From Sea to Mountain: time to re-frame the City?


Concept Sketch for Foreshore development (1940) from Town Planning Advisors Report to the South African Railways and Harbours Board

Frame (2)

Photograph of Proposal B: Foreshore exhibitions 2017

One of the more visionary elements in the current Foreshore Proposals is the ‘eye’ which would frame a view of Table Mountain from the harbour-side and create an iconic picture, especially for visitors arriving at the port. The idea has echoes of the earliest concepts for the area found in the 1947 Cape Town Foreshore Plan drawings, which highlighted the vista of those arriving by sea.

Sea approach (2)

Artist’s impression of view from Maritime Terminal, from Cape Town Foreshore Plan (1948)

Planners at the time created an over-arching concept for the area with a Monumental Approach from the Harbour towards the City Hall, framed by the Mountain Amphitheatre. For the consultants in the 1940s the Foreshore area was a “…a National rather than a Department or Municipal asset” and the planning was a “…unique opportunity, never likely to recur, of investing Cape Town with the dignity that is appropriate to the ‘Gateway to South Africa’”.

Over the following decades sea arrivals dropped in importance compared to air arrivals, and the words “Gateway to Africa” fell out of step with how Cape Town imagined itself. It is interesting, then, to see that the current Foreshore proposals include cruise terminal ideas. Is it is time to revisit the sea-city connections and the tourism and city marketing possibilities that could bring?

Cruise terminal B (2)

Detail from Proposal B

Table Mountain and its sea approach is a widely loved, and globally known connected vista. As a City have not made much effort to frame it, physically or otherwise, in any meaningful way. In an increasingly competitive tourism environment can we afford to underplay the ‘romance’ of the approach by sea and the iconic vista that few cities can even aspire to? Or is the maritime ‘romance’ too associated with a European history many would rather forget? Could we find a way to physically re-frame this sea approach to Cape Town as part of Foreshore developments? In the process bringing forward the sea stories of all who sail and have sailed around the Cape, not only the wealthy few?




Freeways: who decides what’s re-presented?

Foreshore dragon

Source: Cape Times. April 7, 1973 and Louis De Waal clippings collection

The Foreshore Freeways have been controversial from the outset. As the Long Street extension to Culemborg section was being built in the early 1970s the National Monuments Council unleashed an attack on the City of Cape Town for ‘indiscriminate development’. Fury focused on the potential impact of the planned Buitengracht Freeway section of the scheme.

Consultants warned that public opposition could stop the Buitengracht Freeway section and advised that the road be depressed, in order to alleviate the visual intrusion from the scheme. The costs, though, did not impress the Council Executive Committee, nor did the prospect of a ‘canyon’ through this part of Cape Town. Three years later the Buitengracht Freeway issue was still unresolved, and was deliberated by a new inter-disciplinary Environmental Advisory Board, who rejected both the elevated and depressed schemes and instead proposed a ground level alternative. A year later the matter was still unresolved, and residents in De Waterkant also weighed in with opposition, claiming that ‘a huge elevated freeway’ would be a tragedy for the townscape of old Cape Town. A new Committee of the Institute of Architects was formed, called ‘Urban Vigilance’, who countered the engineering consultants’ sketches in circulation with their own.

Buitengracht freeway

Engineering sketches of Buitengracht freeway

Urban vigilance Buitengracht

Architect sketches of Buitengracht freeway

So I am wondering, will we get to see any street level views of the proposed schemes? And if so, who decides what gets re-presented?

‘Unfinished’ Foreshore Freeways – Let’s start with a clear brief

Cyclist and freeways_Lisa Kane_Road Classsification_3

The morning of Tuesday 21 June – I’m listening intently to the Mayor and Mayco Member for Transport, Councillor Brett Herron talking about proposals for the foreshore precinct. It’s rather surprising: “Whether the unfinished highways stay or go, are completed, or redesigned altogether, is for the proposed bidders to put forward” . This is not as focused on completing freeways as the earlier statements from the Mayor. This is more about land-use development; about bringing in the creative private sector; about open and transparent public participation. This is welcome. It’s balanced. It’s exciting. It’s different to what has gone before.

Then again… perhaps it’s a bit too enthusiastic about the ability or interest of the private sector to develop this land. But the statements from the podium are open-ended enough for a range of proposals to be put forward. It looks like the City is taking a wait-and-see approach.

My main concern is that there’s nothing in the statements (other than calls for affordable housing) about safeguards for ensuring good and plentiful public space, but this might be balanced out in the process of public involvement…

I’m feeling quietly optimistic. That is, until the Mayor is interviewed on the John Maytham Show later that day on the topic. Now she is stridently insisting that completing the freeways will be part of this scheme. She insists she has said so! I check the press statement again: “…part of the conditions for the development will be that it includes the funds to complete the unfinished bridges, alleviate congestion and provide affordable housing”.

Same statement – conflicting views on finishing the freeways or not.

If this process is going to succeed it needs a clear and visionary brief from the City; a brief which enables the design teams to do their own work. This brief should not prejudge the creative process. It should sketch out a vision, and not any solutions. It should trust in the design and engineering professionals to do what they do best.

A clear design brief is an absolute necessity. My hope is that the City will have the time, vision and wisdom to do just that, if nothing else, before 8 July when the Bid documents are released.

Data sources for road death and injury in the Cape

A query came in yesterday on data sources. As far as I know, this is what’s available for the Western Cape:

The National Government Arrive Alive website has plenty of information, including data breakdowns by province in some cases, but the reporting lacks consistency. The Western Cape Province “Safely Home” Campaign has a live fatality counter and citizen reporting but no aggregate reports for the Western Cape. In theory the City of Cape Town produces an Annual Report on road incidents. In practice the reporting has been “patchy”. The latest Annual Report available on the website is for 2005. Last year, as part of a project for the Cape Town Partnership we managed to access data from the City of Cape Town up to 2011, but this kind of data is not (as far as I am aware) systematically summarised or published anywhere. The data we analysed showed that on average one pedestrian, and two drivers or passengers, will require hospitalisation each week due to a serious traffic incident in the central city of Cape Town. A further 17 will receive slight injuries each week. Data on fatal incidents suggests at least one traffic death per month in the central city. Under-resourced police and traffic services are a block to accurate location, and severity data for traffic crashes.

Perhaps one reason for the sorry state of official reporting at all levels is that the actual data is flawed. Comparing the mortuary data on road traffic death with the police reported data reveals discrepancies, but even that is difficult given the paucity of comparable databases. Up until 2010 The National Injury Mortality Surveillance System gave detail on all fatalities in South Africa. More recent reports focus on Mpumalanga and Gauteng only. Locally we found discrepancies between traffic incidents reported by the Police Service and those recorded by the Pathology Services for central Cape Town.

Some very detailed data on cause of injury is available from the Red Cross Children’s hospital trauma statistics. Finally, the recent Road Safety Seminar hosted by the Global Road Safety Partnership in Cape Town profiled work by many experts and officials who seem to have access to data not in the public domain. The presentations are not online, but they may be persuaded?

I find this lack of consistent and reliable data about loss of precious lives terribly depressing. If, as a society, we measure what matters then clearly those killed on roads don’t matter that much.




The Foreshore and a walkable CTICC

The recent headline that Cape Town is to double the size of its Convention Centre reminded me of a recent trip to the Design Indaba and the hair-raising, and dangerous, crossing which hundreds of visitors to the Centre were forced to make across Lower Heerengracht on the way from parking to the centre. The poorly thought through walking access on the streets outside the CTICC stood in stark contrast to the South African creativity on show inside it. Public spaces like those on our Foreshore are both unfamiliar, unwelcoming and unsettling. Access routes which welcome international visitors to the CTICC will be something that the new Convention Centre management will be forced to apply its mind to. I would love to see some of the creative thinking that went into the Stadium access also be applied to the CTICC. This aerial mock-up shows just how close the CTICC is to vast tracts of land in the Eastern Foreshore where there is lots of space for parking. Better still the CTICC is, surprisingly, on the doorstep of the station. It just appears further because pedestrian access between the two has been at best ad-hoc, and at worst neglected completely. The CTICC development provides an opportunity to really implement some “liveable” streets design in the Foreshore and to give pedestrian accessibility in the City the priority it deserves.


%d bloggers like this: