FUTURE CAPE TOWN | The future of Woodstock: A review of the Change by Design workshop

“The question is not how to make Woodstock inclusive, it is how to keep it inclusive”


Claire du Trevou reports from the  ‘Change by design’ workshop hosted by Architects Sans Frontiers UK and Development Action Group (DAG), which put the regeneration of Woodstock under the microscope.

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Woodstock,a well-situated suburb of Cape Town, has a long history of social integration. Once a hub of industry, close to the docks, Woodstock remained a ‘grey’ area during the harsh age of evictions following the passing of the Group Area’s Act. Unlike many of it’s neighbours, Woodstock managed to resist brutal evictions and remain an integrated community. Now, 21 years into South Africa’s democracy, as Woodstock undergoes spatial reconstruction, it is experiencing a less explicit form of evictions; under the guise of development.

Spatial agency does not replace architectural as a term or approach, but radically expands it. This approach is not an alternative to the practice of architecture; a ditching of the traditional architectural skills of design and spatial intelligence, but rather, explores how to exploit these skills in diverse ways and contexts, all the while acknowledging the contribution of others. (Awan 2011)

The gradual exodus of industry from Woodstock during the 60’s through the 80’s, coupled with development incentives offered by the municipality, opened Woodstock up as prime real estate for redevelopment. And slowly, as businesses have moved in, property prices have crept up, increasing the number of low-income rental housing residents being displaced.

“Some areas of the city are improving. Some people may call this type of development gentrification. But Woodstock is improving” – City official

Dilapidated row and terrace houses, full of ‘character’, are bought up by the block and either demolished to make way for new mega-developments or are renovated and rezoned for business.

“In spite of gradual changes, the majority of the creative spaces in Woodstock are still located in enclosed block developments, where physical access is controlled and private security firms are operating, clearly demarcating the frontier between desirable, protected creative enclave and the surrounding area as a dangerous ‘outside’.” (Wenz 2012)

As such development in the area has had an adverse splintering effect on both the urban spatial quality, as well as on the socio-spatial qualities of Woodstock. Residential streets are interrupted by businesses, developments have a distinct boundary and small, controllable access point and slowly, common public spaces are being encroached upon for parking and private use.

So, can evolving collaborative processes change the current development trajectory of Woodstock and lead to inclusive regeneration? A group of architects, urban and development planners tend to think so. Architects Sans Frontiers UK (ASF-UK) coordinate a 2 week intensive workshop every 2 years, entitled ‘Change by Design’ (CbD). The aim being to bring together an international team of multi-skilled members to research, collaborate with communities, and suggest solutions for how communities can go forward.

“The social and legal legitimacy of activities change with gentrification. Drumming on the street corner becomes ‘loitering’. Sitting on the stoop observing street life becomes ‘loitering’. Regeneration and policing are closely linked.” – Cape Town local interviewed by CbD


Participant describing her ideal home: “Every home needs a flushing toilet so that the children do not get sick, so that they can go to school and learn. I need my own bathroom so I can bath and not have my children there when I am in the bath.”

The ASF-UK Change by Design programme unites a series of international workshops exploring participatory design as a tool for advocacy and socio-spatial transformation in marginalised urban areas, in collaboration with grassroots organisations, local NGOs and governmental agencies involved in informal settlements upgrading, housing rights and citizen participation.

This methodology has developed from ASF-UK’s workshops in Brazil (2009 and 2010), Kenya (2011), Ecuador (2013) and the UK (2014).

Partnering with a local NGO already active in Woodstock; Development Action Group (DAG), the aim of the workshop was not to provide a single, concrete answer, but rather to bring to light the multiplicity of solutions catering for a wide spectrum of community members’ varying needs. This means that a large portion of the workshop was spent mapping, researching and interacting with the public to uncover unheard stories, in order to try and understand the context from a bottom up perspective. These narratives are subsequently woven into a series of possible suggestions for a way forward.

Recognising the individual stories of a community


The board littered with new ideas stemming from the findings

The group was broken up into 4 smaller groups – each with a focus area; dwelling, community, city and policy. The intention of each group was to uncover, using a range of participatory tools, the pressures at each scale and the resultant affect on the complex urban-scape of Woodstock.

The methodology saw participants actively engaging with various residents and stakeholders in Woodstock – from temporary park users, long time property owners, vulnerable property renters to business owners and city officials. Stories were collected and collated, and fed back into new interviews and various interactive activities.

The success of such a methodology lies in its allowance for intimate engagement. Large groups are not gathered and talked at, but rather individuals are talked with, allowing people to tell their story, share their irritations, hopes and dreams with members of the CbD team. This recognition of the individual was found to be what is currently missing from current development practices in the area.

An example of such intimate engagement is the activity of designing one’s ‘ideal’ home, developed by the dwelling group. After 5 days of visiting residents at their homes, with a particular focus on contested sites where eviction is imminent, community members were invited back to the DAG offices to participate in the activity. The game’s intention was not to create architectural master pieces, but rather to unpack the layering of spaces and hierarchy of desires to fully understand what is most important in a home. Participants were given a choice of 3 block sizes to choose for each space in the house. Some built double storeys, some included large private gardens, some had multiple bathrooms, while one gentlemen insisted on recreating his existing house; explaining how his home is his ideal house. A common thread being the importance of ownership and security. The activity and others like it used by the other groups, allowed individuals, from different circumstances to come together, give form to a deep and intimate dream, and then share it, thus realising common needs and desires.


Participants bring together their ideal homes to create a neighbourhood and discuss common desires and needs expressed in the building exercise.

It can be said that throughout the workshop there was not enough inter-scalar interaction between groups. The project findings could have been greatly strengthened by a better understanding of how the effects say of a particular policy were being felt on the ground by the economically marginalised residents of Woodstock – if they were feeling them at all, had they been notified or given an opportunity to discuss their view. During a reflection session at the end of the workshop, one CbD member noted how the groups had become a scaled down imitation of the reality.

Here we were critiquing the lack of interaction the government has with evictees, but merely replicating that lack of communication within the workshop.CbD Participant

The final day of the workshop did much to rectify that, in creating a game which bought together all of the groups’ findings into an interactive game aimed at imagining inclusive regeneration in Woodstock. The original groups were split up and participants from all scales were invited back to the DAG Cafe to participate. This saw city officials in the same group as human rights lawyers, displaced residents and local stakeholders. The intention of the task was for participants to formulate a set of short, medium and long term actions, that could be taken forward by DAG, to enable the inclusive regeneration of Woodstock.

The question is not how to make Woodstock inclusive, it is how to keep it inclusive – NGO employee


The final game set up. Maps of Woodstock were overplayed with facts, statistics and personal stories collected during the workshop

Participants were asked to note down what they thought inclusive regeneration meant and how it could be achieved in the context of Woodstock. From this it was established that ‘inclusive regeneration’ means there should be integration and affordability, and that integration needs to integrate the people who are already there.

The majority of the ideas shared for how this could be achieved were practical, small scale and achievable; such as provide a local creche, give citizens access to free legal advice, and create platforms for full community engagement.


Ideas for inclusive regeneration written on posits and pinned up on a washing line – remaining present throughout the discussions.

Presentation and Discussion of Findings

Despite the lack of interaction within the workshop among the scaled groups, the findings of each group contained common threads. The primary 3 being the strength of government-private partnerships and lack of government-public ones; the inability of current housing models to solve the housing issues in Woodstock and finally the lack of a singular body to which low-income renters could belong, who could represent them and mobilise them as a collective in their struggle.

There is the Upper Woodstock Residents’ Association for residents living between the N2 and Main road; there is the Woodstock Improvement District for the safety of major business owners, but there is no one agency for low-income renters. It was suggested that residents needed to rally and stand as a united front, however, in the final collaborative discussion, a human rights lawyer so eloquently stated;

These are people often living day to day, hand to mouth. It seems unreasonable to assume that such vulnerable and fragile individuals will be able to be a strong force against the relentless pursuit of developers.” Human Rights Lawyer interviewed by CbD

So while the residents do need to stand as a united front, more so a platform needs to be created for such and furthermore needs to be effectively advertised and made known amongst them.

“Most people working for the city have never even been to a township” – Local resident interviewed by CbD

Such a platform could also begin to close the perceived gap between government and the public sector. There are currently institutions and organisations stimulating conversations amongst the people and with other actors, from various parts of Woodstock, but it was noted the City of Cape Town is an important actor, and stimulating a conversation at that level is difficult, but remains important on the agenda for change.

An important finding that immersed from discussion between the dwelling and policy groups, is that current renters do not fall into the current income bracket that would qualify them for social housing. Some may be able to apply for Community Rental Units (CRU), however the majority would only qualify for housing subsidies – which would result in them having to move out of Woodstock to a Breaking New Ground site. The housing policy does not cater for this rental particular market and discussions around affordable housing means, is and could be, became well contested in many of the groups.

“You need to take a reality check. Affordable housing on prime inner-city land is not feasible or realistic” – City Official


What needs to be done to bring about Inclusive Regeneration?

The final exercise involved participants suggesting actions that may be taken to ensure inclusive regeneration in Woodstock, appropriate to the findings previously discussed. Many practical suggestions were made, as well as new ideas that aimed to shift current policy paradigms rather than follow existing protocol.


Actions for change recorded and place on the board.

Having completed the series of exercises in four separate groups, all the participants were gathered and invited to share their proposed actions among the collective. Some of the groups presented innovative ideas, which incorporated CbD methodologies in moving forward, while other groups presented more pragmatic schemes in attempts to make best use of current legal frameworks. Again commonalities were seen through all groups and the overarching suggestion going forward was that the findings from the this workshop needed to be recorded, circulated and presented by the community to all 3 tiers of Government, thus turning the existing system and protocol on its head and issuing in an age of change.

And so thus workshop concluded with a number of good intentions and set of very doable actions to ensure Woodstock remains an inclusive neighbourhood and to set a standard for how inclusive regeneration may be carried out in other areas facing similar developmental and market pressures in the future.

But the nagging question remains, how does one really take this forward and can the methodologies used during the workshop to capture individual narratives be brought to scale? Could all this be done without a complete overhaul of policy, government and existing planning frameworks in place?

The DAG NGO, who secured and directed the workshop, have taken the set of actions, along with the workshop research and outcomes and pledged to use this as a foundation for their continued work in Woodstock. It is their vision, stemming from the workshop, to design and eventually build a housing complex that address the rental issues so clearly bought to light by the workshop. In the short term, a community platform for discussion is to be established.


Participant presenting her group’s actions and reflecting on her perceived success of the day and excitement regarding Woodstock’s future.

It is seemingly impossible, but through a more extensive mapping of land use, coupled with spatial narratives as done by the CbD group, a development framework for Woodstock could evolve. One which take cognisance of the local, small scale economies and social networks that allow for the day to day existence of many Woodstock residents. Small scale changes to the current modus operandi can be made; such as having the community present the vision of Woodstock to all 3 tiers of Government.

“There’s simply a lack of political will to meaningfully break up the apartheid city geography” – Housing rights lawyer

Lets hope this changes.

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  1.  Photos: Claire Du Trevou