We’re an organisation that brings people together around common goals for Cape Town’s transformation. We’re connectors, facilitators and translators, working to help people find a common language and a shared set of priorities specific to projects that can make a positive impact in people’s lives.
We do this kind of work across an incredible diversity of projects. Most of it is in the Table Bay district – our mandated area, that stretches from Camps Bay to the Foreshore, the east city to Observatory, Salt River to Langa – and we try, as far as possible, to do work that can have a much wider impact across the metropole.
The work of the Cape Town Partnership, since its beginning as a non-profit organisation in 1999 (founded, at the time, by the City of Cape Town, the South African Property Owners Association and the Cape Town Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry) has been about helping make the city work. And yet this work – what we do, where we do it and who we do it with – has transformed over the years. In 17 years of existence, we’ve had to make our own path, not only through the city, but also in our understanding of what a city is and what makes it work. Here’s the short version of this journey of transformation.
- 1999-2008: Cities are for business
When we were founded in 1999, it was in response to the state of Cape Town’s central business district. The area was in crisis: businesses were moving out (or threatening to) and the streets weren’t safe. At the time, the way we thought about cities was very much as economic engines, places driven by investment. Together with our core partners, the Central City Improvement District, we were single-minded in ensuring the city centre was clean and safe so that it was attractive to business. We spent a lot of time acting as a translator between the public and private sector (specifically property developers and owners), working to ensure business stayed in the central business district. Within a decade, Cape Town’s downtown area had undergone a total turnaround, becoming one of the cleanest and safest in the country, and business was booming.
- 2008-2012: Cities are for people
Nearly ten years later, in 2008, we began collaborating with the City of Cape Town on a shared ten-year vision and workable plan for the turnaround of Cape Town’s broader central city – the area from Salt River to Green Point, the mountain to the sea. The process of defining the Central City Development Strategy forced us to look at more than just business and urban management, and think of the role that events, the knowledge and creative economy, and popular history and memory could play in the area’s development. Over this time, we came to see the city as an interconnected system – of transport, infrastructure, business, services – of which people were the users. The goal was to make the space more user-friendly. With the 2010 World Cup, we were able to fast-track a number of urban developments: Public spaces were upgraded, public transport rollout was fast-tracked, pedestrian corridors were created. The city became more user-friendly seemingly overnight, thanks to urban design. On the back of that experience, we started driving Cape Town’s successful World Design Capital bid.
- 2012-2018: People make places
At the Cape Town Partnership, we’re an excitable group of people with a future-forward, positive approach. But there have been unintended consequences to our exuberance and the rate of our success. We never saw ourselves as agents of gentrification, or thought of development as a tool for displacement. And yet that is how our work has been seen, and criticised, in some quarters. Looking back, part of our learning has been not to get so caught up in things – in urban upgrades, cycle lanes, cranes on the skyline, the idea of design, pursuit of titles like “world-class city” – that you forget about people. In trying to pave a road to our future, at times we lost sight of our past: parts of Cape Town might’ve transformed in the last few years. But others are still living out apartheid-era realities of a life divided and disconnected. Thinking of a city as an economic engine or an interconnected system had us thinking of people more as users or consumers of a city than creators of it. Today, we’ve come to think of cities as places of “concentrated humanity”, networks of human connections, places created and sustained by people. That’s why, for the next five years of the Cape Town Partnership and the remaining term of the Central City Development Strategy, our focus is on putting people first; on participation and people-based placemaking, not destination marketing. On dialogue and debate, not one-way conversation. At the heart of a city is people. And for it to work, its people, our people, have to work together.
Where we’re going
The vision that keep us going is of a place and a people no longer defined by apartheid divides. We believe that Cape Town is capable of becoming a truly liveable African city that’s true to its people and where they come from, but can also create new spaces, communities and patterns of behaviour that will serve future generations. We don’t know exactly what this city looks like – urbanisation is changing cities and human settlements all over the world at unprecedented rates, and no one knows for sure what the future holds.
What we do have to guide us is a ten-year strategy for the central city’s development and transformation – which is more like a very good compass than a map to the future – and the conviction that Cape Town’s people, working together for the common good, will find the solutions that can serve this generation, as well as the next. After all, the work of transforming a city, and ensuring it works for everyone, is never done. Like the horizon line, the closer you get to it, the further it moves away.
We’ve been trying to make what we stand for as simple as possible for those who would like to join us on our journey. That’s why we created a manifesto – in words and in images.
Some say cities are the future
We say people are the future
This is our home
This is our hope
This is our chance
Believing there is more that connects us than divides us
Speaking the language of hope
Working together for the common good
Building from the ground up
Sharing the spaces in between
We can plant our tomorrows
Shape our future
We can make our city
warm, open, welcoming, rich in opportunities for all
a city with a past
a people with a future