Southworth, B. (1). Urban design in action: the City of Cape Town's Dignified Places Programme – implementation of new public spaces towards integration and urban regeneration in South Africa. URBAN DESIGN International, 8(3), 119–133. http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.udi.9000097
Within the International debates about the roles and relevance of planning and architecture, urban design is trying to find its place and clarify its contribution to city making. The products and the practice of urban design vary significantly in different global and socio-economic contexts and in relation to varying theoretical foundations. In South Africa, as in other developing countries, urban design is only beginning to feature as a valid mainstream concern within city development and among built environment practitioners. This paper presents the case of the City of Cape Town’s Dignified Places Programme as an example of implementation-focused urban design undertaken in a context where the conscious design and management of the public realm does not feature on the agendas of cash-strapped, basic needs-focused local government. The design and construction of new public spaces is the focus of this programme, but a parallel objective is to place the central concern of urban design – the quality of the public environment – squarely on the agenda of local government in Cape Town. The paper outlines the urban context in which it is being implemented sketches the issues that prompted its initiation and traces its theoretical origins focusing on the linkages between this theory and practice. The paper gives an account of the origins, objectives and strategy as well as the design principles that directed the form and location of the projects in the Programme. The paper finally reflects on the key successes and challenges of the programme and attempts to tease out lessons for both the theory and practice of urban design.
This study finds that the Dignified Places Programme has to date demonstrated the value of a minimalist approach, design-led integrated work, category and performance-driven design, and designing flexibility into public spaces. The Programme's urban design approach focused on the 'capital web' or collective parts of the city and provided a vehicle to integrate and position different urban actions, elements and user needs. The study also notes that the projects have been actively supported by communities since they benefit the collective rather than individuals, and bring visible benefits to the community as a whole.
Description of method used in the article
The Dignified Places Programme was conceptualised during the preparation of the City of Cape Town Municipal Spatial Development Framework in 1999 (City of Cape Town, 1999).