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Why cities need to future-proof against chronic stresses & acute shocks

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Along with Durban, Cape Town recently joined the Rockefeller Foundation’s international 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) project, which seeks to empower cities to withstand the chronic stresses and acute shocks that could lie ahead, even in thriving downtown areas.

The 100RC project defines urban resilience as the “capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience”.

Having attended a 100RC workshop earlier this year, the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) is taking the definition to heart with regards to the Mother City’s downtown area. Tasso Evangelinos, CEO of the CCID, notes: “Cape Town’s participation in the 100RC programme is obviously a citywide, holistic one that covers the entire metropole, but we’re looking very seriously at how we can also bring the concept of resilience down to the microcosm of the Central City – the traditional CBD of Cape Town – so that we can prepare for future stresses or shocks that could affect our own area.”

While the 100RC programme identifies 11 shocks, from a nuclear incident to civil unrest, the one that stands out for Evangelinos in terms of a vibrant downtown is the possibility of “financial and/or economic crisis”, while possible stresses (from a list of 37) could include aging infrastructure, crime, homelessness, lack of affordable housing, traffic congestion, uncontrolled urban development and an undiversified economy.

In turn, the 100RC programme identifies seven qualities that a resilient urban area should develop to mitigate against the shocks and stresses. These include the need to be:

  • Reflective and resourceful: the ability to learn from the past and use these learnings to inform future decisions, while also finding alternative ways to use existing resources better.
  • Robust, redundant and flexible: robust, for example, in terms of developing infrastructure that will not fail catastrophically when design thresholds are exceeded; redundant in terms of purposively creating spare capacity to accommodate disruption; and flexibility in terms of an ability to adopt alternative strategies in response to changing circumstances.
  • Inclusive and integrated: ensuring broad consultation, engagement and involvement while at the same time bringing together systems and institutions and the pooling of knowledge and resources.

Says Evangelinos: “In other words, how can we look at all the lessons of the past that have helped us create a successful downtown area, and use the data we’ve collected and trends we’ve identified over the past few years, to create the best possible strategies for the CBD’s future resilience?”

The data and trends Evangelinos refers to have been collated since 2012 primarily for the CCID’s annual investment guide, The State of Cape Town Central City Report. Explains the author of the publication and communications manager for the CCID, Carola Koblitz: “This guide has always looked back at the economic climate of the CBD in terms of being a ‘barometer’ for investors, but the extent of our information gathering and the consequent analyses we now do has begun to enable us to forecast areas of potential growth and business opportunity.”

Although the report is only published once a year, research and analysis is ongoing throughout the year. Explains Koblitz: “For example, six months into 2017, we know that commercial and retail vacancy rates are still relatively stable, while the unprecedented year-on-year increases we’ve seen in the prices of residential property are beginning to show a stabilisation. Having come off a low base a few years ago, when we saw an escalation of 30.86% from 2014 to 2015, and 15.06% from 2015 to 2016, the first half of this year has shown an escalation of 5.2%, with the average R/m2 of R33 921 (December 2016) now sitting at R35 700/m2.”

This bodes well, she believes, for ensuring that residential property in the CBD remains within realistic levels, and will hopefully also begin to encourage developers to take cognisance of the need for more affordable units that could accommodate those in the CBD workforce who find themselves in the “missing middle”.

Koblitz explains: “These are people who do not qualify for government subsidies but who can spend up to 40% of their income just on transportation. For example: bank clerks, shop assistants, social workers, teachers or call centre staff. And it speaks to a provision of more rental stock as well, and not just sectional title units.”

The latest report, published in April this year and looking back at 2016, also dissected the four precincts that exist within the CCID’s boundaries with regard to the businesses that base themselves in each precinct, the type of retail and entertainment options that exist, and the residential communities that make each precinct their home.

“Again,” says Koblitz, “opportunities for the future are quite evident when you layer these breakdowns within a precinct.”

For example, the report revealed that the Foreshore area of the CBD, which was also the home of the Cape Town International Convention Centre, was the most densely populated in terms of large residential buildings, major hotels and many of the CBD’s largest corporate offices, but yet had only 13% of the CBD’s retail outlets and only 14% of all its eateries. Likewise, the older East City area had many of the CBD’s public access buildings and largest educational institutes with huge student populations, but offered very little daytime retail experiences when compared to the volumes of daily visitors in and out of the area.

Concludes Evangelinos: “It’s time for us as a CBD, to take a holistic view of our downtown strengths and weaknesses and work out how we can create a strong core to take us forward and create urban resilience that stretches from our business communities to our residential and visitor economies.”

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