A rendering of the planned Transit Oriented Development (TOD) project in Philippi, Cape Town.
Transport nodes and networks are set to be the single biggest intervention influencing urban development in South Africa in the coming years. How the public and private sector respond to challenges related to urban transport and development is vital, especially in a nation like South Africa with fragmented and unequal cities. The City of Cape Town (CoCT) has recently seen a significant restructuring driven by an agenda set by a new notion of urbanism: transit oriented development (TOD). This is accompanied by significant investment into redevelopment projects across the City. The concept of TOD has the potential to offer a number of solutions to current urban issues in South African cities. However, these concepts need to be grounded in realities of market forces and development drivers. Many ambitious transport projects across the country have been problematic in their implementation as they have not been conceptualised with an adequate acknowledgement of market influences. In response to this, URERU has prepared some questions directed to the CoCT and the development community.
The concept of TOD is centred around creating vibrant cities of dense, mixed-use urban nodes with high-quality transit networks. TOD communities are pedestrian-oriented and socially inclusive, offering a number of housing solutions for people with various socio-economic backgrounds. Thus, these strategies offer meaningful responses to issues associated with urbanisation, congestion, inequality, pollution, deteriorating quality of urban life, and unequal access to employment opportunities and public services. Nevertheless, these concepts meet significant complexity when applied to a real-life situation, particularly in South Africa where a myriad of social, political, and economic factors influence the shape and form of urban development. Perhaps the most influential factors are the economic requirements needed to support TOD. These projects are too big to be undertaken purely by the public sector and this will not come into fruition without private sector partnerships. Therefore, the conditions need to be right for private sector actors to respond and support TOD. Consequently, market and consumer behaviour together with retailers play a considerable role in determining whether the benefits of a TOD will be realised. While some market features support TOD, other market and socio-economic forces work against it, and efforts to reshape existing land use patterns often meet strong opposition. Moreover, real estate investment is driven by demand for a particular type of space in specific locations by companies and residents. The reality is that the success of a TOD depends greatly on how the retail marketplace, developers, store owners and consumers respond to the imperatives of density and transit accessibility.
Thus, the following questions are posed:
Are these strategies adequately engaging with market trends and drivers of development? Does it take the user requirements of real estate into account?
Typically, TOD projects are conceptualised and designed without acknowledging the large number of dynamic market and socio-economic variables of a successful TOD. Urban planners have been guilty of conceptualising a project on its intended outcome rather than the incremental process (consisting of various actors across a multitude of sectors) involved in the achievement of an outcome. This is exemplified through land-use and transport restructuring required for TOD, which often works against developer, consumer and retailer objectives. Furthermore, this zoning and land-use restructuring takes place without ensuring it effectively supports the transport investment, and these strategies are often propagated without clear proof that investments will produce commensurate public benefits.
To this end, the following questions are:
Does TOD take into account prior investment, economic clustering and inertia? Further to this, is there enough annual investment and development to implement TOD in the timeframe it is required?
The above questions shed light on the complexity of the task at hand. Whilst the potential benefits of TOD are not in doubt, the mechanisms and approaches for its implementation must be well formulated and comprehensive. In addition, the utopian idea that is often associated with TOD concepts needs to be grounded in the contextual realities of South Africa.
Thus, the final question is:
Rather than trying to impose a utopian urban form to pay for a bus-oriented transport system that is expensive to run, should we not be focusing on more achievable solutions with similar urban performance outcomes such as fixing a rail system that is largely in place?
The CoCT recognises the importance of leveraging transport as a catalyst for sustainable and just urban development, and TOD has the potential to deliver this. A key element which appears to be missing is the consideration of market influences and urban economics associated with development in a city. This entails a greater investigation into current trends and forces influencing development not just around transport corridors but across the city as a whole. Therefore, it is argued that a thorough investigation must be undertaken into the financial and economic support these projects must be undertaken before TOD projects are designed and implemented.
Lastly, the view urban planners hold that assumes public sector interventions can create markets resulting in positive responses by developers needs to be re-evaluated. TOD must respond to the markets and the developers, they can never create markets.
City of Cape Town. (2016). City of Cape Town TOD Strategic Framework. Transport for Cape Town, Cape Town.
Nelson, D., & Niles, J. (1999). Market dynamics and nonwork travel patterns: obstacles to transit-oriented development? Transportation Research Board.
Niles, J., & Nelson, D. (1999). Measuring the success of transit-oriented development: retail market dynamics and other key determinants. National Planning Conference. Seattle: American Planning Association.