City Bowl in danger of losing its heritage?

The Bo-Kaap has been placed on a list of areas in danger of losing their heritage and residents have blamed the City of Cape Towns development policy.

As South Africa celebrates Heritage Month, a website that monitors endangered heritage-rich sites in the country, has listed the architecturally significant City Bowl and surrounds as threatened by the City of Cape Town’s densification policy.

Residents have criticised the policy as short-sighted and one that imperils Cape Town’s money-spinning tourism industry.

The Heritage Monitoring Project on the Heritage Portal is running a campaign for South Africa’s top-10 most endangered heritage sites. It encourages residents to nominate and provide information about sites they feel should be on the list. The City Bowl has been nominated for the top-10 list.

The Bo-Kaap is also listed on the site as being “in danger”

The City Bowl Ratepayers’ Association (CIBRA) believes there should be stricter controls for renovations and alterations in heritage areas, which it says the City is not doing enough to protect.

Densification, it argues, is the biggest danger to Cape Town with unsightly tower blocks going up in the city and blocks of flats threatening fine Art-Deco buildings in Vredehoek.

CIBRA chairman Barry Smith, said it was vital to preserve the character of areas like Gardens, Oranjezicht and Vredehoek but densification was threatening “magnificent heritage spots” such as the Lutheran Church in Strand Street and the adjoining warehouse.

“The major concerns are insensitive densification and importance of the character of essentially single dwelling, residential areas,” said Mr Smith.

He said the City would only realise the significance of the area when it was too late. The Heritage Monitoring Portal says: “Modern and multi-storey housing development is destroying a niche destination venue”. It claims the City’s Art Deco facades “bring in a huge number of tourists”.

Patrick Labrosse, vice-chairperson of the CIBRA, said the continued push to build in the city would hurt tourism.

“The future of many guest houses in the City Bowl is being threatened as development affects their old world charm,” he said.

“No one is going to fly 12 000km, sit 12 hours in a plane to see buildings they can see down the road from their own homes.”

Osman Shaboodien, chairperson of the Bo-Kaap Civic and Ratepayers’ Association, encouraged ratepayers’ associations to unite and fight the City’s development by-laws.

“People living in the City Bowl face many of the same challenges. The City’s rates keep on going up while we still want our space. All of a sudden the landscape of the city is changing. Many people, who bought their property, didn’t expect to be living next to a big block of flats.”

The Bo-Kaap was recognised internationally as an area that needed heritage protection, he said.

Johan van der Merwe, the City’s mayoral committee member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, said there had to be a balance between development and heritage.

“Heritage management does not preclude development and optimal use of space and buildings. It allows for preservation, reuse, reimagining and memorialisation as part of a dynamic environment.”

Some parts of the CBD had been granted heritage protection under the Municipal Planning By-law and the City also maintained a “heritage resources inventory in terms of the Heritage Resources Act”.

“In a country and city which faces the challenges of poverty and unemployment but is also capable of harnessing amazing opportunity, the City cannot afford to stagnate and allow entropy to build. Instead of disregarding the urban form to the realm of monuments, the City must act proactively to ensure that development and change are managed in a balanced manner that is sensitive to the city’s heritage context, guided by its Integrated Development Plan and strategies. Effective and successful heritage management always involves prudent change management.”