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Growth vs conservation: the City tries to find the balance

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Growth vs conservation: the City tries to find the balance

by Martin Pollack
29 Nov 2007
City of Cape Town
City of Cape Town

City officials, together with planners, developers and environmentalists, celebrated World Town Planning Day this month by committing to contribute to sustainable change in Cape Town, and make the region a better place for everyone to live in.

Like many other international tourist destinations and economic hubs, Cape Town is growing and developing beyond predictions. Urbanisation, economic growth and development place enormous pressure on the physical environment – not only on natural, cultural and heritage resources but also on aging and inadequate infrastructure, and on services (water, electricity, sewerage and solid waste).

Planners face significant challenges, as the decisions they make today may permanently change the face of the city and the region. Hence the theme of the City’s World Town Planning Day conference: ‘Planning with a Delicate Balance’.

‘As a City, we need to plan future development carefully, to keep that delicate balance between growing our economy and conserving our natural resources,’ says Cllr Marian Nieuwoudt, MAYCO member for Planning and Environment. ‘It is a dilemma that many cities face: concentrate on growth and development with the subsequent risk of permanently damaging their surroundings; or give priority to conservation with the risk of becoming less competitive'.‘Our future depends on the conservation and strengthening of natural resources, but those resources will not be as important if they are not complemented by new options in growth and expansion.’

Delegates to the World Town Planning Day conference discussed issues such as spatial planning, strategic information and GIS, the planning process, environmental and heritage management, biodiversity management, land-use management, the integrated zoning scheme, an overview of recent case law dealing with planning matters, and continuing the delicate balance up to and beyond 2010.

Urban sprawl was a key topic, featuring in many presentations and debates. Piet van Zyl, the City’s Executive Director: Strategy and Planning, said that Cape Town in its current urban form is unsustainable and economically unproductive, and that it undermines spatial, racial and economic integration. ‘A key challenge is to tackle City's urban sprawl through densification,’ he noted, but this will only be successful if the city is seen within its context as ‘a city within a region’, rather than an entity separate from its region.

Keith Smith & Kevin Tabisher of the City’s Knowledge Management department noted, too, that urbanisation is causing growing demand for infrastructure and services, and that planning needs to take cognisance of national and regional context.

‘The city is experiencing severe pressure on water resources, and a crisis is emerging around high waste levels.’ Economic growth is producing waste, and coastal water quality is declining. ‘There has been systemic under-investment in core urban infrastructure (transport / waste / energy), and there is currently insufficient funding and a lack of capacity to address backlogs.’

Delegates discussed key requirements to reverse these trends, which include:
  • The consolidation and protection of natural resources – and improved access to these resources;
  • The establishment of an equitable pattern of access
  • Sustainable and accessible economic opportunities
  • Integrated settlement development path
  • The finalisation of the new citywide spatial development framework and district development plans
In closing, Cllr Nieuwoudt noted that ‘while there are no “magic formulas” for maintaining this balance, there are some strategies that work better than others. The purpose of this conference was to find, and consider, those better strategies, and work together with all stakeholders to implement them.

For copies of the presentations, please visit the City of Cape Town's Website, or go directly to the source.

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