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How will the public space at Cape Town station change? Unpacking the R1 billion development plan




“the Cape Town station forecourt can become a key public space within the Cape Town CBD with a greater civic nature, and use by all”

Cape Town Station will undergo a third major upgrade for R1 billion. The rezoning application and proposed developements are reviewed in terms on the impact on the public realm and the forecourt in particular.

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A few months ago, the rezoning of 35 000 sqm of the forecourt area on the western portion of Cape Town station adjacent to Adderley Street was approved from a transport zone to general business, to develop a 120-room hotel, office and retail complex costing R1 billion. The construction for the first phase is set to be complete for mid-2019 while the leasing agreement of full development site between Prasa and the developers was still under discussion, it was expected that the complex would be leased for a period of 45 years.

Subject to approval by the Mayoral Commitee, the rezoning paves the way for a consortium of three property developers to submit building plans for the development which will provide for over 27 000 sqm of office space, 17 866 sqm of retail area, 175 parking bays, and a 3 000 sqm medium-range business hotel over three levels.

This is the third major upgrade the forecourt will undergo after the R408 million overhaul of the station for the 2010 World Cup, including the Adderley and Strand Street concourses which were completed in 2011, followed by the R126m redevelopment of the Parade Concourse, which was completed last year.

The development is to expected to promote business and economic opportunities within the City’s densification policy. Of concern is the proposed impact on the public space, of the forecourt, both positive and negative. Positive in the sense that more activity, lighting, and density may increase the safety for all commuters, as a positive externality, while negative, being the potential reduction in the space, in the extreme, the privatisation of the public space (or encroachment and control by the commercial developments), be it formal or informal.

We have reviewed the various elements of the rezoning application to unpack the various views presented in the hefty document, and highlight some key points to consider in relation to the proposed development, and its response to the public realm.

Impacts on public space

In the assessment of the proposal by the City of Cape Town (as part of the rezoning application) in the section related to the Impact of the proposal on the surrounding area, the City acknowledges the importance of the public realm in this area, and imposed conditions “to limit the development and reduce its impact on the surrounding area as well as to create a positive public realm”.

For the redevelopment of the Station Forecourt, these conditions contained with the Site Development Plan conditions of approval include :

  • The pedestrian access to the station has to remain optimal.
  • The pedestrian crossing at the corner of Adderley and Strand Street is important to ensure continuous pedestrians linkages and access to the station.
  • New trees and vegetation type must be added without removing any trees
  • The canopy from Adderley into the station (pedestrian-scale roof which provides shade) width shouldn’t change.
  • The SDP also points that a good illumination of the public square matters as well as a good paving and street furniture.

The above is also required as part of a to-be-submitted Detailed Landscaping Plan (LP) for the hard and soft public realm including the public square(s).

Various agencies also included heritage as a key component to be careful of:
“The Station Forecourt is an important heritage site and public space within the city. A large open, public space should be retained adjacent to Adderley and Strand Streets in some shape or form, in the forecourt precinct as part of the existing open space network across central Cape Town.”

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JONO Trust planners (acting on behalf on PRASA), in their rezoning application (Annexure F), broadly agree with the conditions above, and see the Station Forecourt as “a key open space in the City that must accommodate a range of civic and pedestrian uses”.

Their application includes reference to the re-design of the forecourt, which notes that it will be achieved:

  • in a manner that allows and supports active edges that front onto the square
  • so that new concession areas related to retail functions edging the square do not interfere with the pedestrian and evacuation functions of the square.
  • by establishing a civic-scale canopy that defines the Adderley Street-Strand Street corner
  • by removing the existing covered walkway in order to redefine the extent of the square.

In relation to existing and desired pedestrian flows, the applicant will :

  • Only allow two vehicular access points from Old Marine Drive, enhancing the entrance by creating a designated pedestrian forecourt
  • Retain the pedestrian routes from Riebeek Street and the Adderley Street MyCiTi station across Adderley Street.
  • Retain the existing access points into the station
  • Establish an at-grade pedestrian sidewalk along Adderley and Strand Streets by reducing the width of the existing ramps.
  • Construct a pedestrian crossing at Adderley and Strand Streets with a new signalised at-grade crossing

Furthermore, the forecourt will be reduced but reshaped, keeping the station precinct as a valuable open and public space.

In response to the rezoning application, CIBRA (City Bowl Ratepayers and Residents Association) had an objection related to the precinct, found in the Annexure H. One of the major concerns was that there should not be any intrusion or decrease in the public square. According to CIBRA , “any structure in the forecourt would represent a reduction in the public realm of this very important space”.

As a response, the City noted that the station forecourt space will be reduced in area in the revised proposal, but will have a better quality with more active edges.

The City of Cape Town Environmental Resource Management added that the view of the Table Mountain is significant and has to remain. In response, height datums (by Heritage agencies) have been established in order to protect the view. Another point was raised  about the pedestrian area that should be clearly separated from the vehicular area of the forecourt.

It has also been taken into account that the trees currently in the footprint of the proposed new buildings will be relocated towards the edge of the Adderley Street to strengthen the green link along Adderley Street. (These objections and response from the City can be found in the Annexure H)

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Within the urban design report “Urban Design Principles for Phase 1” by Jakupa Architects and Urban Designers a key informant is that the reconfigured Station Square is landscaped to support varied functions such as concession spaces, markets, concerts and the like.

Two design principles the forecourt identified:

  • A development that acknowledges a network of public streets and open spaces in and around the site
  • Safe, well-used, publicly-accessible open spaces that respect the existing historic natural elements and green landscaping systems on the site

“The forecourt shall function as a pedestrian-only, publicly-accessible space at all times. No vehicles may enter this space other than for emergencies, for maintenance purposes or for specific public events”. – Once again it is emphasised that the Station Forecourt has to be retained as one of the key open spaces in the city of a civic nature.

This statement means that the only buildings permitted in this open space are:

  • pedestrian colonnades and canopies;
  • temporary pavilions;
  • full basements; and
  • a canopy at the Strand-Adderley Street intersection. 

Some concession areas will be permitted, relating to retail function edging the square. It will be controlled and allowed only if they are not obstructing any evacuation route or primary pedestrian route into the station forecourt. It is also recommended that the existing access pavilion into the mall below the road level be integrated into an edge defining, civic-scale canopy.

According to the guidelines, the corner at the intersection of Adderley and Strand Streets has to be remade to support a safe and direct pedestrian access to the forecourt. The use and maintenance of the square must be actively managed to ensure its productivity and longevity as desirable space which complements and supports the active edges front. This is why the existing covered walkway is to be removed to encourage a lively public and pedestrian-friendly space.

According to the information and inputs presented concerning public spaces in the precinct, it can be concluded that while there will be a reduction in the physical area of the public space allocated to the Station Forecourt, the development as a whole has, in principle, made a reasonable effort to improve the potential quality of the overall forecourt.  

Recommendations :

  1. The creation of a public-private-people partnership to ensure that the programming of the spaces attracts a broad audience and enhances the experience of the commuters as well as those working in the precinct. Importantly, the new hotels, offices and the developers should contribute resources to this partnership that supports the values of inclusivity
  2. A creative public participation and engagement process should be launched which can gather the views of commuters, residents, and various public bodies with an interest in this public space.
  3. Oversight provided by an independent urbanism, urban design and architectural group or team, to ensure that the original commitments in the rezoning application are adhered to.

 

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Credits :

  1. Cover Image : dhk architects
  2. All other images extracted from the rezoning application document