Cape Town celebrates World Town Planning Day

On 14 November 2013, the City of Cape Town invited delegates to a conference entitled ‘Planning, the critical link in the development process’, to mark World Town Planning Day (celebrated internationally on the 8th of November). This conference, the content and theme of which was organised by members of the African Centre for Cities Mistra Urban Futures Cape Town platform, built on sessions hosted by the City of Cape Town commemorating World Town Planning day in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

The conference, attended by planners in the public and private domains, as well as financiers, developers and academics, sought to bring these different groups into a setting where the overall aims of planning and development were discussed in isolation of a specific project, which is usually the preface for these groups meeting. The conference thus afforded the opportunity to broker a different relationship among these stakeholders, to discuss the roles of planning and development, and how to get these city-making processes to align in more efficient, equitable and sustainable ways.

The proceedings were organised according to the development process, which provided a framework in which to have a discussion about the bigger questions in planning and development. The first session explored the idea or vision of a project. This was followed in the second session by a presentation on how finance is typically raised for development. This session also included a panel discussion with financiers, who discussed what they consider when financing projects, as well as some of the limitations they experience. Following this, the development and construction processes were elaborated on, with a session on marketing and asset management as the final session of the conference.

This conference showed that private developments are the main ‘delivery mechanism’ through which cities are built: where these developments occur fundamentally determines the performance of our cities. It is thus crucial for planners to understand the drivers behind this development process, in order to shape how this occurs in the future. For this reason, it is critical for planners to understand how this development process occurs and what the drivers are behind it. Poor developments create negative externalities that society has to bear.

Through providing a platform for different parties to gain an increased understanding of the planning and development processes and how these are reliant on each other in order to create cities that speak to all parties’ visions, the conference showed that successful developments were underpinned by strong partnerships between all entities involved. It became clear that the City should also become a partner in order to improve the way developments take place. Calls for further engagement between different groups (for example, the financiers and local government) suggest that the conference provided a necessary space to prompt interaction.

Further discussion showed that successful projects were those that responded to pent up demand and those that were able to “get to market”/respond to this demand at the right time (of the cycle). As a result, for development to occur in the right place and in the right form, planners need to lead by “shaping the market”. They should do this by not focussing on land uses but rather on the activities that occur in cities. By creating environments where activities can be successfully undertaken, they will create the demand for space in the particular locations and the development and finance industries will respond accordingly. From a process point of view, planners then need to assist by allowing the development industry to respond to the market created in the timeframes required. In this way, planners can be proactive and normative but in a pragmatic and more effective manner.

Rob McGaffin is a town planner and land economist.  He has worked as town planner with the City of Cape Town and the Gauteng Department of Economic Development and has worked in property finance at several financial institutions. He was the coordinator for the markets theme at the Urban Land Markets Programme for Southern Africa. He currently lectures in the Department of Construction Economics and Management at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and is a Mistra Urban Futures Researcher with the African Centre for Cities.  He is the course director for the Housing Finance Couse for Sub-Saharan Africa run in partnership between UCT, The Centre for Affordable Housing Finance (Finmark Trust) and the Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania).

Saskia Greyling is a human geographer with a master’s degree from the University of Cape Town. Her research interests include housing and citizen encounters with the state. Saskia works for the Mistra Urban Futures programme at the African Centre for Cities, where she is part of a team researching governance and policy for sustainability. 




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