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August 08, 2012

Cape Town Stadium fits into a bigger puzzle

Rashiq Fataar shares his thoughts on what should be done with the Cape Town Stadium. Photo courtesy Rashiq Fataar

The recent suggestion that Cape Town Stadium be demolished is unconstructive. Understandably, the venue needs to make financial sense, and concerns are warranted. However, financial sense is different from the pursuit of profit.

Cape Town Stadium, as a strategic asset, much like the Cape Town International Convention Centre (which is profitable), enables a government to use the venue to pursue a broader socio-economic agenda while not placing a burden on taxpayers. This agenda may be in the form of a new major events strategy or specifically targeting increased tourist arrivals, domestically and internationally.

Winning formula 

Financial sense of this strategic asset can be achieved with a viable tenant. The winning formula consists of an anchor, such as Western Province Rugby, along with the rationalisation (not merely commercialisation) of its use through the deconstruction of the restrictions placed on the stadium in 2006.

The latter requires a mindset shift, where leaders commit (in policy and in actions) to designing and planning a city which integrates people, rather than paying attention to a small group with narrow interests.

In reaching a point where Cape Town Stadium makes financial sense, it could possibly be supported by the relevant tiers of government, in a similar fashion to other facilities which receive regular funding, but taking into account the scale of the venue.

This still remains just one piece of the bigger puzzle, which was a major design project and challenge, embarked upon by planners, architects, engineers and others, before the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It ensures that on some level, Cape Town Stadium becomes part of the system of our city.

It became a part of the city for all those with access to rail and can reach the central city, and then use either the MyCiTi bus service or the Fan Walk to Cape Town Stadium, safely, efficiently and with a good dose of fun.

A journey from Cape Town Station and everything in between (perhaps with a sidestep lunch to the V&A Waterfront) until one reaches a stadium seat, is as a result of crafting an experience. Cape Town Stadium forms just one part of that, albeit with world-class architecture, magnifying world wonders and enviable energy.

It is a fact easily overlooked, when on a day, it all seems to work. A sold-out Cape Town Stadium, which hosted the Ajax Cape Town and Manchester United football match welcomed Capetonians from across the city. The hosting of the event appeared to be largely unaffected by the English weather the visiting team brought to our shores, along with their short-and long-term investment in our economy.

The Ajax Cape Town vs Manchester United football match is a prime example of a mega event hosted at the Cape Town Stadium. Photo courtesy Rashiq Fataar

The Fan Walk worked as it has before. The public transport service, which included dedicated bus lanes from the Civic Station to the Stadium station worked, with packed buses and a few blockages when leaving the stadium. And for those who used a vehicle to reach the stadium or nearby surrounds; the exit from the city seemed to work too.

This package places the Cape Town Stadium story decades ahead of Newlands Stadium.

Creating synergie

But the bigger puzzle is more demanding.

The Waterfront axis, which comprises, among others, Granger Bay Boulevard, asks us how we will design the uses along this stretch of road, so that it becomes a vibrant connection to the Waterfront. How do we engage with the owners of the V&A Waterfront so that accessibility and the mix of developments create synergies, which benefit users and owners?

The Fan Walk, while a major asset in terms of accessibility, marketing and the reduction of strain on public transport, still needs more innovative thinking to unlock and unpack a niche brand and purpose.

Proposals already include the creation of a Freedom Walk which, with improved signage, will seek to connect various places of historical importance, related to South Africa's history of freedom, to this route which ends at Cape Town Stadium.

At the end of the Fan Walk, construction has also commenced at the Green Point athletics stadium. An upgraded, 5 500-seat venue will raise certain issues. How will Cape Town comfortably and simultaneously host events at both venues on the same day or evening? This will require some consideration.

What also requires some thought is how the Fritz Sonnenberg Road edge of both venues will, and can, be designed to promote a vibrant and active public realm, which has for so long disconnected Cape Town Stadium from public and daily life.

If well designed, a mixed-use ground level, which opens onto this road from both sides, appears to be an obvious and sensible solution.

Opportunities also exist in the future development of the Somerset precinct as part of the Provincial Urban Regeneration project, which could create and introduce a new community within closer proximity to Cape Town Stadium.

How will these developments and the mix of uses, inform the street life of Granger Bay Boulevard, or speak to the rather inactive edges along Portswood Road? Could the introduction of this new precinct, through an innovative model, seek to reduce the costs of operating Cape Town stadium, e.g. requiring developers to make certain improvements, similar to the structure of large projects in cities such as London.

Slotting in the piece

The further evolution of the Green Point Common, (which includes the Green Point Urban Park) which wraps around Cape Town Stadium, could see the inclusion of a tea room and regular markets and events once the zoning restrictions are removed.

Proposals dating back to 2006 also include the potential of drawing an international tennis tournament to Cape Town with the construction of an arena nearby or within this precinct.

How do the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and what does this puzzle achieve? Outside of large events, how does it support public life on a daily basis? It is a design challenge which seems perfectly aligned to the ambitions of Cape Town's status as World Design Capital 2014.

Perhaps what need to be demolished are the walls that constrain the imagination of those who believe that demolition of one part of the puzzle will solve the financial, and other challenges we face as a diverse city with big dreams.

The reality is that there is a big puzzle to consider. One which requires new partnerships and new ways of doing things, to unlock the potential that so many know exists.

It would do Cape Town and her citizens a world of good, if it was allowed to just get on with the building and stitching of the big puzzle, so that some citizens might someday begin to see, and celebrate in, the bigger picture.

Rashiq Fataar is passionate about the future of urban cities, in particular Cape Town, and is the managing director of FutureCapeTown. Follow him on Twitter @RashiqFataar

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