Conscious choice needed to restructure settlements towards a healed future – Fellows’ seminar by Stephen Boshoff

15 June 2020

“It’s a moment of choice. We can try to integrate the town or have more of the same – with the poor mostly living in Kayamandi and the wealthy living behind increasingly higher security walls. It is possible to rebuild the town with more opportunities for all but it is a conscious choice,” said urban planner Stephen Boshoff of the Built Environment Partnership.

STIAS Fellow Stephen Boshoff presented his webinar on 11 June 2020

Boshoff was giving STIAS fellows an update on the Adam Tas Corridor project in Stellenbosch. The project, conceived a few years ago, brings together government, Stellenbosch University, corporate stakeholders and STIAS, and was conceptualised to address some of the specific problems facing Stellenbosch by exploring a broad approach to urban development and settlement restructuring.

The corridor covers 360 hectares of currently under-developed, under-utilised land and facilities – stretching from the sawmill site to Kayamandi, Cloetesville and Idas Valley where a large number of people live under very difficult circumstances. It’s an area nearly four times as large as the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town with the potential to include 13 500 new housing opportunities, as well as entrepreneurial spaces and enhanced public transport.

“It’s basically a proposal to build a new town within Stellenbosch,” said Boshoff.

“Globally cities and larger towns are increasingly home to the majority of people,” he continued. “How these settlements are structured – how different activities are organised within them, the form these activities take, and the extent to which they can be accessed by people – fundamentally impacts on the livelihood opportunity of inhabitants.”

Policy/action mismatch

Boshoff pointed out that the structure and form of South African cities and settlements illustrate generations of development directed at maximising opportunities for specific groups while restricting others. Since the democratic transition in 1994 spatial transformation and integration of settlements has been prioritised at policy level while the legal framework for urban development and management includes ‘spatial justice’ as a core principle.

“South Africa has an exceptionally progressive policy and legal framework but, in practice, has not achieved that much,” he said. “Urban development and management practice remain skewed to benefit some more than others. Our policy-speak and actions are not aligned.”

“In reality over the past 25 years we haven’t achieved much in dealing with integration. Planning is still geared for the privileged few.”

“Housing of the poor is seen as the responsibility of the public sector while the private sector focuses on its own agenda. Where public-private partnerships exist, they have not delivered to meet needs fully,” he added. “Public-sector service backlogs are huge, maintenance has been neglected due to tiny budgets and there is no money for new investment or for crises.”

“The different segments are all doing their own thing, not working off the same hymn sheet. We need a shared vision in organising settlements if reconciliation, justice and forgiveness is to be achieved.”

Stellenbosch has been no exception – offering significant opportunities for some but little for others.

“Much of development in Stellenbosch has been about sprawling outwards causing the loss of large tracts of agricultural and natural landscapes,” said Boshoff.

He added that now that some of the manufacturing functions associated with the wine industry are leaving the town – in particular Distell – there is the possibility of releasing land and structures within the town itself.

The town also faces the massive problem of vehicular congestion and a lack of affordable student accommodation.

“An estimated 4500 students commute into the town daily in addition to university and municipal staff. The town is very expensive and there is a need to provide more affordable housing opportunities as well as better public transport options within the town.”

“There is a current housing waiting list of some 15 000 households,” he added, “most could be accommodated within the town.”

Although big corporates are involved in corporate social responsibility projects these are often seen as on the side, not part of the real business. “There is also no joint responsibility to address conditions in the town itself,” added Boshoff.

“We are talking about turning both publicly and privately owned land into shared use for the benefit of the town, about assets being used for public benefit and not only individual profit. The norm is the pursuit of maximum individual benefit, we now have to convince all of the advantages of collective benefits.”

And the advantages are potentially huge in terms of investment return as well as direct and indirect job creation. Boshoff pointed out that the V&A Waterfront has added R335 billion to GDP since 2002. But the project requires a different way of thinking about urban development. It is also a very long-term one – potentially 20 – 30 years.

And any long-term initiative requires ongoing learning and refocusing. Boshoff’s current work at STIAS therefore aims to draw learnings from international case studies to inform the further roll-out of the project.

“The involvement of STIAS is unique. It brings thought leadership to bear on a practical, local project,” he said. “STIAS also has a clear understanding of the impact on its own future. Spatial and livelihood issues have consequences for institutional sustainability.”

Boshoff has examined in detail four development project from across the world namely Cambridge North West, the V&A Waterfront, 22@Barcelona and the transformation of Bilbao. Locally, he has also looked at what can be learnt from the land restitution of District 6 and the development of the Sol Plaatjie University. Using Kotter’s transformational theories and the McKinsey 7-step model, he has drawn out proposals for success in transformation projects.

This work has highlighted issues linked to success – stated as 21 propositions – including the need for leadership as well as building an extended network of support, a bold vision and strategy; remaining broadly aware but authentic to the local – not just adopting models from elsewhere; understanding the long-term nature of transformation; being prepared to take a leap of faith; ensuring the availability of necessary skills; the ability to adapt to changes in project context over time; the need for shared responsibility; assuming ‘multiple identities’ and respect for the ‘other’ as stakeholders; and, the importance of consensus and communication.

In discussion, Boshoff emphasised that high-density accommodation is needed to enable opportunities for living and studying for as many people as possible; this through architecture which enriches and encompasses current culture as opposed to slavishly following what exists.

He also spoke more broadly of the role of arts and culture in this initiative.  “Arts and culture can play an important role,” he said. “The project can become a platform for new forms of cultural expression. Lead projects and interim uses are needed, for example, using parts of the site for events. Residents need to see what is available on these properties, like Bergkelder for example, by having events there. This enables public access and enhances the value.”

He also pointed to the potential opportunities that the current crisis could hold. “COVID-19 may motivate the private sector to become involved because upper-end property development could prove less attractive now. Public projects may well lead development in the immediate future. In addition, stronger extended social networks have developed, for example for food dissemination. These could become a platform for deeper, longer-term change initiatives.”

Michelle Galloway: Part-time media officer at STIAS
Photograph: Supplied





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