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For the past ten years, Cape Town has been a reasonably successful city. But we are also part of a rapidly changing world, and to remain successful, the city must look at ways in which it can re-position itself in the global economy. To do that, Capetonians have to be very clear about where we want the city to be in the next 20 years.

What we don't yet have is a shared long-term vision for Cape Town: what sort of city we want in the future, what we want for our children.

The 2010 Soccer World Cup, while important, is just one of many milestones along the way. In itself, it is not the future, it is not the vision - it is actually a short-term action plan to host a particular event, although potentially we will derive some legacy projects from it, such as an improved transport and tourism infrastructure.

Cape Town needs to craft what is commonly known around the world as a City Development Strategy. This is more than a municipal plan; rather, it is an inspirational vision linked to a set of implementable strategies for the municipal area and beyond.

Developing a more robust and creative economic growth strategy is the first of four requirements for Cape Town to become more successful in the medium- to long-term.

As a city-region, we've been doing fairly well in terms of economic growth, but compared to many of our competitors, not nearly well enough. In recent years, there's been a "hollowing out" of the regional economy as a number of firms have relocated to Gauteng to gain a base for expanding into Africa and for interacting with the new booming economies of China, India and Brazil. We've also seen a northward drift of many skilled people - particularly young career professionals wanting to make their mark - from Cape Town to Gauteng.

For too long we've tended to trade on our natural attributes. We think our beautiful location and good quality of life will automatically keep people coming here to do business with us. But that's just no longer good enough.

So part of our vision for the future should be to agree on which sectors of the economy that we want to prioritise, based on where we can sustain our comparative competitive advantage over the next 20 years, and where we can better absorb more people into jobs.

For example, in addition to tourism, construction and the oil and gas industry, future growth could be based on our universities and the expansion of the knowledge economy, our burgeoning creative and cultural industries, and call centres and business process outsourcing. We need to assess all potential growth sectors, based on which are likely to give us a unique long-term foothold in the global economy, where the jobs are going to be, and where we can train up young people in terms of the required skills. Then we need to reposition the city around these sectors and declare ourselves open for business.

An explicit city social inclusion strategy is as important as higher levels of economic growth. Cape Town is still a disparate and divided city - racially, geographically and politically. We need to become more inclusive, more integrated, more reconciled. We need to forge a new common identity. Our City Development Strategy must include explicit strategies and mechanisms through which poor people can gain better access to the urban economy - for example, well-located affordable housing (proximity), better public transport (mobility) and skills (education).

A third area to look at in terms of our vision is environmental sustainability.

All cities have to consider their sustainability in terms of factors such as water and energy resources, waste disposal, pollution and the impact of global warming. These factors will be changing over the next 20 years and we need to rapidly amend our current practices to take account of them.

Many people believe that, with hard work, Cape Town can position itself as one of the top environmentally sustainable cities. But at the moment we're very far from that goal, and we'll have to do a huge amount of work to get there.

A fourth critical issue is good governance. This is a consistent theme in cities around the world that have successfully re-positioned and reinvented themselves.

Good governance requires good leaders - not just party-political leadership, but leaders from all sectors of society, and finding ways for them to commit to working together. Good governance also means that the basic systems are working properly: for example, effective decision-making, dealing with corruption, and being efficient in terms of procurement, tendering and plans approvals. And it goes without saying that if the different government spheres don't work closely together, we won't have a good system of governance.

If we analyse the performance of successful cities around the world over the past 10 to 15 years, several factors stand out.

Once these cities have agreed on their shared vision, they work out that how to implement that vision, usually by identifying a finite number of "change levers". In other words, it's not necessary to have an overly complex or complicated plan - in fact, effective city strategies are usually ones that are easily communicable rather than comprehensive.

For some cities, a change lever may be investment in strategic infrastructure such as an airport or a harbour, while for others it may be investing hugely in their universities and education systems. There are many different possibilities, and we need to find the most appropriate change levers for our particular circumstances.

A second factor making a successful city is being able to plan and have influence beyond administrative boundaries. The modern global economy, in terms of the flow of finance, goods, people and telecommunications, has little respect for traditional administrative and political borders. Smart local and regional governments have to learn to plan beyond their jurisdictions. In Cape Town, having Provincial and City government working together in conjunction with the Winelands, West Coast and Overberg becomes a critical part of developing a regional and not just a city development strategy.

Which change levers will work best for Cape Town is a subject for debate, but one of the first must be to contain urban sprawl, our "Achilles Heel".

Cape Town's main competitors are generally far more efficient in terms of their urban form. We are a city with one of the lowest urban densities in the world and this is simply not sustainable. We can't continue to provide services to the ever expanding margins and move people and goods effectively in such a dispersed area.

And it's not just about containing growth at the urban edge; it's also about actually pushing growth back into the centre. We need appropriate residential densification, particularly along public transport corridors, in order to sustain public transport systems.

We need to build a more compact city that is both more efficient and more equitable, with poorer people located nearer urban employment opportunities. This is the first step towards dealing with poverty, because if people live in the "wrong" place, they have little or no hope of getting out of the poverty trap, even if they have a house and basic services.

It's not easy to build a more compact city, because to do this means intervening in the urban land market by releasing public sector land at below market value, so that more affordable houses can be built in or closer to areas offering economic opportunities. In Cape Town, there are a whole host of well-located sites under public ownership and all of them need to be assessed in terms of creating higher density and mixed income development, reinforced by a fundamentally reorganised and more efficient public transport system.

Another potential change lever for Cape Town is culture.

Many cities all over the world have successfully used culture to drive economic growth, social inclusion and urban regeneration.

We are fortunate to already have more than 800 creative and cultural industries in Cape Town. These contribute to our "cultural fingerprint" - those qualities that make a city unique, and it is difference rather than sameness that will help make us more globally competitive. The creative sector is also important because it is potentially labour absorbent, a priority for the city.

In constructing a City Development Strategy, it's very easy to come up with a "motherhood and apple pie" vision - we all want to be "fast growing, socially inclusive, the greatest city in Africa" - that cliché goes into the Integrated Development Plan of most cities in South Africa every year.

Rather, we need a set of strategies supported by the political leadership regardless of periodic electoral changes and all levels of the private sector, from big corporate businesses to the informal sector.

We need to understand and agree on the four or five projects that are going to take us into the future, to the next generation.

But hard choices will have to be made - and up until now we've fudged on making those choices.

For example, if we say building a more compact city is important, then we've got to be single-minded about it. We've got to change our zoning system and the system of development rights to reward densification and concentration and make development on urban edge unattractive. We have to consciously link our system of land-use management to the strengthening of public transport. It can't be business as usual. We've got to cause waves, actually change things fundamentally.

And to do that, we need a higher level of social consensus. There must be a strong social compact to say this is how we are really going to change things around. This is one of the reasons why a social inclusion strategy is a prerequisite for higher levels of growth. This is why we need a shared city vision, not just a city vision.

An example of where such consensus is lacking is with the state-owned enterprises which haven't been drawn in to the City's vision. These are huge industries that make massive investment decisions concerning, for example, the airport and the port, or electricity supply and telecommunications, which have a fundamental impact on the direction we as a city want to go in. However, these enterprises are currently not part of a common city strategy. For example, Transnet is considering using a huge piece of land in Culemborg for the port expansion and container storage. Does this make sense in terms of the future role of the Central City?

To date we haven't cracked the way in which investment decisions taken by state-owned enterprises and national departments can be made to dovetail with strategies for city development. This is why we need to develop strong local consensus and strong local public and private leadership to be better able to engage with key decision-makers that are usually located elsewhere in the country and operate according to different mandates.

It's encouraging that, currently, there is a lot of enthusiasm for a Cape Town City Development Strategy process, within government and the private sector. Let us all make us of this opportunity.

Andrew Boraine is the Chief Executive of the Cape Town Partnership and Chairperson of the South African Cities Network. He writes in his personal capacity.
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