dr lisa kane

Lisa Kane A_women_cyclist_Card 32 Girl Cyclist series (Virginia Brights Cigarettes, 1887)(The MET)
When the latest iteration of Cape Town’s Foreshore Precinct scheme was launched with great fanfare it looked like the so -called ‘unfinished’ freeways would get resolved. The Mayor and her staff seemed fully behind the scheme and the idea of inviting in the creativity of the private sector had much promise. It seemed that lessons from previous Foreshore projects had been learnt. 

This proposed scheme had a major low-income housing component and was not intended to overly burden the City’s fiscus.

I looked on with interest both as a Capetonian but also as someone who had studied the scheme for my PhD research. The historical research component of the work had taken me deep into archives across the world. Using the Foreshore case, I was intent on finding answers to more general questions which had troubled me for a long time. 

How, exactly, did large road projects happen? Also, what causes them to stop and in some cases, such as one the Foreshore, to stay stuck in an ‘unfinished’ state?

I drew on theory from Science and Technology Studies for the research and, in particular, the writing of Wiebe Bijker. Bijker theorised that technologies only found stability and closure once sufficient interests had coalesced around a particular idea of what the technology should be. 

In his own work Bijker used the example of early bicycle development and showed how myriad bicycle designs had been in use until the various groups interested in the building of bicycles came to some shared, implicit consensus. In short, a design needs to be ’socially constructed’ and closure reached before it can be materially constructed.

Sitting at the launch of the latest Freeway scheme in 2017 I wondered whether the planned scheme now had that consensus of interests as described by Bijker. Would this latest iteration finally become a stable design and constructed reality? On the surface there was an appearance of unity but even in those halcyon days prior to more recent City crises, there was not a clear City voice on the scheme in the Brief to consultants. Mutterings against it were evident from early on. As time went by professionals weighed in with concerns about transport and development. The exact role and use of low-income housing in that location was questioned. The impact of most of the proposed schemes on the City’s greater waterfront was also a niggling worry.

Despite this it appeared for a long time that the City had sufficient power to overcome the other interests and so to make something happen. As we now know, that appearance was fragile and the scheme has, again, been halted. Less than a week after the announcement there are (understandably) disgruntled voices in the media.

What would it take to get the Foreshore scheme going again? If we take Bijker’s theories seriously then moving the Foreshore developments will take either an authoritarian-type regime or a consensus of the various interest groups in the City (officialdom) and city (citizenry). For now, we hope, authoritarian regimes are not imminent in South Africa and so the scheme would need a strong coalition.

The history of the scheme demonstrates that this is an area of Cape Town that the city care deeply about, n. The corralling of the various interest groups – namely the developers and their various consultants, plus government, citizens and private agencies with a stake in the CBD – would require a maturity of process and a patience with deliberation and consensus building which hasn’t been evident to date.