March 22, 2011

Spotlight South Africa

141. waterkant2

This spring ITDP brought the Our Cities Ourselves exhibition to South Africa. OCO is a valuable tool helping inspire the public, media and key decision makers to reimagine what their cities could look like with better transportation and better urban planning. Cape Town, which is currently host to OCO, is an example of a city that’s making a comeback by doing just that.

Cape Town has come a long way. After apartheid ended in 1995 much of the city’s economic peanuts were re-distributed into the poorer outlying areas. Just a decade ago, lawlessness and homelessness had a hold on the city center and most business and trade had begun to move out into the suburban sprawl. Crime rates skyrocketed and refuse piled up in parks and public spaces were. The downtown city streets resembled the deserted streets in a zombie film.  Something had to change.

In 1999, the Cape Town Partnership (CTP) was. created by a group of local business owners, craving a citywide cleanup that would benefit city center businesses and all Cape Town residents. Andrew Boraine, the current Chief Executive of CTP and one time Cape Town City Manager, was there from the start.

Today the CTP has many reasons to celebrate; Cape Town has become a continental leader with a cosmopolitan and colorful city center that is improving every year. It is quickly rivaling cities in North America, Australia and Europe on the “World’s Best Cities to Live In” lists. But there is a ways to go. The city still faces high unemployment rates and persistent racial- and class-based inequality. Though Cape Town is preparing to open its first BRT in February, public transport options are still severely lacking, as well as other basic city services that might allow economic opportunities to flourish.

The Partnership is on the forefront of tackling these issues, spearheading programs such as social development, and urban management. Boraine, as their leader, serves as the unofficial ambassador for sustainable transport and housing projects citywide.  He champions projects like MyCITI (Cape Town’s new but still controversial Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) system which links walking and cycling, with the rail network, other bus, minibus-taxi and metered taxi options), more bicycle lanes and mixed-use developments. One of his recent successes was the pedestrianization of Waterkant Street, which was designed for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The newly pedestrianized street is opening up new east/west commuter options, ushering pedestrians off the more dangerous Reibeek Street.  According to Mr. Boraine’s mind, Waterkant Street has changed public perception of these types of projects, and that can be built upon in the coming years.

“The key has been partnerships,” said Boraine. “We have always been about utilizing the strength of our partners to try and facilitate a forum for sharing.” The Partnership prides itself on being one of the few forums that can break down the planning silos of government and offer up a center for debate in which the stakeholders can facilitate development together.  One recent way they did this is by working with ITDP to bring the Our Cities Ourselves exhibition and facilitate a visit from top transportation and planning officials from New York City, and using these as opportunities to draw together local officials from transportation, planning and housing to share experiences between the two cities as Cape Town continues its process of reinvention and becoming a world class city.

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