Change and Continuity in Spatial Planning: Metropolitan Planning in Cape Town under Political Transition

Change and Continuity in Spatial Planning: Metropolitan Planning in Cape Town under Political Transition

Change and Continuity in Spatial Planning: Metropolitan Planning in Cape Town under Political Transition

Change and Continuity in Spatial Planning: Metropolitan Planning in Cape Town under Political Transition

Synopsis

Planners often ask whether planning really brings about significant and positive change. The story of how planners in Cape Town addressed the restructuring of a segregated apartheid city is the subject of this study.

Excerpt

I returned home to South Africa from London in 1980, giving up the struggle between the desire to escape the horrors of apartheid and the desire to contribute in some way towards its demise. These were tumultuous times in Cape Town. Organizations of resistance were beginning to find their feet. Civic groups, squatter movements, trade unions and women's organizations were beginning to meet and campaign openly, and in return were attracting the wrath of the government.

As an urban planner, located within a university research institute, the scope for my involvement was wide. Planning and spatial intervention, at both urban and regional scales, were key tools of the apartheid government in their attempts to manage racial segregation. Access to the city and issues of settlement within it became prime areas of contestation between government and opposition movements. For those planners who aligned themselves with the opposition movement there was work to be done. Civic organizations demanded information: was a proposal to upgrade an informal settlement likely to benefit them, or was it a forced removal in disguise? Was it true that land for new low-income settlement was not available close to work opportunities? Was a move to increase public housing rents really justified, or were fund surpluses being hidden within the municipality? Was a reorganization of local government simply another attempt to legitimize racially defined organs of government and disenfranchisement? Endless meetings with community organizations in back rooms of township houses or in dilapidated community centres formed the night-life of those of us who chose to use our skills in this way.

And so a politics of resistance to particular urban interventions became a central plank of grassroots organizing. There was less concern here, understandably, with the form which an alternative to the apartheid city may take. For most community activists, involved in day-to-day evasion of security police, running street battles, or hastily organized meetings, thoughts of what they might do should they be in a position to control the shape of the city were remote indeed. But for planning academics within the University of Cape Town, removed from the immediate heat of battle but nonetheless deeply concerned about the future of the city, this was a central issue.

Through the late 1970s and the 1980s a position on an alternative city form

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