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How we changed Cape Town’s inner city from a ghost town to a thriving CBD

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Tasso Evangelinos is CEO of Cape Town’s Central City Improvement District (CCID).

Twenty years ago, Cape Town’s CBD was a ghost town after hours. Investor confidence was at an all-time low. The establishment of an improvement district was the only remaining option to reverse the situation. Today the CBD has rising skyscrapers, safe and clean streets, myriad successful companies, inner-city residents, retailers and award-winning restaurants.

Cape Town’s Central City Improvement District (CCID), the first of its kind to be established in the country, turns 20 this year. It is a milestone worth celebrating, and a model worth emulating, as it has proven its worth to Cape Town over the past two decades.   

Established in 2000 as a non-profit organisation, the CCID is funded by property owners to provide essential top-up safety and cleaning services in the city centre. Replicating the “Improvement Districts” first introduced in Canada and the US in the mid-60s, Cape Town’s CCID operates in a 1.6km2 geographic area stretching from Nelson Mandela Boulevard in the north to Buitensingel/Roeland Street in the south, and from Buitengracht Street in the west to Canterbury Street and Christiaan Barnard Boulevard in the east. 

The CCID was initially managed by the Cape Town Partnership, a collaborative public-private partnership set up to drive the regeneration of Cape Town. At first, property owners were sceptical about the merits of a model that required additional funding when they were already paying municipal rates for the same services.

But 20 years ago, the CBD was a ghost town after hours and a “crime-and-grime” scenario prevailed. Understandably, investor confidence in downtown Cape Town was at an all-time low. The establishment of an improvement district was the only remaining option to reverse the situation. When the CCID and the CT Partnership parted ways in 2005, the CCID became an independent body. 

Thanks to two decades of working hard with our collaborators and partners, we can stand back today and bear witness to a CBD that has rising skyscrapers, safe and clean streets, myriad successful companies, inner-city residents, retailers and award-winning restaurants. In doing so, we need to acknowledge the courageous strength of our pioneers – including Cape Town Partnership head Andrew Boraine, the late property developer Theodore Yach and many other property owners – who took the leap in 1998 to invest in the CCID. If we didn’t test the model, we would not have had the Cape Town we have today.

Thousands of people now choose to live in the CBD, largely due to the CCID’s success in creating a safe and clean city with a vibrant night-time economy. In 2005, the total value of property in the CBD was just above R6-billion. Two decades later, this valuation is more than R44-billion, a sign of confidence in the city’s future.  

The CCID has withstood the test of time because it offers a model that empowers property owners and many other stakeholders to take ownership of their urban space. The CCID is about doing the basics well and consistently. The effects of our actions are clearly visible. From removing graffiti to cleaning around 72 tonnes of litter each month, the work of the CCID is here for all to see. As Abdul Kerbelker, executive manager of the Claremont CID, explains, the CID model works because it involves a “social contract” to create “a better place for all in partnership with stakeholders, including informal traders, retailers, businesses and property owners”.

The 2010 Fifa World Cup was a game-changer for the CCID, as the whole world saw people walking the streets of Cape Town. It fast-tracked a change in perception and suddenly, the Cape Town CBD was the place to be. As an indication, more than 100,000 people flocked to the city centre for Fifa’s final draw in December 2009. The city hosted eight matches, and the pedestrian bridges and public artworks put in place are still an asset to the city a decade later.

We can attribute the CCID’s success over 20 years to five key factors. The organisation’s ability to adapt and change has kept it relevant. This has been particularly salient over the past few months, as the CCID was able to respond and maintain operations amid a national lockdown brought about by a global pandemic. The CCID offers solutions to problems and tries new things without fear of failure. There is also the ability to bounce back after a setback — again, a trait that stands the CCID in good stead during challenging times. 

And most importantly, the organisation relies on people with a “can-do” attitude, who want to make a difference. Having started with the CCID in 2000 as a precinct manager, before becoming COO and now CEO, I understand the importance of being involved in every aspect of service delivery. It is a sentiment echoed by CCID chairperson Rob Kane, who has been a board member since 2007:

“The CCID’s resilience undoubtedly lies in the quality of the people within the organisation. It is not about ‘managing from your desk’, but about being involved.”  

Kane says the four pillars of the CCID’s mandate, namely safety and security, urban management, social development and communications, have remained unchanged over many years, “however the CCID has retained its relevance”. As a result, the CCID has been recognised internationally for its outstanding work, receiving numerous awards from the International Downtown Association. 

Success is best when it is shared, and we now need to look at how we can tweak this model so that it can be adapted and applied in other areas and business districts where additional cleansing, safety and social services are sorely needed. The expansion of CIDs across the city, and indeed the country, is needed to enhance the quality of life for all South Africans.

I want to see South Africa improve. I want to be able to walk in Hillbrow, or Durban’s city centre, as I can in Cape Town’s CBD. DM

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  • Some inaccuracies in this opinion piece. The city centre was a hive of activity in the 1990s. Long Street was legendary. And Short and Long Market Streets, Bree Street and many nearby streets were super busy. There were issues around protection rackets but the CCID has not resolved these in the intervening period as the recent spate of killings and assassinations attests

  • Would love to know what the plan is for the masses of homeless people living in squalor in the CBD, especially near the Good Hope Centre in Zonnebloem area, in the parking lots and on either side of Tennant Street?

  • Hello.
    Writer of article is evidently misinformed, ignorant or both. Cape Town in the year 2000 was a significant important cultural moment for many reasons.- Bars and nightclubs such as Rhythm Divine, Lola’s, Joburg and others were where we – that is to say the bright young things of the year 2000- played , debated , ideated and fostered love and belonging. This sense of community, shared space, and cultural identity has largely been erased, mainly because of gentrification, poor urban planning, ignorance, cultural insensitivity and what we now call white and male privilege. Further compounding this is a general inability of property developers to appreciate cultural moments. Urban developers in South Africa, typically property developers, architects and spacial planners, tend to ignore these locations and their history, either because they do not care, understand, or simply because they were not present at the time of the cultural moment. The scene was notable as it comprised many artists, designers, writers, thinkers, cultural commentators and trend-setters, whose work is now considered part of the South African canon.

    Artists and creatives of the y2k Cape Town ‘scene’ include(d), in no particular order, Cameron Platter, Ed Young, David West, Kirsty Bannerman of Coppelia, Julia Rosa Clarke , Emma Coleman, Emma Vivian O’Shaughnessy , Nicky Greenwall, Louise Carver, Ruth Barnes, Rolanda Marais-malherbe , Peter Eastman , Daniel Halter , Nicole Bester , Elmi Badenhorst, ,Matthew Wild, the late Barendt de Wet , Heath Nash, Matthew Hindley , Frances Eberhart , Frances White, Kelly Jane Rosenthal, Ernestine Deane, Haidee Nel, Maya Prass , Andrew Lamprecht , Andrew Putter, Samantha Bulgin, Lucinda Mudge, James Mudge, Michele Matheson, Gregor Jenkin, Kirsty Cockerill, Joy Olivier, Jaco Bouwer, James Webb, Juliet Jenkin, Watkin Tudor Jones, Ricky Aylward, Lesley Aylward, the artist now known as Yolandi Visser, Marcus Wormstorm, Bridget Baker, Nadia Davids, the late Brett Goldin and many more . Each have made significant contributions to the cultural landscape of contemporary South Africa , having being lauded , celebrated, published , both locally and internationally for their work. Many of them are studied by students today, both in high school and tertiary education. Quite a few are in secondary school text books. Furthermore, it is unusual that their names are not known to a writer offering commentary, because their work and artistic identity inform our current understanding of South African cultural identity, not only locally, but globally. In fact, it is unbelievable to me that someone might be so ignorant as to not know who the major cultural creators are and were, simply because some of them are so famous.

    It is curious to me, but ultimately plausible, that someone involved in urban planning and property development is ignorant of arts, culture and meaning. It is disappointing to say the least. I suggest the writer attempt to educate himself further, in order to prevent embarrassment in the future.

  • I would assume that the writer familiarises himself with the CBD of Cape Town. It is NOT safe, especially the high tourist areas.
    What a poorly timed and inaccurate article. Not a great reflection on DM either.