OPINION | City living: How one model changed the face of Cape Town’s CBD

Thousands of people are now living in Cape Town’s CBD thanks to the city’s Central City Improvement District. It’s a model that Tasso Evangelinos writes he would like to see replicated in other CBDs around the country.


Cape Town’s Central City Improvement District (CCID), the first of its kind to be established in the country, turns 21 this year.

It is a milestone worth celebrating, and a model worth emulating, as it has proven its worth to Cape Town over the past two decades.

Established in 2000 as a non-profit organisation, the CCID is funded by property owners to provide essential top-up safety and cleaning services in the city centre.

Replicating the “Improvement Districts” first introduced in Canada and the USA in the mid-60s, Cape Town’s CCID operates in a 1.6km2 geographic area stretching from Nelson Mandela Boulevard in the north to Buitensingel/ Roeland streets in the south, and from Buitengracht Street in the west, to Canterbury Street and Christiaan Barnard Boulevard in the east.

The CCID was initially managed by the Cape Town Partnership, a collaborative public-private partnership set up to drive the regeneration of Cape Town.

At first, property owners were skeptical about the merits of a model that required additional funding when they were already paying municipal rates for the same services. But 21 years ago, the CBD was a ghost town after hours, and a “crime-and-grime” scenario prevailed.

Low investor confidence

Understandably, investor confidence in downtown Cape Town was at an all-time low. The establishment of an improvement district was the only remaining option to reverse the situation. When the CCID and the CT Partnership parted ways in 2015, the CCID became an independent body.

Thanks to two decades of working hard with our collaborators and partners, we can stand back today and bear witness to a CBD that has rising skyscrapers, safe and clean streets, a myriad successful companies, inner city residents, retailers and award-winning restaurants.

In doing so, we need to acknowledge the courageous strength of our pioneers – including Cape Town Partnership head Andrew Boraine, the late property developer Theodore Yach and many other property owners – who took the leap in 1998 to invest in the CCID.

READ | Increasing demand for Cape Town central city living, report shows

If we didn’t test the model, we would not have had the Cape Town we have today.

Thousands of people now choose to live in the CBD, largely due to the CCID’s success in creating a safe and clean city with a vibrant night-time economy. In 2005, the total value of property in the CBD was just over R6 billion. Two decades later, this valuation is more than R44 billion, a sign of confidence in the city’s future.

Gene Lohrenz is part of the team involved in the launch of the CCID 21 years ago and has since been involved in setting up numerous CIDs in the greater Cape Town area.

As the manager of 11 CIDs including Tygervalley, Salt River, Wynberg – and, since 1 October, Woodstock – Lohrenz says there’s a “golden thread” in the CID model, irrespective of where it is being implemented.

“One of the core concepts of a CID is to secure the economic engines of the CBD or industrial area where it operates. If urban degeneration is left unchecked, it will have a negative knock-on effect on the economy. But if businesses are able to operate in a safe and clean environment, thanks to the presence of a CID, there will be opportunities for growth and employment.”

With all CIDS, success lies in being able to do the basics well and consistently. The effects of our actions are very visible. From removing graffiti to cleaning around 72 tons of litter each month, the work of the CCID is here for all to see.

As Abdul Kerbelker, executive manager of the Claremont CID, explains, the CID model works because it involves a “social contract” to create “a better place for all in partnership with stakeholders, including informal traders, retailers, businesses and property owners”.

World Cup: A game changer

The World Cup was a game changer for the CCID, as the whole world saw people walking the streets of Cape Town. It fast tracked a change in perception and suddenly, the Cape Town CBD was the place to be.

As an indication, more than 100 000 people flocked to the city centre for FIFA’s final draw in December 2009. The city hosted eight matches, and the pedestrian bridges and public artworks put in place are still an asset to the city a decade later.

READ | On the beat with Cape Town’s anti-graffiti squad

We can attribute the CCID’s success over 21 years to five key factors.

The organisation’s ability to adapt and change has kept it relevant. This has been particularly salient over the past few months, as the CCID was able to respond and maintain operations amid a national lockdown brought about by a global pandemic.

The CCID offers solutions to problems and tries new things without fear of failure. There is also the ability to bounce back after a setback – again, a trait that stands the CCID in good stead during challenging times.

And most importantly, the organisation relies on people with a “can-do” attitude, who want to make a difference. Having started with the CCID in 2000 as a precinct manager, before becoming COO and now CEO, I understand the importance of being involved in every aspect of service delivery. It is a sentiment echoed by Rob Kane, who has been CCID for 10 years, and a board member since 2007.

The CCID’s resilience undoubtedly lies in the quality of the people within the organisation. It is not about ‘managing from your desk’, but about being involved.”

Awards

Kane says the four pillars of the CCID’s mandate – namely Safety & Security, Urban Management, Social Development and Communications – have remained unchanged over many years, “however the CCID has retained its relevance”.

As a result, the CCID has been recognised internationally for its outstanding work, receiving numerous awards from the International Downtown Association.

Success is best when it is shared, and we now need to look at how we can tweak this model so that it can be adapted and applied in other areas and business districts where additional cleansing, safety and social services are sorely needed.

The expansion of CIDs across the city, and indeed the country, is needed to enhance quality of life for all South Africans.

I want to see South Africa improve. I want to be able to walk in Hillbrow, or Durban’s city centre, as I can in Cape Town’s CBD.

– Tasso Evangelinos, CEO of the CCID.


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