid evaluation committee, Paul Vink, affordable housing “refers to unsubsidised rental housing for those with a monthly income of between R7,500 and R15,000.”

Thus on the face of it, the Foreshore precinct will consist of retail outlets and upmarket housing units commanding views of the city and harbour, with some affordable units clustered below the level of the freeway at the northern end of the docks.

City’s Response

We asked the City to respond to the criticisms described in this article. Paul Vink (chair of the Bid Evaluation Committee) replied:

The announcement of a qualifying bidder has been made in respect of the outcome of the Stage 1 bid evaluation process.

The identification of the qualifying bid bidder was carried out by a multi-disciplinary Bid Evaluation Committee (BEC) comprised of senior officials with expertise in the fields of Urban Integration, Urban Development Investment, Integrated Transport, Human Settlements, Property Management, Finance and Supply Chain Management. The BEC scored a matrix of 18 scoring elements grouped into four separate returnables (evaluation criteria) for each of the bids under consideration. In the final analysis, the qualifying bidder submitted the only bid that was responsive to all of the returnables under consideration.

However, this announcement does not conclude the process.

After expiry of the period provided for bidders to lodge any disputes, objections, complaints and queries, Stage 2 of the evaluation process will commence. MDA will have to finalise an investment plan and secure the financing for the project, determine the phasing and dependencies, and refine their technical parameters, among others.

The Stage 2 process will also inform the statutory and other approval processes, as well as formal public consultation processes, that will take place in accordance with all applicable legislation and City policies.

The public, interested and affected parties, will therefore have opportunities to comment in terms of the processes still to follow.

Produced for GroundUp by West Cape News

TOPICS:  Cape Town foreshore development Housing

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

This is an outrage!
Many of us worked hard to open up the waterfront to the city, stop this freeway building, create the V&A opportunity and establish the guidelines for future development over 30 years ago. We created value that has continued for generations. This plan would shut the door, and wall off your future as a city.

Building a loop of elevated freeways is a slap in the face for all residents of the city. It goes counter to current trends to mitigate the impacts of such heavy handed transportation and engineering projects in urban areas. Building residential units within 500ft/150m of a Freeway is today considered to be a carcinogenic death trap.

Proposing to house poor people, relegated to living below a freeway, is tantamount to putting them in a gas chamber. There is no redeeming factor in this proposal, to homogenize the Cape Town skyline, and make it like any other overdeveloped waterfront in the world. Capetonians deserve better.

If a traffic solution is needed, look to the “big dig” in Boston, where they buried a freeway and built beautiful urban parks and plazas as a lid, creating value for all existing and new development on the waterfront. Infrastructure can make a positive impact. Imagine a beautiful boulevard above a tunnel carrying volumes of traffic, with light rail, shaded pedestrian walks, people-scaled open spaces that are protected from the wind, and public art throughout. We did this in Boston, we did this in Manhattan with Battery Park City.

Be wise Cape Town, or the next generation will vilify you. Make this the next great place in a great city.

Dear Editor

Why are there no ground level drawings of this monstrosity?

3650 up-market eyesores towering between the sea and the mountain. 450 low-cost housing units buried under the roads which won't get sun-light. When rain pours down, where will the water go if the drains block? The traffic noise will be unbearable. People need open spaces near their homes, where they can socialise with their neighbours and where children can play.

Open up the area, it does not make any sense to build a huge barrier.

Dear Editor

I agree wholeheartedly with the letter from my colleague Vaughan Davies. Cape Town is in serious danger of making a crucial mistake that will hang like a noose around the necks of future generations. Again. I have immense respect for the development teams and architects of the Foreshore development bids, but I believe that the city first needs to accept that the great joys of daily city life should and must at all costs remain at Ground level.

They simply need to accept, as in countless shore front cities around the world, that these hideous elevated highways should be incorporated into basement structures below ground. We have the perfect example on our doorstep! The V&A team, faced with the ongoing urban and economic failings of the podiumised Clocktower precinct, took a deep breath and thoroughly workshopped the costs of re-constructing all their required parking below ground, in similar harbour edge conditions.

They simply wouldn't give up. They demolished as much of the elevated ramps and pedestrian podium system as possible to start anew to build a real at-grade city, not a designer dream hamster cage. The V&A are astute and highly experienced developers and their decisions were grounded on economic viability and healthy returns. Through their bravery they unlocked immense land value in the Silo precinct which future generations will further develop to add patina and history. Not some pop up instant edifice. The state, province, city and developers must and can find ways to recess our vehicular highways ... period.

If the V&A can, they can. We will then, eventually, thankfully, end up with a city that has a front face, braces removed, and we can make traditional cityscape again ... parks, housing, retail, hotels, museums, department stores...some structured parking (but surely that's a lesser evil). How on earth can we possibly deny our city such a future because of a lack of bravery and foresight?

Please City, please let us have a sustainable beautiful city-front to grow and love. It’s at the tip of our fingers ...

Dear Editor

Scrutinising the Foreshore Freeway Precinct proposal illustrations, I found myself wondering what guided it, what was the frame within which it was briefed and designed. The best thing I could think of was the Spatial Development Framework, the 30-year vision for the City. I googled it and paged through. Its key ideas are: to “...improve access to economic opportunities manage urban build an inclusive, integrated, vibrant city.”

It’s impossible to go through all the sub-points in a comprehensive document, but here are a few: to set up an integrated public transport system, to protect unique natural and heritage assets, to make a “functional interface” between ports and their surroundings, to direct urban growth “through the deliberate and integrated use of planning...”, to promote a culture of sustainable development and living and to “redress existing imbalances in the distribution of different types of residential development”.

It must be plain to everyone that the Foreshore Freeway Precinct proposal had very little if anything to do with these kinds of objectives or the vision they conjure up. It’s easy to read the intentions in a spatial design if it is your occupation to make them. The objectives in the proposal are to reduce, albeit temporarily, the vehicular movement of rich people in and around the city, to provide opportunities, albeit limited, for developers to build high-tech buildings in spectacular view sites and for the City to gain income therefrom in rates. No matter what its impact on the CBD as a whole and its potential future.

This means that the City is changing its own plan in an ad hoc way. Therefore we are in for the kind of unrecoverable, unsustainable urban chaos you can experience in many cities around Africa and the world.

Dear Editor

Not mentioned above is the impact on the urban climate these skyscrapers will have. The north-exposed City bowl is a heat trap by its topography alone - no fantasy is needed to imagine what the blocking out of the cool ocean breezes will have on the CBD temperatures.

The new Foreshore MDA has a serious flaw, which is the impact on the temperatures and air quality in the CBD this immense line of skyscrapers will have. The north-exposed City Bowl is a heat trap by its topography alone. Such a monstrous concrete wall, put on a continuous basement, will totally block off the cool ocean breeze! This will create a dome of standing smog above the CBD.

As we all know, that effect will be aggravated by the global warming trend, which continues to beat all expectations.

Dear Editor

I am interested in the future of Cape Town and took the time to go to see the mini exhibition showcasing the different bids some months ago, we were encouraged to vote for the one we felt was best.

Whilst I am the first to admit I am no expert in architecture or urban planning, it was quite clear that some of the bids prioritised affordable housing for essential workers, promoted pedestrians over cars and advocated greening and planting large areas. I am aghast this bid was chosen which was - in my lay opinion - the antithesis of many of the policies which the City of Cape Town espouses.

I am dismayed and confounded as to what happened here and how such a surprising decision was made...did the City not think we’d notice or care?

Well we do care and we do notice.

So pray tell: how can you justify 450 affordable housing units vs even 451?

I just don’t get it.

Dear Editor

As the article and the comments regarding it point out, this proposal is counter to all sound planning and urban design concepts and policies that have been framed over the last decade or so. It begs the question as to the aim of the call for proposals, and whether the members of the BEC were qualified to consider anything beyond the bottom line (and even that we can't be sure of).

I trust that the residents of Cape Town in the urban development/design professions, in other walks of life and anyone interested in the future of the city will respond strongly to this process when the opportunity arises.

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