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Monday Jan 14, 2013

Stellenbosch needs alternative to its 'gated sprawl'

Stellenbosch's condition is as worrying as it is illuminating - it includes main roads clogged with traffic and pollution; clogged sewerage and river systems; an increase in gated, themed and golf estates; spreading "studentification" and developer greed; and a landfill at capacity.

This is according to two Cape-based researchers, Ronnie Donaldson and Jolanda Morkel, who have recently explored the impact of the town's population growth on its urban spaces in their chapter in a new book, Sustainable Stellenbosch - Opening Dialogues, published by SUN PReSS.

Donaldson is an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Stellenbosch University and Morkel is a senior lecturer in the Department of Architectural Technology at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

Stellenbosch's population grew from 30 000 in 1970 to 130 000 in 2010, and this has had a tremendous impact on the town's urban spaces, they say.

"There has been pressure on accommodation for students, for low-income migrants and for the very rich who desire secluded l ifestyle environments."

They identified five processes that are most prominently reshaping urban space: "studentification", gated developments, neo-ruralism, gentrification, and abandoned spaces.

"By 2010, the town's student number had swelled from 1990 by 137 percent to 27 000. Neither the university nor the municipality has kept pace with this influx and alternative urban s ocial s paces have s ubsequently been created. The demise of Die Weides as a suburb is a case in point.

"Clustered student accommodation results in dead urban space that lies uninhabited for more than four months of the year. An emerging sterile and disjointed student urban landscape destroys the historical nature of urban space in the town."

They suggest that the university needs to cap its student numbers and plan properly for better space utilisation. And the municipality needs to rethink and reformulate its attempt to control studentification.

According to the SA Human Rights Commission, gated developments cause social division, dysfunctional cities and lead to the further polarisation of society - a scenario very much evident in Stellenbosch, say Donaldson and Morkel.

They argue that, although Stellenbosch does not have many gated developments yet, the existing ones on the periphery already dramatically scar the rural landscape and transfor m t he rural spaces i nto urban quarters of homogeneity. What is required, they say, is an alternative to gated sprawl - the development of agri-villages, eco-villages and green urbanism. These developments, if properly introduced, can counter the unsustainable and highly segregated golf, polo and other lifestyle estates.

Another trend to be wary of is agriculture losing its central role in the countryside around Stellenbosch due to an increased demand for housing.

"Middle and upper- class urbanites are driving this demand with their quest for an improved lifestyle in exclusive housing units. The result is that the countryside is slowly being transformed into a picture of urbanised rurality," say the two researchers.

Donaldson and Morkel suggest that the Jamestown node is a good illustration of the destruction of a once-authentic historical rural hamlet.

They also highlight that no discussion about sustainability can ignore a town's "abandoned spaces".

"The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu contends that the lack of capital chains one to a place.

"The result is 'abandoned spaces', which refers to urban space for the very poor, the excluded, the never-employed and the permanently unemployed, the homeless and the shelter residents."

Donaldson and Morkel say that the challenges of population growth call for an imaginative review of how authentic spaces with a sense of place are to be conceived and produced over the next 20 years.

"New urbanism projects and smart growth initiatives have demonstrated the possibility of creating healthier, more liveable urban centres.

"The Lynedoch EcoVillage is an example of a socially mixed hamlet built around a school and a crèche for poor people and non-partitioned ecologically designed housing.

"The process of sustainable transformation is ongoing, but needs to be skilfully managed to achieve appropriate urban socio-spatial development.

"Change is necessary, provided that it is appropriate and reinforces, rather than erodes, the local identity and distinctiveness of Stellenbosch."

Visit f or more information and details on the new book.

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