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It's boom time in Cape Town right now, as the number of foreign tourists visiting the city reaches record levels and houses in desirable locations fetch mind-boggling prices.

A new energy is sweeping through the Mother City as the city centre undergoes a make-over with several new residential developments rising alongside rejuvenated squares and green pedestrianised spaces. There are plans to upgrade Cape Town Station and improve public transport, including an inner city transport system.

The presence of a growing residential population in the city centre is attracting a range of businesses catering to their needs, thus in tandem with the new developments, a crop of trendy bars, coffee shops and restaurants has opened. This growth can only benefit the city, which, until very recently, has been virtually deserted in the evenings and at weekends when shops and other businesses are closed. All this spells good news for the creation of more jobs and the provision of more opportunities for entrepreneurs.

The hosting of the soccer World Cup by South Africa in 2010 holds out an even greater promise of jobs and business opportunities, especially in the construction, tourism and hospitality industries. As the country gears up for the expected increase in visitors in the run-up to 2010, Capetonians across the economic spectrum are hoping for a meaningful share in the expected benefits. Already the first sods have been turned on what will be the R2.68 billion 68,000-seater Green Point stadium which, upon completion, will also include an urban park and a dedicated sports and recreation precinct. As Premier Ebrahim Rasool has put it, the "cheese in the trap" has been set and the city awaits new investment.

The future looks bright indeed and it seems there's never been a better time than the present to be a Capetonian.

But what does the revitalisation of Cape Town really mean for ordinary residents? Already the new residential developments have been criticised for being far too expensive for the average citizen. Certainly the city is being repopulated, but with prices affordable only to the affluent who, moreover, expect their buildings to include on-site parking, swimming pools, gyms and restaurants, these residents will not breathe new life into the city if they remain hermetically sealed into their sanitised high-rise spaces.

Much hope is being pinned on the rebirth of District Six, which has the potential to set the standard for a more socio-economically integrated way of living in the city. However, the redevelopment of this area, which hopes to ultimately resettle former residents, as well as provide thousands of mixed-income and mixed-use housing units, is proceeding at an extremely slow pace.

Squabbling between the City of Cape Town and the District Six Beneficiary Trust last year led to a temporary halt in the redevelopment process, however, the process is now back on track. Hopefully, the availability of affordable housing in District Six, albeit only in the long term, will act as a much needed counterpoint to the steady gentrification of both the inner city and the Bo-Kaap.

But what of the needs of the poor, the unemployed, the homeless?

According to the Western Cape government, Cape Town's housing backlog verges on close to 400,000 units, while housing projects currently underway only total just over 12,000 houses. With the backlog growing each year and the slow delivery of houses, it will take decades before the need for housing in Cape Town is met.

For example, the much vaunted N2 Gateway Project, which promised to deliver 22,000 housing units by June 2006, has to date only completed 705 - many of which are unaffordable to the homeless and unemployed. For the thousands of people who inhabit Cape Town's 240 informal settlements, the dream of living in a proper house appears set to remain just that - a dream.

As to whether the many urban regeneration projects in the city will benefit the poor and the unemployed, this too, is debatable, as many of the jobs created (especially with regard to unskilled and semi-skilled workers) in the construction and hospitality industries are short-term or casual jobs which do not offer job security or decent pay.

The following tale of two markets is instructive as it clearly illustrates the inadequacy of a narrowly focused, commercial approach to revitalisation and underlines the need to adopt a more integrated approach.

The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock is a historic complex which has been restored and refurbished by two enterprising individuals who have launched the Neighbour Goods Market, an extremely successful fresh produce market selling speciality foods, gourmet treats, organic vegetables, cheese and wine sourced from established entrepreneurs based all over the Western Cape. The market, which has received extensive publicity in local magazines for its success in contributing to the revival of a depressed area, attracts a trendy clientele mainly drawn from the city's more affluent suburbs.

In stark contrast to this thriving market, is the Salt River Market a few hundred metres away, on the other side of the Salt River Circle. This neglected and rundown market, which first began as an open air market during the early years of the twentieth century, is now a shadow of its former self. From a high of over thirty fresh produce stalls, it has shrunk to three which nonetheless stock a wide range of goods, including traditional Cape delicacies such as watermelon konfyt and chutney. Sadly, dwindling numbers of customers are attracted to this rather seedy market, with concerns also being expressed about a perceived lack of safety. Notwithstanding, there are hopes for the future of the market, as, in recognition of its historic status, the city has embarked on a project to revitalise it.

It is doubtful, however, that even when the upgrading process has been completed, that the Salt River Market will be able to compete on an equal footing with its more glamorous counterpart up the road, as its revival is inextricably linked with the fate of Salt River's commercial precinct. But decades of unfulfilled promises of upgrading and greening by the city, combined with the loss of community facilities, has resulted in the relentless deterioration of this area (particularly the lower main road) over the past two or three decades. The mere cosmetic upgrading of a single facility will not address this problem of urban decay as the market cannot effectively operate in isolation from its community - its ultimate success is thus dependent upon its integration into a well-functioning, safe and attractive suburb.

The experience of Salt River has been repeated across Greater Cape Town, where a reduction in municipal services and community facilities, together with the steady erosion caused by crime and grime, has contributed to the unrelenting process of urban degradation. As a consequence of this neglect, enormous resources and infrastructure investment by the relevant authorities, in addition to individual enterprise, will be required in order to reverse this process. It is clear that without vigorous intervention by the city, historic community facilities such as the Salt River Market will inevitably succumb to market forces.

In considering the question, what does the revitalisation of the city mean to the ordinary Capetonian, the answer essentially, is that we want the quality of our lives enhanced by being able to live, work and play in a city that functions efficiently and effectively. This is as true for the residents of the inner city, as it is for those in distant townships. A city serious about revitalisation should, therefore, realise the necessity of protecting and promoting the interests and assets of the more vulnerable sections of society, and be far more proactive and dynamic in providing the support and resources needed.

The revitalisation of Cape Town cannot and should not be driven by commercial interests alone, but should be built upon an inclusive, integrated approach.

Indeed, it is vital that, in our determination to build a world class city, we ensure that we do not marginalise those who helped, and are helping to build it, as a revitalised Cape Town should cater for the needs of all who live in it.

Farieda Kahn is an environmentalist and social historian.
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