What we can learn from tomatoes


I’ve just returned to the office after two months away. Having been at the Cape Town Partnership for thirteen years, I am very grateful to my board for granting me this extended period to revive my energy and focus. I hope you also had a restful festive season and that you’ve entered 2017 feeling rejuvenated.

During my time at the Partnership, I’ve seen the institution adapt to changing circumstances while striving to remain relevant to Cape Town and its citizens. When one considers the buoyant and vibrant Cape Town CBD of today, it’s hard to imagine that 18 years ago, when the Partnership was first established, that this area was experiencing a mass exodus of businesses, property owners, tenants and individuals enjoying the city.

While our initial efforts focused on urban management, cleaning up crime and grime, we later focused on attracting investment. Within 10 years, the decline had been reversed and the CBD economy boomed, a boom which continues. However, we realised that we could not prioritise investment over people, and therefore we adopted a “people-first” strategy.

Given our expertise in public space management and activation, over the years, we’ve combined this ethos of “people-first” into an overarching placemaking strategy, which entails creating and maintaining public spaces that in addition to being clean and safe, are welcoming. Our aim is for everyone to feel at home in Cape Town since our geographic mandate has been expanded to encompass the entire metropole – and parts of Stellenbosch. I am therefore very excited to see that the City of Cape Town will be combining the key functions of transport and urban planning into one department, which I believe will lead to greater efficiencies.

Last year, I was invited to Windhoek to consult on an interesting project. When I visited the city in the grip of drought, I marvelled at how ordinary citizens were reacting to this with humour. We always laugh at ourselves, but I admit to wincing once or twice when hearing the jokes people were telling about how they were coping with a lack of water.

Now I’m reminded that Cape Town is a water-scarce area. Capetonians who’ve been griping about water restrictions for the past months will have to accept that more intense measures are on the way – necessarily so. Latest data released by the City of Cape Town shows that dam levels have dropped to 40.4% and that consumption remains higher than targeted.

It is, therefore, no surprise that the City has approved the implementation of Level 3b water restrictions, starting on 1 February. This means that gardens, parks and other open spaces may only be watered on Tuesdays and Saturdays – for an hour before 9am or after 6pm and this with a bucket or watering can. No watering or irrigation will be allowed within 48 hours of rainfall, while cars and boats may not be washed with drinking water.

Water and how we’re saving it has formed the basis of many casual conversations in our office – from those hauling buckets of bathwater to water their plants and others who talk about the new kind of neighbourhood watch that entails ensuring that your neighbours are not watering their gardens with hoses or otherwise wasting water.

During the past two years, I’ve been fighting a losing battle with keeping my garden alive. I’ve planted water-wise plants, given up on most of my vegetable patch (which cannot be watered by my home’s grey water system). Some days I think of giving up entirely, but gardening is one of my joys, so I persevere, finding comfort in small gains.

Tomatoes are the kind of plant you can rely on if you’re after such gains. No matter how little attention I give them, my tomato plants continue to thrive, surprising me with their yields. This was the case when I checked my garden on my return from my holiday earlier this month. Yes, there were fewer than usual, but there they were: green, yellow, red ripening on the vine. In a word, resilient, and that is my wish for 2017: that we may all amaze ourselves with our resilience in a world that is rapidly changing.

And if you’re looking for an escape in Cape Town, may I suggest two great arts festivals taking place in the coming weeks: the International Public Art Festival taking place in Salt River from 10-19 February and the Live Art Festival that will be disrupting spaces across Cape Town from 10-25 February. I’ve always regarded February as the most creative month in Cape Town, and this year promises to be no different!

So, whether you’re currently seeking solace in the ordinary or finding inspiration in the transcendent, I hope this year will continue offering opportunities for new shoots to grow.

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