Cape Town: a sustainable city

A spectacular aerial view of Cape Town
and Table Mountain.
(Image: Hein Von Hörsten, SA Tourism)

Phase 2 of the Khayelitsha Kuyasa housing
project, one of the city’s strategies in the
fight against poverty.
(Image: CT urban renewal programme)

Janine Erasmus

Cape Town is on the list of the world’s 10 cities most likely to become a global sustainability centre by 2020. This is according to the Ethisphere Institute, which released its findings on 8 September 2008. The Ethisphere Institute focuses on the research, creation, and sharing of best practices in ethics, compliance, and corporate governance.

Cape Town was the only African city to make the list, which was culled from a shortlist of 20. The other nine cities are Toronto, Hyderabad, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, New York, London, Frankfurt, Curtiba and Melbourne. The cities were chosen because they are all large, cosmopolitan and economically significant centres that are taking the initiative, have a vision for future sustainability, and can provide their citizens with a healthier quality of life.

Many major cities share the trend of planning for the future and responding to the needs of their people by developing sustainability plans. While some of the plans are good and some are not, says the Institute, they all have a target date for the achievement of true sustainability, and for most, this is 2020.

The Institute used a number of criteria to select its final list. Economy and population were taken into consideration, with cities needing at least 600 000 citizens in order to qualify, as it is much more of a challenge for a large city to achieve sustainability.

Cultural activities, universities and international acclaim were also taken into account, to ensure that the cities are significant not only to their countries but to the world. They also needed to have taken the first steps along the path to environmental sustainability so that by 2010 they will indeed be role models for the rest of the world.

The Institute noted that another common feature of its 10 global sustainability centres was the awareness of the importance of city management and business working together for a common cause. This benefits both sides, says the Institute, because the businesses drive their revenue through partnerships, and cities tap the innovation of local resources to improve their quality of life.

“The challenge of achieving the goal of urban sustainability is so large that no single sector, be it business or government, can achieve it alone,” says Nancy Kete, director of the World Resources Institute’s Centre for Sustainable Transport. “That’s why some of the most innovative and effective sustainability initiatives have been realised when government officials, business leaders and NGOs put their heads together and take a cross-sector approach.”

A forward-thinking city

Cape Town, with its population of 2 480 000, was recognised for the plan it implemented in 2004 to address the growing energy needs of the city. The goal is to have 10% of homes using solar power by 2020, as well as have 10% of the city’s energy consumption coming from renewable sources by that time.

Cape Town is already purchasing green power from the newly-launched Darling Wind Farm, which produces electricity from turbines. The city has signed a 20-year purchase agreement with the Darling Independent Power Producer and is selling that clean electricity to consenting consumers – in terms of its purchase agreement the city cannot divert Darling-produced electricity to consumers without their permission. While the Darling-produced power only comprises about 0.2% of the electricity consumed by Cape Town, this figure will rise as renewable capacity grows.

The Institute also mentioned Cape Town’s proposed plan to place solar panels on all buildings in the city centre to help alleviate power usage during peak hours. As one of the cities worst hit by the series of rolling blackouts that gripped South Africa in 2007 and 2008, Cape Town paid dearly in economic terms for long hours without electricity.

The Institute attributed Cape Town’s growth to a current global tourism boom that is spilling over to the city as one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Cape Town is enjoying economic growth that will likely continue through 2020 and beyond, says the Institute, which names the 2010 Fifa World Cup as a major incentive and starting point for development.

While these are the city’s strengths, it has one main weakness and that is poverty, says the Institute, a challenge that still has to be overcome. One of the city’s strategies in the fight against poverty is the Urban Renewal Programme, a government initiative launched in 2001 by President Thabo Mbeki, which sees eight townships around South Africa flagged for intensified development.

In Cape Town these townships are Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plein. Projects under this umbrella include the Khayelitsha CBD which will offer economic opportunities for residents of the area, a rail extension, the development of the Mitchells Plain CBD and transport interchange, and better health, community, sporting and housing facilities in both areas.

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