by Simon Lewis


What it took to make the Cape Town CBD great again


Cape Town today enjoys a Central Business District that is attractive to business people, residents, visitors and investors alike, but it took a great deal of hard work (and strong partnerships) to achieve this.

The Cape Town Central City is immensely different from the downtown that it was just a decade and a half ago, when businesses and people left the CBD in droves, leaving the once magnificent city centre to degenerate into an area that had become known for its “crime and grime”.

Since 1999, when a dedicated public/private partnership between the City of Cape Town and property owners resulted in the formation, first, of the Cape Town Partnership and then a year later (2000) of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) as the implementation organisation, the CCID has worked tirelessly with its own partners at the City and law enforcement to turn the situation around and present what can now once again be described as a world-class CBD.

Tasso Evangelinos, the Chief Operating Officer of the CCID recalls that the remarkable turnaround came as a result of being able to curb the flight of businesses from the CBD. “Firstly, we were able to retain our corporates as a foundation on which to rebuild the Central City. This retention encouraged existing businesses to stay and others to return. In time, property developers became willing once again to invest in new developments or reinvest in existing properties by upgrading them.”

During the mid-2000s, the CBD also saw the conversion of a number of underutilised office buildings into sectional title properties, dramatically altering the dynamics of the Central City by introducing a residential population.

“This created a paradigm shift for the area—there were cranes everywhere,” recalls Evangelinos. “Then we had the addition of infrastructure which the City put into place in time for Cape Town to be a host city during the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. There was a worldwide recession going on, but one of our saving graces was the investment and resultant job creation that was occurring in the CBD in preparation for this international event. We had a new stadium, a greatly improved public transport system in terms of the introduction of the MyCiTi bus rapid transit system, new pedestrianised footbridges and walkways, and private businesses came to the party as well, sprucing up their own offerings and appearances.”

This World Cup-driven boost affected visitor numbers significantly within the CBD, both in terms of exposing the Central City to international visitors but reintroducing it to many Capetonians who still perceived Cape Town’s downtown to be less than desirable.

Says Evangelinos, “Before 2010, people came to Cape Town and said: ‘Let’s go see the penguins at Simonstown, and the wine farms and Cape Point’, and they would all drive past the CBD on the freeway, without bothering to stop and explore what it had to offer. After 2010, there was a whole change in that attitude, and tourists and other visitors now also include the CBD on their itinerary.”

Along with the return of investor confidence, the growth of a residential population and the increase of visitors to the CBD came a growth in retail and entertainment offerings and with it the Central City’s night-time economy began to take off. More events have also come
“to town”, and there are now annually close to 700 events held each year in the Cape Town CBD. There is also a lot of movement within the film & TV industry, with a number of major movies and international television series now being shot here, along with the commercial shoots that have used the CBD as a backdrop for a number of years.

“In 2010, the CCID’s operations became 24/7. Our business, from a safety and security perspective, has been around-the-clock from day one, but we extended this to night operations management. So as an organisation, we’ve also evolved
dynamically to meet the changing needs of a growing city,” says Evangelinos.

“The residential conversions came on stream, the nightclub economy grew and today we see ourselves winning a number of awards, particularly since 2008. We’ve regularly been recognised for our achievements across a number of fronts by the International Downtown Association, which is a worldwide body that focuses on city or business improvement districts as well as urban regeneration in general. We’ve also received recognition for our work from our partners at the Cape Town City, as well as from the South African Police and members of the public for being the safest CBD in South Africa.

On a macro level, believes Evangelinos, it’s also important for any successful city to offer a world-class public transport system that is safe and reliable 24 hours a day: “Or, at least to start with, an 18-hour system that allows mass transit for a large number of people and that also begins to take your average motor vehicle with one passenger in it out of the equation. People must feel safe while they wait for public transport, and trust that they will not have to wait too long: so public transport must be frequent and you must be able to use it to go anywhere in the city. That to me is the single most important project that will make the Cape Town Central City a truly world-class destination, not only for travelling around the CBD, but to and from it across the metropole.”

Evangelinos believes aesthetics also played a part in the Central City’s revival. “We are in a beautiful place and we mustn’t take that for granted. Our location puts us in close proximity to Table Mountain and the sea, so we are surrounded by natural beauty, but together with our partners at the City we’ve also now created an aesthetically pleasing environment through projects that green the downtown and eliminate unsightly elements such as waste and illegal dumping.”

Evangelinos explains that the CCID is a micro-detail organisation and believes this is where the organisation’s strength lies: “Our partners at the City and SAPS provide the macro or primary services, and then we add additional value in terms of dealing with the micro details of service, as in top-up or complementary services, and even that has evolved over time. When we first started we focussed on urban management, cleaning the streets and getting crime under control—and that’s all we did. Today, our urban management has 25 different services, of which cleaning is just one.”

There are 120 CCTV cameras around the CBD, monitored by the City of Cape Town and the CCID’s 230 Public Safety Officers and eight City Law Enforcement Officers (directly paid for by the CCID) who are law enforcement’s first point of call when any action needs to be taken on the streets of the Central City.

“We are their first respondents on the ground. And as with everything we do, we stick to the basics and have a hands-on approach with attention to detail, keeping it simple, consistent and reliable.”

In the battle against crime, the CCID implemented what is known internationally as the “broken windows theory”, a criminological theory that states that by monitoring and continually maintaining urban environments in a well-ordered condition—dealing with urban problems as soon as they arise—one can stop further vandalism and prevent escalation into more serious crime.

The same theory applied to urban degeneration, and one of the projects initiated by the CCID to assist the City’s own Roads department is the development of two dedicated CCID road maintenance teams.

“These teams have a big four-wheeler trolley that can carry up to 400kg of material. It has bricks, cement, tar, bitumen and stampers on board at all times. The team has been in operation for three years and we have an agreement with the City that we will do all minor or aesthetic defects, while leaving major defects like a big pothole in the middle of the road, to the City’s expert team.

“We also have teams of people who do tree trimming, unblock drains, gardening, graffiti removal, cleaning of public toilets, collecting cigarette butts from the streets as well as emptying the CCID-installed cigarette bins that we have strategically placed around the CBD.”

The CCID also has a hands-on social
development team with field workers who interact with street people. “We used to have a huge problem in the early years in particular with street kids and mothers with babies, but together with our NGO partners we have been able to ensure that these most vulnerable members of our community are provided with alternatives to living on the street. As with all successful downtowns, however, we still have people living on the streets, but we remain in close contact with them to assist wherever we can and to continually work with our partners—again, the NGOs but also the City and Province—to find workable solutions.”

With the CCID celebrating 15 years in 2015, Evangelinos acknowledges it’s been quite a journey: “For our partners as well as our property owners and in fact all our stakeholders, we’ve travelled quite a road together, but we’ve created a Central City of which Capetonians are enormously proud.”With a booming inner-city population now estimated to be close to 6 000 people, property values to date close to R24 billion and set to rise to R27 billion by 2020, the Cape Town Central City is well on its way to being a successful downtown contender in the international arena.

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Issue 29


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