Urbanisation and rapid population growth are common characteristics of developing countries. When these factors are not effectively managed they result in urban sprawl and rising poverty, impacting economic development. South Africa’s experience, exacerbated by the legacy of apartheid, has not been dissimilar.
Apartheid planning policies resulted in the following:
- Large parts of the population were relocated to dormitory townships on the urban edge.
- For the majority of the population, there were long distances between home, work and school.
- The majority of the country had limited access to basic services such as healthcare and education.
- Inadequate public transport and restricted mobility resulted in poorer communities having limited access to economic opportunities in the city.
Early post-apartheid housing programmes were focused on the eradication of housing backlogs. They did not address the ineffective planning and service delivery approaches which perpetuated exclusion and were consequently unable to meet the needs of a growing population.
WHO OWNS THE CITY?
Spatial transformation of our cities is essential to ensure that all people have access to opportunities. This will provide poverty relief and create economically viable cities.
The Integrated Development Plan (IDP), a local government framework, sets out the following principles for sustainable development:
- Densification – compact urban development and maintenance of urban growth boundaries to prevent sprawl
- Transit Oriented Development (TOD) – development along identified economic corridors, mixed-use development and the promotion of alternative transport methods
- The provision of affordable housing with access to basic services and work opportunities
- The inclusion of well-designed, quality public spaces to encourage social interaction and community development.
SUSTAINABILITY IN THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING CONTEXT
Often, in the affordable housing sector there is a tendency to favour economic success over other sustainability principles, which can affect quality of lifestyle and the built environment. On the other hand, focusing on environmental and social sustainability without achieving realistic financial returns renders a project unviable. The aim should therefore be to find a balance between economic, environmental and social factors, which in the long run will create truly sustainable living environments.
Quality of life is informed and transformed by the quality of environment which is experienced on a daily basis. This creates desirability, maintains high tenancy ratios and maximises returns to investors.
BUILDING UTOPIA? THE MUPINE DEVELOPMENT CONCEPT
The Mupine property in Cape Town, owned by Old Mutual Life Assurance Company South Africa, will be developed by Old Mutual Alternative Investments’ Development Impact Funds business unit, which has a specific mandate to invest in affordable housing.
The intention for the project is to create affordable housing opportunities in close proximity to work opportunities and existing transportation infrastructure – in this instance, through the provision of affordable rental accommodation across a range of unit types, unrelated to housing grants or subsidies.
The development has been proposed for the selected site for the following reasons:
- The current use of the site as a golf course is no longer sustainable land use, given the ongoing water crisis as well as the shortage of affordable housing in the city.
- There are limited opportunities for well-located, affordable rental accommodation in Cape Town.
- The property is well located, with access to basic services, transport and work opportunities.
- Affordable housing is the fastest growing sector of the residential property market.
A key tenet of the development is to encourage community living and the formation of a vibrant social network through the creation of a secure, “village” environment. Shared community spaces for recreation and play will be easily accessible via a network of landscaped pedestrian routes. In addition, mixed land use and integration across sectors will provide for socio-cultural diversification.
Economic sustainability can be supported through reduced maintenance costs, effective property management systems and affordable rental/utility costs. The use of quality materials and best practice design methods will enhance the built environment. Environmental sustainability will be reinforced through the use of alternative energy methods, thermally efficient design and sustainable building materials. In addition, reduce, re-use and recycle concepts will be encouraged wherever possible.
The development’s concept also promotes the use of public and non-motorised transport (as per the transit-oriented development or TOD policy) by limiting private vehicle ownership through lower parking bay/ unit ratios. The use of alternative transport methods is supported by the site’s location near major rail and bus routes, as well as the planned provision of safe pedestrian and cycle lanes.
The objective is to build a sustainable community while contributing to a liveable and workable broader city environment.
FROM MUPINE TO PORTLAND
In early 2017, the Mupine project team was invited to attend a sustainable development “incubator” event hosted by the EcoDistricts organisation in Portland, USA. A highlight of the event was development analysis using the EcoDistricts sustainable development tool.
The first step in this process was the identification of potential stresses between the project and the surrounding areas. Mupine is located across from the proposed Conradie housing development, and together these two developments could increase the local area population by up to 10 000 people. With traffic congestion a major concern, ensuring TOD success is vital. However current conditions of the public transport system do not encourage their use. In addition, the public areas around the proposed residential developments are not conducive to cycling or walking.
Despite these challenges, residents and workers in the area need to be able to move freely from place to place in a safe environment. During the EcoDistricts incubator process it became obvious that a shared approach is essential to finding workable solutions for the regeneration of the area. This requires engagement by all relevant stakeholders, including the development team, Old Mutual, the rail authority as well as Local and Provincial Government.
To be sustainable, development can no longer occur in silos. An inclusive and a collaborative approach is required for the creation of a mutually beneficial solution for the entire precinct. The project team has committed to pursuing this route as development planning continues, and the Mupine development is envisaged as a pilot project to demonstrate our commitment to sustainable development.
A COMPETITIVE FEATURE
Sustainability is an increasingly important criterion for investors, including in the residential property market. A successfully implemented sustainability strategy impacts a company’s reputation and brand image – demonstrating accountability and purpose linked to the greater good. Conversely, the lack of a sustainability approach could result in losing market share to competitors. In today’s market, an integrated sustainability strategy has become crucial not only for the company’s reputation and competitive edge, but ultimately for its economic success.