“Maitland could become the place to be for all African people in Cape Town”
How can ‘Dense City’ become a tool for an inclusive and sustainable Cape Town? Brittany Morris interview Ali Saad, principal architect on the Maitland Station Density Syndicate team.
By Brittany Morris
Imagine a future Cape Town that embraces multi-use and mixed income development on top of, in and around transport stations and hubs.
The ACC and International New Town Institute (INTI) in collaboration with the City of Cape Town Planning Department initiated The Density Syndicate in 2014 to explore innovative urban densification strategies and options for Cape Town that facilitate alternatives of urban development, and addresses pressing urban planning challenges in the city.
Maitland was one of the three selected areas of the Density Syndicate. A diverse mix of industrial, commercial and business activity has emerged along the Voortrekker Road section of Maitland, with an increase in local commerce occurring partly from a recent influx of pan-African immigrants.
Stretching around 15km from Woodstock in Central Cape Town, through Maitland, Goodwood, and Parow to Bellville, the Voortrekker Road corridor serves as a transport and economic hub, connecting Maitland to Cape Town’s Central Business District and Bellville, and includes the Koerberg and Maitland train stations.
The Density Syndicate’s Maitland team project proposal imagines Maitland as a “Pan-Africa Hub”, a mixed neighbourhood that fosters social integration, inclusion and co-existence as an urban model for Cape Town.
“Maitland could become the place to be for all African people in Cape Town”.
This includes business expansion, and temporary usage of available land for public participation and use such as pop-up churches, markets and student housing. The City of Cape Town identifies the corridor as an accelerated planning priority. Maitland’s periphery is enclaved by physical boundaries of highways, rail lines and the Black River. With only a few access points, this makes the area difficult to reach on foot and uninviting for pedestrian traffic and usage.
“The beautiful Maitland town hall with its small park is completely fenced off and forms a barrier between Voortrekker Road and the Maitland station. Mostly deteriorated single-family homes fenced with barbed-wire flank the park. Vast unused and unpleasant surfaces create distance between the station and the park. Street vendors are squeezed on the few sidewalks that remain in between. Despite its potential attractiveness, all this creates an unpleasant and underused space with bad circulation” says Ali Saad, the lead principal architect for the Maitland Train Station and the Voortrekker Road proposal as well as for the urban analysis and the urban design framework for the entire portion of the Density Syndicate’s Maitland proposal.
A park, historic civic hall and informal traders are next to Maitland Station however the quality of the spaces appear disconnected and underutilised due to impeding physical structures such as fences and walls, and the lack of adequate space for informal trading. The Density Syndicate team working on the project for the Maitland Station proposed adding a human scale element to the large spaces in the area –“to turn exclusion to inclusion and thus to positively contribute to the identity and public perception of Maitland” says Saad.
The design team looked at the Maitland train station and the fragmented surrounding area with a vision “to transform the underused and isolated train station into an active urban hub”, and as an area with potential of having a focus on transit-oriented development. By clustering services, creating efficient pedestrian and cycling networks and easily accessible transit, transit-oriented development promotes development, social capital, and better transit services without adding to sprawl. With services in close proximity they also become more accessible to vulnerable groups especially when paired with an effective transit node that serves the area. Areas around transit hubs often see a land value increase in the area and while there are benefits to increased land values it’s important to exercise caution so that gentrification doesn’t make the area exclusive or exploitive to vulnerable populations. Incorporating a transit-oriented housing strategy into the Maitland train station development and in city plans is a potentially promising mechanism for promoting multiple urban policy objectives such as affordable housing, densification, reduced dependence on vehicles and efficient use of space.
The syndicate’s strategy to transform the fragmented public spaces around Maitland Station aimed to replace fragmentation with urban activity using four key measures.
- To remove the fence of the park and to merge it into generous continuous public space for pedestrians and bikers that spans from Voortrekker Road to the station. “This shared public ‘carpet’ should give the street vendors adequate space and restrict car traffic. To replace the single family homes that flank the park by an open urban structure that creates accessibility from all sides of park and station” Saad explains. “It should consist of mixed-use buildings of a higher densities with ground floors that integrate daily uses open to the public (like shops, restaurants, cafés, barbers, workshops, laundries etc.) and with housing on the higher floors.
- To build mixed, high-density buildings on the surfaces next to the rail tracks. These buildings would serve as landmarks to give Maitland Station more visibility and identity. Also they integrate the station with the station square by extending the train platform into the buildings forming open galleries with a view on the station square. The ground floors could host the existing bus station, park and ride facilities, car repair, but also shops.
- On higher levels these buildings could feature offices, hotels and some housing. The top floors could have special programs open to the public, such as sports facilities, restaurants, etc. with impressive views on Table Mountain and the sea.
- A new BRT line on Voortrekker Road that serves the distances in between the train stations between Maitland and Bellville. In the Maitland section it should stop in front of the park. This will create additional movement and activity on the new square.
Adapting city zoning regulations and setting targets to allow for more mixed-use development and affordable housing opportunities around transit hubs allows for more community life, activity and interaction as people live closer, work closer and travel together. “This needs first of all political will to break the vicious circle of achieving security through spatial isolation and to create places that do exactly the opposite: creating safety through activity, by bringing people to the station square and through well designed public spaces that invite them to stay, to identify with them and to appropriate them” comments Saad, referring to the Maitland train station. “Once this is wanted by the authorities it needs a coherent strategy to systematically turn the urban train stations of Cape Town into active hubs with great public spaces and higher densities. This will also need to include changes in current land use policies and building laws around train stations. If this public support is achieved, it ultimately needs ambitious developers and investors who share a vision of a socially integrated, mixed-use development, who dare to innovate local architecture and urban design and who have the will to test new approaches of urban coexistence in Cape Town.”
The densification strategy for Maitland proposes an integrative approach to densification and development planning that can be adopted in other areas in contexts where exclusion and separation persists and low density and urban sprawl govern the urban landscape. Through these practices “The transformation is socially sustainable because it aims to trigger inclusion and co-existence instead of polarization. Furthermore it makes more efficient and integrated use of a space where a large amount of passengers pass day by day” says Saad.
The strategies and suggestions above, amongst others, are a few ways for how Maitland can continue to densify inclusively while providing urban development alternatives that support a sustainable base for the future of Cape Town.
- Cape Town unveils 2032 transport plan
- Density Syndicate Symposium: Live Blog
- Design the City: Western Area of Voortrekker Road Corridor
- Uberbau, NL Architects, African Centre for Cities, Ali Saad, Curtis, C., Renne, J., & Bertolini, L. (Eds.). (2009). Transit Oriented Development: Making it Happen. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.
Special thanks to Ali Saad for contributions.