Why Cape Town is surfing the crest of a wave

In 1990, while I was part of the V&A Waterfront team, I bought an international travel magazine. There was a story on Barcelona’s renaissance after the end of Spain’s dictatorship. With events then starting to unfold in South Africa, I wondered if the same could happen in Cape Town.

Although there have been scores of accolades for the city since democracy in 1994, most of these have been from the city’s traditional markets with limited global awareness. Probably one of the most important accolades came from Parliament itself with this note from the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete: “On 25 October 2007, the National Assembly of South Africa agreed to a motion, noting that Cape Town was ranked the best city out of the country’s 283 municipalities.
The House further noted that the city won this award because of the way in which the municipality dealt with poverty, the level of access to basic services, its economic activity and infrastructure and because its citizens are well qualified.
The House recalled that in July [2006] Cape Town was ranked by USA’s Travel & Leisure magazine as the number one city in Africa and the Middle East and claimed tenth spot in the “best city in the world” category.
The National Assembly congratulates both the city administration and the residents of Cape Town on making it a world class city and a top tourist destination.”

TripAdvisor Traveller's ChoiceCape Town’s international profile received a major boost when, in 1997, it bid for the 2004 Olympics and made it through to the final three cities. Here, and with events like the Argus Cycle Tour, the city has repeatedly demonstrated its capacity and capability.

But it was TripAdvisor’s World’s Best Destination 2011 that almost took everybody by surprise. Was this one of the benefits of hosting the 2010 World Cup? Will it remain in the top 5 or was this a fluke showing? Cape Town’s ranking next year will be an indication.

World Design Capital 2014The latest achievement, and the first since the Olympic Bid to demonstrate a wider footprint that embraces Cape Town’s poorer areas, was making the three-city shortlist out of the 54 entries from 27 countries for World Design Capital 2014. (Read the full story here.) This is also, as far as I know, the first international bid out of South Africa where the Mandela-factor hasn’t been a trump card.

So what are the reasons for Cape Town’s success — accepting that God-given natural beauty isn’t the only reason? What does Cape Town owe its renaissance to? One of the reasons for the V&A Waterfront’s success has always been given as timing – the end of apartheid and SA’s isolation.

Institutional interventions
Timing must again be one of the reasons, but institutional interventions without bureaucratic control must surely be another? It is these institutions that have contributed more to Cape Town’s heritage and vitality than anything else. One of the first, if not the first, is the Cape Town Heritage Trust, established in 1987.

Cape Town Heritage Trust

The Cape Town Heritage Trust is an independent, private-sector, non-profit organisation which conserves the architectural, cultural and natural heritage of Cape Town and environs for the benefit of the inhabitants of the City and of the nation at large. The Trust was established in 1987 by the Cape Town City Council with the backing of the Cape Provincial Administration. A number of buildings in Shortmarket and Hout Streets, originally acquired for road-widening purposes, were donated to the Trust.

CITI

Cape Information Technology Initiative, a non-profit organisation established in 1998, develops & supports the information & communications technology cluster in the Western Cape.

There have been many initiatives — too many to mention here — some driven by local government but most by the private sector with local government support. This is a major reason for the growth and strength of Cape Town’s knowledge economy.

Those agencies that still kowtow to the politicians — like the provincial tourism agency — have never enjoyed the same level of success.

Looking at the reasons for Cape Town’s success, deputy mayor Ian Neilson, quotes Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City?, who lists five required success factors:

  • aesthetics
  • civic leadership
  • safety – physical & economic
  • acceptance of diversity
  • effective legislation

“These factors define the cities that people want to live in,” he says, “and I think Cape Town does fairly well in all respects. We’ve concentrated on creating platforms for effective institutions and enabling effective legislation — to facilitate rather than control.”

Desirable cities and towns always attract the most creative and entrepreneurial people.

There’s little doubt that Helen Zille’s award as World’s Best Mayor in 2008 helps the city’s credibility. In a competition where public comments and votes do count, Capetonians made themselves heard.

Cape Town Partnership

The Cape Town Partnership, launched in 1999, is a collaboration between the public & private sectors working together to develop, promote & manage Cape Town Central City.

Consumer activism

Theodore Yach, who chairs the Cape Town Heritage Trust and is a member of the Central City Improvement District, says consumer activism is one of the reasons for Cape Town’s success. “People have started realising that it’s not just the city administration that needs to take responsibility. There are now about 40 City Improvement Districts (CIDs) around the city, and what’s happening there is a fantastic story. In the CBD alone, there’s been an explosion in value of ten times since 2000! That’s unheard of!”

While the CTP and its CIDs are excellent examples of consumer activism, a much earlier example needs to be mentioned. Gabriel Fagan and the late Victor Holloway conceived the idea for the redevelopment of the V&A Waterfront in 1970s and, after Holloway’s death in 1983, Fagan continued lobbying for this.

Creative Cape Town - Imagine City Hall

Creative Cape Town, a programme of the Cape Town Partnership established in 2006, communicates, supports and facilitates the development of the creative & knowledge economy in the Central City of Cape Town. Imagine City Hall is a citizen activation programme: its aim is to draw support for the development of the Cape Town City Hall as a dedicated cultural venue.

Then a group of waterfront enthusiasts, supported by then-mayor Sol Kreiner, managed to get permission from the port authorities to host the Pierhead Festival in 1985 – the first time widespread public access was allowed to the docks since the Suez Crisis in the 1960s! It was a resounding success and organising committee chair, Harold Gorvy, asked for a meeting with the ministers of transport and tourism to ask for the redevelopment of the area. They agreed and a committee under the chairmanship of Arie Burggraaf was announced the following year, resulting in the formation of the V&A Waterfront company. (I bumped into Hendrik Schoeman, the transport minister who took the decision, at the Waterfront in the mid-1990s just before his suicide. He remarked, sadly, that no-one would remember the roles played by the early lobbyists — consumer activists? — or the breakthrough decision he took to get it all started.)

Victor Holloway must also be credited with saving the Lutheran Church complex at the top of Strand Street. While arts editor of Die Burger, he published a superimposed photo of the area showing the proposed elevated freeway. The proposal was dropped after a public outcry. Cape Town is renown for its vocal citizens.

  • Citizen and consumer activism — taking action and responsibility — is the lifeblood of successful cities and towns.

Character of Capetonians
And then there is the character of Capetonians – more educated, creative, entrepreneurial and lifestyle-focused than citizens of most other cities.

Capetonians take ownership of their city more than one finds elsewhere in South Africa. Mornings and evenings, streets are filled with people walking (with or without dogs), jogging or cycling. That’s a rarity in other metropolitan areas.

Except for the brief period under Nomaindia Mfeketo’s mayoralty, when the city council approached a total meltdown, Cape Town has had strong and effective local government. Equally strong were the media and bodies like the Cape Institute of Architects, which engaged the council rigorously.

When the late Revel Fox (a prominent architect) was elected city councillor after the first democratic local government elections, he became chair of the important Town Planning Committee. Every meeting started an hour earlier for rookie councillors, when Revel took them through the agenda and the implications of the decisions they would be required to make.

Cape Town has grown up. Through recent projects as diverse as the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) and the Cape Town Jazz Festival — and their capable management — it has shown that it competes on a world stage. The city’s hotels, restaurants and airport are all top-ranked in the world. Democracy did open the doors and the new constitution ended the era of conservativism. So, looking back, Cape Town did follow in Barcelona’s footsteps.

But is everything rosy? Not quite. The acclaimed Cape Town Partnership and its CIDs are not a solution for all Capetonians. Their mission still reads “for the central city” although there is now a CID in Athlone’s regional centre — the CID model only works where there is commercial property management who can afford to top up the municipality’s expenditure and efforts. It only works in affluent areas so it’s not a city-wide solution.

(Unfortunately, Andrew Boraine — CTP’s CEO — is as bad at returning phone calls as he’s always been… since his time as city manager, so I couldn’t get his comments on this or on Cape Town’s renaissance.)

And the city’s marketing is still trying to catch up with its mandate. Cape Town Tourism (CTT) has been talking about the Cape Town brand for five years and it’s three years since it was mandated by the City as custodian of Cape Town’s brand. The process has followed a long road of consultation and inclusiveness, rather than inspired and inspiring leadership. If one follows Twitter, the ‘eats’ at the last meeting were outstanding, as was the enthusiasm for something which can only be described as a clone of Pick n Pay’s tagline. (CTT previously appropriated New York City’s famous signature I ♥ NY for its Facebook page, I ♥ Cape Town. As veteran marketing commentator Chris Moerdyk remarked during the preparation of a related story*, anyone who uses NY’s signature phrase will always be regarded as a copycat.)

CTT has announced that its new brand positioning of Inspiration rolls out from July 1 with new creatives, images and productions on the Discovery and National Geographic channels for example. But will this address the domestic market — the mainstay of all tourism?

After extensive research, the national department of tourism has found that they will get far more bang for their buck by growing domestic tourism, and this is where they and all their agencies are focussing their attention.

Cape Town desperately needs to change perceptions nationally that it is not an enclave of white privilege and that it is welcoming to all visitors. Surely the DA needs that too for further gains at the polls.

Related content: Why is Cape Town special?

More on the CID model
Since its establishment in November 2000, the CCID has become an internationally acclaimed model of public-private partnership between property owners and businesses, supported by the City Council. The formation of the CCID was a significant event for Cape Town, because it was the first major city in South Africa to implement a fully constituted, legally bound Improvement District covering the entire core of the Central City. Property owners have contributed more than R150 million to the rejuvenation of the Central City during the past eight years.

A Central Improvement District (CID) is a precisely defined geographical area, approved by the City Council in terms of the Municipal Property Rates Act, Section 22 (Special Rates Area) and the CID bylaw – to provide complementary services in that area.

To address the stated requirements of property owners, 51% of the CCID’s annual budget is spent on security, approximately 22% on cleansing, 3% on social development and 11% on communications and marketing. The remainder of the budget goes towards operational and administrative costs of the CCID.

The CCID offers safety and security, urban management, social development and marketing services.

* The comment was published on CapeInfo along with the most successful destination brands to have come out of the city. I’m trying to find it in the archives which weren’t transferred to the new content management system.

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