Urban regeneration and the World Cup in South Africa

World Cup winners in the Financial Times weekend Home section highlights the kickstart that big events like the World Cup can give to urban regeneration projects – a theme that’s increasingly getting play in Brazil as well. While world sport events conjure up images of unused white elephant investments – like stadia and Olympic villages – they’re also being leveraged for inner city redevelopment in South Africa.

This FT article highlighted two areas where local stadium developments were linked to urban regeneration in South Africa with lessons highly applicable in other developing city contexts:

  • Who is benefiting from urban regeneration efforts? This story is a tale of two cities. One project, Mouille Point, aimed at high end, luxe markets – waterfront development is increasingly associated with the top end – with the southward extension of the V&A Waterfront. The other near Ellis Park Stadium, is gritty inner city associated with the stadium area renovation with a student and workforce housing emphasis. Ideally, the luxury markets will integrate some affordable housing and the workforce housing areas will draw in other middle income groups to diversify the socioeconomic base of these developments.
  • Downtown or outta town? Density, pollution, economic development and infrastructure challenges are often phenomena of original urban core in developing country cities. By contrast, glimmering and exclusive new suburbs and ex-urbs are allowing the well-heeled to escape all that. This spatial pattern doesn’t do much for inclusion and diversity, unfortunately.
  • Can sport infrastructure investments leverage other investments? In South Africa’s case, the answer seems to be yes. The Capetown Stadium (formerly Green Point Stadium) also resulted in the creation of a new urban park, a new connecting road, alternative transportation routes and public transit connectivity improvements. The Ellis Park Stadium spurred investments in affordable housing, new retail, community social infrastructure assets and efforts to green the neighborhood.
  • For the residents or for the tourists? While both projects attempt to reverse an entrenched “downtrodden neighborhood,” it’s unfortunate that the Mouille Point development dilemma was binary (or at least that’s how the FT presents its case). Either this area was going to respond to the urgent need for affordable housing near the city center OR it was going to become a world class tourist destination in line with FIFA’s criteria but not both. Lionshare Holdings’ plans for the Ellis Park neighborhood in the second example are likewise strategic in being aimed at the student community in the area, but with more inclusive goals that have the potential to revitalize the neighborhood.
  • What is the government doing? The government’s role in urban regeneration in cities in developing countries should adapt to local circumstances. For Ellis Park, the developer was able to purchase an entire city block, which will amplify the demonstration effect, but the sale of such a large tract of land would normally have to be facilitated by the government. Ditto for the security, utilities and infrastructure measures mentioned. Finance – another key aspect – came from the Trust for Urban Housing Fund, a formerly public but now private specialty finance company focused on urban regeneration.

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