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Monday Mar 16, 2015

'Reurbanisation' a growing trend

When late-afternoon commuters converge on the road and rail exits from the central city, resigned to the routine of a tortuous journey back to the suburbs, they are leaving behind them a growing population of families who don't have to drive anywhere to be home in time for supper.

The numbers - compared to the scale of the commute - may seem modest. But, taken against the figures for 2012 and 2013, they represent a trend.

Data in the Central City Improvement District (CCID) The State of Cape Town Central City - 2014, A Year in Review shows the residential population of downtown Cape Town has risen steadily, from 1 570 in 2001 to 5 286 in 2011, and is now estimated to be about 6 000.

And, when examined more closely, CCID researchers said, the detailed profile of Cape Town's steadily expanding downtown set provides confirmation of the success of the city's shift towards a "24/7, live, work, play and stay" environment. This has positive social and economic implications for the wider city, they said.

Far from being the fringe penthouse elite CBD-dwellers may once have been, or were thought to have been, central city residents of today represent a greater cross section of society: about 49.5 percent are black, 28 percent are white, 12.6 percent coloured, and 4 percent Asian and others.

In this, central city living is proving to be an effective agent in breaking the mould of racially separate living inherited from decades of apartheid planning.

About 30 percent of residents are Cape Town locals, 12 percent come from elsewhere in the Western Cape, 44 percent are from elsewhere in South Africa, and the remaining 14 percent are from an international destination.

The highest number of respondents in a survey (50 percent) said they anticipated staying for four years or more. Most of them ( 62 percent) are between 25 and 44, and, significantly, 27 percent of them have children.

Carola Koblitz, the CCID communications manager and co- author, with senior researcher Andrew Fleming, of the 2014 report, said the changing pattern of living in central Cape Town was in line with an international trend of "reurbanisation", people returning to live in city centres for the benefits - including a family life unimpinged on by the delays or lost time of commuting.

"The bottom line is that we have a growing residential population. Also, we found through the residential survey that when we asked people what they wanted, it is clear they are after services and opportunities - ranging from daycare facilities and children-friendly restaurants and other venues after hours, to cinemas and deli-style shops - that speak to the city centre as a place they want to remain living in.

"These things need to be delivered if we want to keep the momentum going. There are huge opportunity gaps," Koblitz said.

"This is in line with the global experience."

An international study cited in the CCID report, The Business of Cities, has tracked the steady return of people to traditional CBDs, with many in big, traffic-clogged cities realising that they can spend more time with their families and have a better quality of life by moving out back into the city.

"And because people are coming back to town," Koblitz said "corporates and employers are starting to look at the traditional CBDs as a 'worker pull'."

What is needed now, the CCID argues, is a bigger focus on "more residential opportunities that speak to more affordable housing".

In fact, there was already a discernible shift in investment patterns, Koblitz noted.

"What you had in 2005 when there was a property boom was that a lot of people were buying up as many speculative units as they could, with the idea of making a killing, and then the bubble burst and a lot lost their shirts. Now you are finding investors coming back and seeing it as a long-term option, buying units to rent out. Estate agents are crying out for units. That's where the investor community is looking - either to invest to rent out, or to invest for long-term options to create a pension, or to create lock-upand-go lifestyle.

"On average, estate agents are finding people holding properties for between five to eight years, and that was unheard of in the past."

At the same time, though, there was "an enormous opportunity" in the CBD in underutilised C and B grade buildings "if we can encourage developers to look at refurbishing them into residential buildings".

A potential fillip to development, she said, was the Sars revised urban development zone incentive.

"What it enables you to do is buy a C-grade office building and refurbish it for commercial or residential, and if you hold on to it for five years, you recoup all the money you have put into it, so, effectively, the only cost is the initial investment.

"These are things we would really love to see developers trying to pick up on."

Not least, Koblitz added, to match the "crying need" for student accommodation in a central city that is home to no fewer than 45 educational institutions catering to about 13 000 students and 1 600 staff.

Creating opportunities for affordable housing was the key, and there was room, she believed, for more incentives, perhaps along the lines of the "inclusionary housing" scheme successfully used by Denver, Colorado, to reinvigorate its central city area.

Examples are, for instance, giving the developer the right to develop a property and sell part as sectional title provided a portion is retained for rental, or ensuring a mix of small, medium and large elements, or building a block of flats but with a creche on the premises.

The essence, she said, was that "if you are going to have a vibrant and true 24/ 7 live, work, play and stay downtown, it has to be inclusive - it has to be as accessible to someone working in a retail environment, serving at a food counter, say, as it is to someone who is a lawyer, otherwise you don't have a true downtown lifestyle".

Encouragingly for Cape Town, Koblitz said, the trend shown in people choosing to live in the central city indicated that the opportunities for a new, vibrant urbanism were growing.

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