Cape Town’s City Improvement Districts: the vision and the success model


Did you know? Cape Town’s City Improvement Districts – also known as Special Ratings Area (SRA) – were established in 2000 with the flagship CCID as a non-profit organisation, funded by property owners with a vision to provide essential top-up safety and cleaning services, urban maintenance, social upliftment and upgrading of the environment in the city centre. 

The spreading of CIDs and connected forms of public-private partnership as an international model of urban renewal has been linked to the rise of ‘urban entrepreneurialism’ and the neoliberalization of policies and practices, at a time when competition between cities in the global economy has never been greater. 

These improvement districts have been broadly adopted in South African cities under the name city improvement districts (CIDs) since the mid-1990s. While the structures and general practices of these improvement districts may vary according to geographical contexts, there are a set of key principles that hold them all together: they represent a form of business and landowners’ organization at the neighbourhood level, dealing with the provision of additional services in order to improve commercial and residential areas in decline – deeming them urban regeneration tools; they look at enhancing the physical appearance of the area, bringing in more foot traffic and increasing the property value in the districts where are instituted; and they can also be a driver for complete transformation of a neighbourhood.

The first CID, the Central City Improvement District (CCID), was set up in 2000 by the Cape Town Partnership (CTP), a non-profit structure dominated by local business interests resulting from the joint initiative of the South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA) and the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The CJP was very active in the writing of a unified municipal bylaw on CIDs in 2003 that was in the end the joint effort of a city official and a private consultant.

With the introduction of this new model, came many sceptics. Property owners in the area were reluctant to fund the project as they were already paying municipal rates for similar services – but at a time when crime was at an all time high, investing in an improvement district seemed to be the only way out.

The advantages of establishing a CID later became apparent:

  • The cost of providing supplementary services will be borne by all property owners
  • Costs are borne in proportion to the value of the property
  • The Improvement District approach is holistic
  • Provides enhancement of the environment and strengthens investor confidence
  • The Improvement District creates a positive identity for the area
  • The Improvement District provides private sector management and accountability
  • The improvement of property values
  • To put forward ideas for change to council

When Woodstock formally became one of the City of Cape Town’s improvement districts (CIDs) in 2006, several high-profile businesses thought it wise to set up premises in the suburb – and years later, we see a major boost in both the commercial and residential property markets. Local companies that wished to make Woodstock a better place in which to do business initiated the CID process in 2003, and under the chairmanship of Vince van der Bijl the ‘Woodstock Upliftment Programme’ was founded.

“Apart from many small enterprises that set up shop in Woodstock over the last few years due to the value for money in the area, companies like Ogilvy Cape Town (Pty) Ltd, Aquacor, ASAP, Indigo Properties and Saffron, together with Broll and Auction Alliance, all moved their offices to the area.” said Nate Taylor of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty, City Bowl in an interview with eProp News.

Gene Lohrenz is part of the team involved in the launch of the CCID 20 years ago and has since been involved in setting up numerous CIDs in the greater Cape Town area. As Chief Executive Officer of Geocentric Urban Management he has headed up the new management team of WID since September 2020.

As the manager of 11 CIDs including Tygervalley, Salt River, Wynberg and, since 2020, Woodstock, Lohrenz says there’s a “golden thread” in the CID model, irrespective of where it is being implemented.

“One of the core concepts of a CID is to secure the economic engines of the CBD or industrial area where it operates. If urban degeneration is left unchecked, it will have a negative knock-on effect on the economy. But if businesses are able to operate in a safe and clean environment, thanks to the presence of a CID, there will be opportunities for growth and employment.”

In 2010 when the Woodstock Improvement District had only been in operation for about four years, then-chairman Elad Kirshenbaum could already notice positive changes.

“I believe that the Woodstock Improvement District has made an enormous impact in turning around what was once a pariah node. Woodstock had always been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Now it is definitely one of the more desirable business and residential areas on the periphery of Cape Town CBD,” said Kirschenbaum. “The WID is making a difference, but its continued success relies on involved members,” he continued.

Renowned furniture designer Haldane Martin who also moved into Woodstock in 2008, with his design studio now based in Roodebloem Road – said he liked the scale and mixed-use nature of Woodstock; its “edginess” – and since the Woodstock Improvement District came into existence, violent crime had also decreased.

Increased visibility and street presence of recognizable WID workers in uniform is an effective deterrent to lawbreakers looking for victims, especially where police are less present and visible, thus revitalizing downtown central business. Businesses in Woodstock now understand the value and benefits of the work that the Woodstock Improvement District aims to implement. Through WID, businesses now receive higher quality, more attractive trading environments, marketing and promotion of the area itself, attraction of new inward investments and improved communication links between public and private sector, with business issues and opportunities given higher priority.

There is a saying that goes If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This proves true for this model as its success lies in the cooperation of all those directly and indirectly involved. Abdul Kerbelker, executive manager of the Claremont CID, explains: “The model works because it involves a “social contract” to create “a better place for all in partnership with stakeholders, including informal traders, retailers, businesses and property owners”.

Chairperson of the CCID Rob Kane, who has been with CCID for about 10 years, and a board member since 2007 believes that “the CCID’s resilience undoubtedly lies in the quality of the people within the organisation. It is not about ‘managing from your desk’, but it is about being involved.” Kane says that the four pillars of the CCID’s mandate, namely; Safety & Security, Urban Management, Social Development, and Communications, have remained unchanged over many years and still, “the CCID has retained its relevance”. 

Improvement Districts have undoubtedly become a general feature in urban South Africa and, it is clear that South African Improvement Districts perform a wide range of functions, many of which being services that would have been viewed 20 to 30 years ago as City functions. However, the real challenge lies in the expansion of this model across greater South Africa to reduce crime, have cleaner streets, improved services, and increased investments on a greater scale so that all may benefit.

“Success is best when it is shared,” says CCID CEO Tasso Evangelinos, “and we now need to look at how we can tweak this model so that it can be adapted and applied in other areas and business districts where additional cleansing, safety and social services are sorely needed. The expansion of CIDs across the city, and indeed the country, is needed to enhance quality of life for all South Africans. I want to see South Africa improve. I want to be able to walk in Hillbrow, or Durban’s city centre, as I can in Cape Town’s CBD.”

To find out more about establishing a CID, visit the link below.

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