Cape Town plans controversial R8.6bn project to fix freeways

Is this end of the road for the end of the road?

18 February 2018 - 00:00 By BOBBY JORDAN

It took 70 years but Cape Town has finally decided where it is going.
A freeway expansion plan, which predates apartheid and now includes high-rise apartments, is going ahead, bringing to an end an engineering mystery that has baffled city residents and visitors for generations.
The notorious "hanging" freeways of Cape Town's Foreshore - they end in midair - have for years been popular with film crews and the homeless but unpopular with locals, who consider them an eyesore.They will now form part of a new R8.6-billion precinct, complete with coffee shops and drought-resistant shrubbery.
Significantly, they will also include a portion of affordable housing as part of the city's stated commitment to densification and integrated development.
As such, the project contrasts with the original freeway project - conceptualised in the 1940s when early drawings favoured a more scenic approach that accentuated Cape Town's mountain view - which resulted in the demolition of parts of District Six, the former multiracial neighbourhood reviled by apartheid leaders.
But while the city claims this historical reversal is part of the motivation for the project, critics say it will entrench spatial inequality and further disconnect people from the sea. One prominent critic said the new elevated freeway - it will be lifted 18m into the air - will create "a wall between Cape Town and the sea".The project has also been branded "elitist" because the 450 affordable homes make up less than 15% of total accommodation, the rest being upmarket apartments.
However, the City of Cape Town insists the luxury accommodation is the only feasible way of cross-subsidising the cost of building the freeways. It says the immense project cost is the reason it has lain dormant for so long.
Densification of the Foreshore precinct was also in keeping with the city's spatial development plan and Foreshore improvement plan, according to Brett Herron, the mayoral committee head of transport and urban development.
"These highways really disconnected what was District Six from the waterfront," Herron told the Sunday Times, adding that current thinking was to do the opposite - promote "flow" between an integrated city and the port.
"There is no single silver bullet to do this, but part of it is to address land use patterns," he said, adding that residential development in the city would also address Cape Town's chronic traffic congestion. "We are a rapidly growing city and it is just not sustainable to be developing as a sprawling city on the outskirts," Herron said.
The 6ha core development area is city-owned land, currently used mostly as parking space. Preferred bidder Mitchell du Plessis Associates has proposed 11 tower blocks with heights ranging between 63m and 143m extending across four precincts within the Foreshore area.
Herron said project approval would take up to six months, with construction expected to begin in October 2020. "It will be an incremental development, expected to take about a decade," he said, adding that other efforts to revitalise the project had never progressed so far. "I don't think anybody has ever tackled it before," he said.Critics of the current proposal believe it does not meet the city's own original bid criteria. Vanessa Watson, professor of city planning in the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at the University of Cape Town, said: "There was a big emphasis [in the criteria] on affordable housing, on addressing the problems of the apartheid city and spatial segregation, acknowledging the historic and cultural nature of Cape Town. The project put forward this week did not meet one of these criteria.
"It is another upmarket housing estate, creating a wall between Cape Town and the sea. We must be the last city in the world suggesting the completion of our elevated freeways rather than take them down to ground level. There is no recognition of history or place, which is what attracts tourists here after all. Architects seem to think we should be copying Singapore or Shanghai."
Dr Lisa Kane, honorary research associate at UCT's Centre for Transport Studies, highlighted allegations of mismanagement regarding the project evaluation process.
"Nothing about this [successful bidder] announcement rectifies that disquiet. If evaluation processes are objective and technically robust, then why are they not in the public domain, for public scrutiny?"
Cape Town’s Foreshore was created when 194ha were reclaimed from Table Bay in the 1930s. The freeways were proposed by city engineer Solly Morris, and nicknamed “Solly’s Folly” when they were left unfinished in the mid-’70s due to lack of money.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.