Bellville’s untapped potential
In his recent State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa outlined his dream for South Africa. The address included a raft of suggestions designed to uplift urban centres, including the creation of special economic zones, reviving business parks, building digital hubs and forming village enterprises where small and medium businesses can trade their products. The speech also referenced special packages of financial and institutional measures to boost construction, upgrade infrastructure and build student accommodation. It presented his vision for “the first entirely new city built in the democratic era rises, with skyscrapers, schools, universities, hospitals and factories…a new smart city founded on the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution…”
Warren Hewitt, CEO of the Greater Tygerberg Partnership (GTP) argues that we don’t need to build new cities but to rather build on the strong foundations of our existing cities. Foundations that already have special economic zones in place, where business parks and trading centres are hives of economic activity and urban centres are supported by strong existing infrastructure with fast fibre and with all the facilities for students and residents to thrive.
The role of the secondary city
Cape Town is one of the most visited tourist destinations in South Africa. On its outskirts lies its secondary city, Bellville, a diverse financial, medical and educational urban centre that plays an important role as a highly connected hub at the heart of the metropole. Secondary cities have an important role to play in supporting primary cities.
Like most major urban centres, Cape Town is facing pressure from growing urbanisation, characterised by increasing congestion, rising accommodation costs and limited space for inclusive development. As a key node, given the City of Cape Town’s strategy to bring people closer to their workplaces, Bellville has an important role in supporting Cape Town, by shifting towards a mixed-use centre with well-connected, multi-modal transport linkages and well-established service infrastructure.
“Bellville already has schools, universities, hospitals and factories and more in terms of services, infrastructure and transport connectivity. These assets are already in place, in a crucial location that can serve not only Cape Town, but the entire Cape Town metropole,” says Hewitt.
However, like many urban centres, Bellville has suffered the negative effects of investor capital flight over the last 20 or 30 years. The GTP was created to enable Bellville and the Greater Tygerberg region to fulfil its potential.
Hewitt explains: “The question that drives us is how can we take advantage of what already exists and make it better, more sustainable, more prosperous, for the benefit of everyone? With this base capacity and existing infrastructure, Bellville offers significant development opportunities that are immediately available.
“If we can bookend Bellville and do here what the City has done to build up the Cape Town CBD, we’d be able to achieve huge traction along the entire Voortrekker Road Corridor.”
When the economy is low, opportunity is high
“Bellville is an opportunistic city that is ripe for development,” says Hewitt. “I genuinely believe that there is value to be realised on the streets of the city, not only for property owners already in Bellville, but also developers seeking early opportunities that will deliver value in return.”
The GTP is working with the City to extend the Urban Development Zone along the Voortrekker Road Corridor and devising proposals that would enable the private sector to take advantage of aggressive financial incentives to develop commercial, affordable and student accommodation on, among others, City-owned properties. It’s also creating various other key projects, including the installation of a primary health and eye clinic in the Bellville CBD, in partnership with the Cipla Foundation. This also includes the creation of a business, innovation, skills and entrepreneurial development centre, to entrench Bellville as a melting pot of creativity, innovation and a living lab for testing ideas.
Highlighting development opportunities, Hewitt explains: “The biggest area for value to be had is in the older part of the Bellville CBD, which includes Parow. We’re seeing positive trends in the property market here, with more properties changing hands on a more consistent basis. We’re seeing developers converting existing buildings into student accommodation, and also formulating plans to develop affordable accommodation in concentric centres around transport interchanges.”
The key to this upliftment, explains Hewitt, is partnership. “The GTP is not a developer,” he says. “Our role is to facilitate development opportunities between the public, private and academic sectors. We’re always looking for people to partner with us to mobilise attitudes and, more importantly, to galvanise action in the area.”