Edgar Pieterse (African Centre for Cities) introduced the Episode, situating it within the context of the Syndicate and the city. Episode 3 is fundamentally concerned with questions of economic transformation and jobs. Addressing the spatial economy of Cape Town and the critical challenges related to the skills-labour mismatch, this Episode seeks to reflect on the key economic challenges and opportunities of the city.

Episode 3 is the last session in the set-up phase of the Integration Syndicate. Together with the previous two sessions, it has sought to create a safe space for critical discussion and equip the participants for a ‘first cut’ at the development of a framework. This framework will continue to be developed in place-based inquiries in the later Episodes. As Pieterse pointed out, the Episodes aim to be propositional, igniting possibilities for change.

While introducing the Episode, Pieterse summarised the City of Cape Town’s current framing of the economic challenge of development. This framing, has been given life and weight by the new Transit Oriented Development Strategy, The core argument is that the (fiscal) sustainability of the city is jeopardised by the spatial form of the city. In particular, the concentration of jobs in high-income areas and the concentration of people in low-income areas (called ‘the majority city’) have created unbearable burdens on the state, particularly on the transport system. The solution is a TOD-approach where urban investment (in housing, job production, transportation etc.) works to facilitate urban movement. Pieterse asked ‘is this narrative sufficient?’

Exercise 1 | Public Infrastructure Activation Document

In an effort to promote propositionality, the Episode began with small group discussions on a specific proposal developed for the draft Western Cape Government Human Settlement Framework contribution: Public Infrastructure Activation by GAPP Architects and Urban Designers, a Cape Town consultancy.

The proposal articulated the potential inherent in school sites in the Western Cape. The apartheid design of schools provided large fields for sports and playgrounds. These large premises, coupled with pervasive vandalism, have drained schools’ budgets. When the money runs out, students and teachers bear the brunt of this challenge.

What is the possibility of providing perimeter housing along the edge of school grounds? Could this sort of intervention increase safety, decrease the costs of security, and provide affordable opportunities to those working at or attending these schools? What would be the appropriate institutional arrangements to drive such a project/programme?

These were some of the questions discussed by the groups, generating very mixed responses, both on the conceptualisation of the idea and its potential implementation.  Themes arising from the group discussions included:

Conceptual questions:

  • Participation and aspiration: there was concern that the approach seemed top-down and did not take into account the complexity of communities and community aspirations. One person said: “We need to consider inclusion and participation. Negotiation and buy-in is a crucial and time-consuming process. We need to adopt an appreciate inquiry mode. Accept that people have aspirations and are doing things and tap into these”.
  • Diversity and complexity: Many people noted that the diagrammatic representation in the document would need to be amended for different types of schools and communities. A one-size-fits-all approach would not work.
  • Environmental determinism: A number of people considered the approach environmentally deterministic. One person said:

“It is about trying to construct an inclusive environment but that can’t emerge only from the physical intervention”.

Implementation questions:

  • Interests: A number of people noted that innovation is a challenge. It is important to understand what different actors’ values are and the logics which drive their decision-making. Where this kind of intervention is located institutionally also matters. One person said “I think it’s an obvious and important idea, but innovation is nearly impossible within the Department of Education”.
  • Experimentation: Many people pointed to experimentation as a way to challenge the status quo and enable creative and imaginative practice.



Peter Ahmed | City of Cape Town
Ahmed presented high-level spatial and economic data on the City. The presentation, entitled Towards an evidence-led approach to urban management provided a series of compelling diagrams, maps, and graphs which represented the dynamics of the city in various and thought-provoking ways. The first image was one of the most telling displays of Cape Town’s economy; it charted the various sectors of Cape Town’s economy in terms of gross value-add, labour intensity and the growth in output. Simply, Ahmed showed that the sectors showing growth, and those with which Cape Town compares well nationally, are not those with high labour-absorbing capacity, demonstrating one of Cape Town’s fundamental mismatches.

Given the underwhelming economic prospects both locally and nationally, the discourse of the City, Ahmed pointed out, is focused on strategic investment, efficiency, and prioritisation. The City of Cape Town, embracing this call and reflecting on their own mandate and capabilities, has focused its attention on what might be called the ‘urban-land-infrastructure-finance nexus’. In short, the City has sought to use their capacity to invest in infrastructure and shape land and housing markets more strategically. There are a number of ways in which they plan to do this. The agenda outlined by Ahmed focussed on investing where there is opportunity and potential. The newly developed ECAMP platform – comprised of over 70 indicators – is used to ascertain the performance of various areas and opportunity and growth-potential. This becomes the basis for the corralling of public funds into targeted areas.

He explained how places become targeted sites of investment through a quantitative and qualitative understanding of the attributes which businesses of various sorts seek. He underscored the desire of using data to guide investment, based on what will most likely lead to the highest level of returns. Put differently, ECAMP is meant to help the public and private sector to disaggregate the needs and interventions of specific places based on their location potential and market performance.


Thiresh Govender | Urban Works
Govender presented detailed work produced in collaboration with the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation on shebeens (taverns).  The title of his presentation The spatiality of shebeens: Sweet Home Farm, explicitly sought to reframe and nuance the understanding of shebeens within public and policy discourse. Very much in contrast to the first presentation, which focused on city and regional patterns, Govender drilled down to the scale of the neighbourhood and home. Here he argued that these are many different types of shebeens, the categorising of which is informed by the social and spatial functions of the shebeen. These functions have direct consequences for the business models, spatial layouts, and ‘inventory objects’ of the shebeens.

He carefully wove together a story about local place and economy, built on an understanding of the materiality, social relationships, regulatory practices and business logics of the shebeens of Sweet Home Farm.


Caroline Skinner | African Centre for Cities (WIEGO)
Skinner spoke to a series of powerful photos which were placed on the walls of the venue. From sugar to fish, the portraits showed people selling food in the city.  She argued that informal settlements should not be seen as ‘economic dead zones’. These pictures, and much of the supporting research, shows the complex value chains which come to support the rich fabric of informal activities in and beyond informal areas.

The informal economy, she argues, is playing a critical role in the economy at large and in the provision of income opportunities to low-income households. However, the proportions are still low in comparison to other countries and the high levels of unemployed. Skinner suggested that this could be due to barriers to entry, which should be removed to increase the opportunities for income and livelihoods.

We cannot, she argued, depend solely on the formal sector to absorb labour and provide work.



Question | Can we build a new narrative on economic potential and spatial transformation?

The following insights and questions emerged from the groups:

Low income housing within the city: while there has been talk of creating opportunities for low-income families in well-located areas, there has been little action, particularly relating to the Cape Town CBD. However, there have been some opportunities in other, potentially well-located areas. The questions are:

  • Can we put in place systems which allow people to move closer to opportunities (and are we even aware of the different opportunities which exist in the city)?
  • Can we use fiscal and other instruments to attack underutilisation and speculation of well-located urban land?
  • Can we have a more generous (but still progressive) understanding of what ‘well-located’ means in different contexts? (can the spatial data of the city get us some way in understanding this?)

Beyond mega-projects focused on the formal economy: much of the current thinking focusses on the formal economy. These are capital-intensive and large-scale projects. The questions are:

  • Given the need for income generation and livelihoods, can we afford to rely only on the formal economy?
  • In well-located areas, how much more can the formal economy absorb?
  • In the ‘majority city’, why would business go there now when they never have in the past?
  • Where can small and nuanced interventions fit into this narrative (if they can fit at all)?

Mobility at all scales: the concept of mobility relates to the ability to move through urban spaces, to connect places and people. The mobility narrative has been dominated by mobility at the city scale (TOD). This is useful, but insufficient. Moreover, only large-scale private firms can benefit from this mobility narrative. A refined and generous discussion on mobility would need to address:

  • Mobility at the scale of the neighbourhood and local area.
  • Questions of safety, access and connection to spaces and places of importance (social, economic, historical, etc.).
  • A networked and nested economy of opportunities.

The (purchasing) power of the majority: the ‘majority city’ is involved in economic activities such as saving, lending and spending.  When taken together, this adds up to substantial flows of money.

  • How can this be leveraged in non-exploitative ways?
  • How can this contribute to spatial and economic transformation?

Constraints to nuance and innovation: the state inherently struggles with nuance and innovations. If we focus energy on critiquing their inability to design the right strategy or implement new ideas, we may never move the debates ahead.

  • If the state is unable to design bespoke strategies which respond to the unique needs of communities, what can they do to enable others to respond?
  • If the state in unable/unwilling to innovate due to institutional structures/incentive systems, can they create supportive spaces and platforms for others to innovate?

Technology and transformation: technology is creating opportunities to connect spaces, places and people in ways previously never imagined.

  • Are there useful and creative ways to use (affordable) technology to serve the spatial and economic transformation agendas?
  • Can technologies which are being used to entrench and exacerbate the spatial exclusion of the city be appropriated or hijacked?

Finding new data and patterns: decade upon decade we end up reciting the same narratives of the city, based on the same sorts of maps and statistics.  What happens if we map, track, record other information about that is going on in the city.

  • Can ‘mapping other things’ lead us to other pictures of the city and other propositions for transformation?

City instruments and laws: there are a number of instruments which the City have to shape development. These instruments require interrogation. Particular instruments include:

  • Housing subsidies (they do not do what they are designed to do)
  • Regulatory instruments (the bylaws and standards are not pro-poor)

Aspirations: the transformation narrative says little about human and community aspirations.

  • How can policies embrace aspiration (rather than simply need or effective demand?)
  • How can aspirations be built into the conceptualisation of urban transformation?