Being both an environmental and a transport corridor, the land parcels that run adjacent to Cape Town’s Black River and the N2 highway, known as the Black River Corridor, have huge potential to create a physical and social connection that will enhance and integrate the spatially fragmented city.

In city design that incorporates integrated transport and land-use planning, transit corridors create a continuous link between metropolitan nodes, defined by a transit passage such as a railway or major road. Modes of transport between the nodes exist in hierarchy from primary transport modes such as trains, buses and taxis to smaller vehicles and non-motorised transport such as bicycles and foot. Ideally, there is only a 500m walkable distance between a person and some form of transport at any one time.

Unfortunately, this walkable distance is not the reality in Cape Town’s sprawling urban metropole. Although the CBD, confined between Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean, forms the core business hub, there are few integrated corridors that knit the rest of the city together. However, in every problem lies opportunity.

Transit Oriented Development (TOD)

The City of Cape Town adopted its Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) strategic framework in March 2016. The framework guides how new developments across Cape Town should address spatial inequality, urbanisation and the high cost of public transport, while also stimulating economic growth. Together with the Western Cape Government, National Treasury and other partners, five strategic TOD projects were identified, including Athlone Power Station, Bellville, the Cape Town CBD Freeway Precinct, Philippi, and Paardevlei, along with the Two Rivers Urban Park (TRUP) and the site of the old Conradie Hospital in Pinelands. Gerhard Gerber, acting TRUP programme manager from the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works, explains: “The vision for TOD for Cape Town is to progressively move toward a compact, well-connected, efficient and resilient urban form and movement system that is conducive to economic and social efficiency and equality, while providing cost-effective access and mobility, with the least possible negative impact on the environment.”

The Black River Corridor

The “Black River Corridor”, although not officially defined as a TOD corridor by the City of Cape Town, is a term coined by the Development Action Group (DAG), an NGO, as part of their Re-imagine Cape Town initiative.

The term helps to see the three sites – Athlone Power Station, TRUP and Mowbray Golf Course – as part of a broader significant urban system. Two of these city-owned parcels of land will be developed as TOD nodes with public and private partners.

Mowbray golf course

DAG’s Black River Corridor initiative started in 2011, as Re-imagine Mowbray, with a focus on Mowbray golf course, which the King David Mowbray Golf Club leases from the city. This well located 5-hectare piece of land forms the central node of the corridor, surrounded by the communities of Pinelands, Oude Molen Village, Hazendal and Mowbray (all very different and separated communities).

The city has no plans as yet to develop the Mowbray golf course, but DAG hopes to ensure adequate policy that protects the urban poor is in place when that time comes.

Two Rivers Urban Park

 Encompassing the convergence of the Black and Liesbeek rivers, the 300ha Two Rivers Urban Park (TRUP) is being developed as a key TOD project in a joint venture between the city, the Western Cape government and the government of The Netherlands in the identification of a Local Area Spatial Development Framework (LSDF). The TRUP study area consists of the precincts Hartleyvale/Malta Park, River Club (privately owned), South African Observatory, Valkenberg East and West, Maitland Garden Village and Ndabeni.

Gerber explains: “The TRUP is a programme of projects and conceptually represents a high-density, large-scale, sustainable, mixed-use development located around a central park with two rivers based upon a ‘live-work-play’ philosophy and TOD approach.”

Currently the Black and Liesbeek rivers are heavily polluted, so part of the development of the TRUP involves rehabilitating the river estuary and existing ecosystems. The privately owned River Club is planning a R4 billion redevelopment of the 15.7ha site for mixed-use, retail, commercial and residential uses, as well as landscaped open space and pedestrian areas. The development will incorporate energy efficiency and innovative uses of sewage and water.

Athlone Power Station

The Athlone Power Station (APS), which was commissioned in 1962, is the oldest standing coal-fired power station in Cape Town. The power station stopped generating power in 2003, and in 2010 its two cooling towers – which had become landmarks on the city skyline – were demolished due to structural defects, and also to make way for future development. Its two 99m-high chimneys still stand, though. The power station is currently being decommissioned and the development of the power station and the greater precinct should have positive regenerating effects on the urban fabric.

The railway line along the Black River Corridor is seen as a primary link between the APS development and the rest of the connecting land parcels, says Councillor Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development at the City of Cape Town. After undertaking a pre-feasibility study, the land surrounding the APS was identified is ideal for a mixed-use urban area suitable for residential, commercial, retail, and light industrial land uses. The development will be based on the TOD principles and take advantage of the potential of a new railway station on- site, as well as three new MyCiTi trunk routes with dedicated bus lanes.

“Affordable housing is a key commitment of each of the City’s five TOD catalytic projects and the redevelopment of the Athlone Power Station precinct will include affordable housing”, says Herron.

Key infrastructure elements that will be retained are the Athlone Regional Waste Transfer Station and a sewerage pumping station. The existing Athlone Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) will also be retained, although odour concerns have led to research into innovative technologies that will enable the WWTW and the APS to continue to exist as neighbours.

The future 

TRUP is currently in Phase 2 of its development (feasibility and planning), which will lead to the creation of a Local Spatial Development Framework to be concluded during the latter part of 2017. The technical planning for APS is underway and is expected to take about two years to obtain planning and environmental approval, subject to potential delays in the decommissioning process. Although Mowbray golf course is only an idea, it represents potential for a future sustainable development. Together, these land parcels along the Black River corridor present enormous opportunity to develop a more dynamic inclusive and sustainable city.

By Mary Anne Constable

See earthworks magazine issue 38 June-July 2017 for the full feature.