Cape Town CBD turns around

On Thursdays at lunchtime, office workers can be seen migrating to St George's Mall in Cape Town to browse around the Earth Fair Food Market.

They join many other people – parliamentary staff, government officials, students, tourists and inner-city residents – indulging themselves in everything from home-made ice cream to dim sum.

Given the picture of declining investment and decay in the inner city, identified by Rob Kane, chairperson of the Central City Improvement District, this scene would have been unlikely just 10 years ago.

The organisation was formed in 2000 under the auspices of the Cape Town Partnership to revive a depressed inner-city economy that was resulting in property values plummeting, rising crime and a steady deterioration of Cape Town's central business district (CBD).

The partnership is public-private, involving the city, the South African Property Owners' Association, and the local chamber of commerce and industry. Half the city's output is generated by small business, so the threat of crime in public spaces that attracted customers and trade was bad news.

But things are looking up. The organisation released its first report on the state of Cape Town's central city last week, which included the findings of an independent survey of business owners operating in the area. Although there are still challenges, life and work in the city centre have improved.

Depressed economy
About 86.3% of those surveyed rated it the safest CBD in the country, and 88.3% as the cleanest in the country. There are 225 security and administrative staff who help to police the 1.6km2 area and crime has dropped by 50% in the past two years, according to the report.

The CBD contributes about 25% of the metro's total gross domestic product, which, according to trade promotion agency Wesgro, was R179-billion in 2010. Investment in the property sector has grown in the past three years and has reached R4.5-billion, according to the report and, in spite of the generally depressed economy, 34% of businesses in the CBD are likely to expand.

The take-up of residential property by those wanting to live closer to where they work or study has also increased. Between 2001 and 2010, the residential population of the inner city is estimated to have increased by 75%, the report states.

But more than 350 000 people still commute to work in the city; mostly by car, followed by rail.

According Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, it is hoped that the roll-out of Cape Town's bus rapid transit system, MyCiTi, will increase the accessibility of the CBD. She said when the report was released that by December 2013 MyCiTi buses would link Khayelitsha, Mitchell's Plain, Macassar and other informal settlements to the central city.

The improvement organisation provides "top-up" services to those provided by local government, notably additional security on inner-city streets and urban management, such as street cleaning, repair and maintenance services, social development, and communications and marketing services.

Retaining business
The organisation is funded by the property owners, who pay a levy, and local government. The organisation's budget last year was R35-million.

Kane said that the survey results showed that its work to attract and retain business was bearing fruit.

"What was really amazing was the high level of the satisfaction from business owners. What it tells me is we really have got the basics right."

About 75% of the city's businesses are classified as small, medium and micro enterprises, and about half of its economic output comes from them, according the city's most recent economic statistics from 2009.

The partnership assisted in Cape Town's successful bid for World Design Capital 2014, and was also aiding the development and promotion of the Fringe, a region east of the CBD, as a hub for design, creative industries and information communication technology, Kane said.

The year-long global design event would be a huge boost for small business, he added.

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Lynley Donnelly
Lynley Donnelly
Lynley is a senior business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. But she has covered everything from social justice to general news to parliament - with the occasional segue into fashion and arts. She keeps coming to work because she loves stories, especially the kind that help people make sense of their world.

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