There is nothing that more poignantly symbolises the dereliction of Cape Town’s foreshore than its unfinished freeway; a forgotten relic that blights the dynamic landscape of an otherwise world-class CBD. It’s an eyesore that has become an unfortunate landmark; a sobering reminder of what a lack of vision can mean for an urban space.
Fortunately, the construction of the Amdec Group’s R15 billion Harbour Arch development at the gateway to the CBD means that this part of the foreshore will no longer be viewed as a wasteland of missed opportunity, says James Wilson, CEO of the Amdec Group. Instead, it will bring to Cape Town a vibrant, 24-hour precinct that offers Capetonians the opportunity to safely live, work and play in an iconic land-mark setting.
It was not that long ago that proposals for another ambitious development, the V&A Waterfront, now Cape Town’s most popular tourist destination attracting more than 24 million visitors each year, were vehemently opposed. In fact, those who lobbied for the V&A Waterfront 30 years ago were dismissed as “idealistic dreamers”.
Today, they are hailed as visionaries for proposing an urban regeneration project that successfully transformed an under-utilised part of a working harbour into the city’s leading tourist, retail and residential destination.
In a similar vein, Wilson believes that Harbour Arch will reimagine another under-utilised foreshore area, and put Cape Town on a par with other iconic cities – London, Sydney, New York, Dubai – where innovative, high-rise developments have pushed the boundaries of design and architecture to become landmarks and attractions in their own right. “We see how Hudson Yards, a similar large-scale development on Manhattan’s West Side, has become New York’s newest tourist attraction because of its contemporary design elements. Harbour Arch will do the same for Cape Town, already regarded as one of the best cities in the world to visit.”
Not only will the 5.8hectare development inject R15 billion in private investment into the Cape Town CBD, it will also mean a further R100 million in infrastructure upgrades for a rapidly densifying city with projected population growth set to reach 5 million by 2050.
The development will also set a benchmark for future expansion of the Culemborg site, says Wilson. “Strategically positioned at the convergence of major access roads, with easy entry points to and from the N1 and N2 highways, Harbour Arch will transform this uninspiring precinct into an iconic gateway to the city.” Harbour Arch will finally balance the divide between the north and south sides of the city – an integration that has literally been left hanging for more than three decades because the freeway bridges that were designed to connect the city remain incomplete.
Hopes of closing this circle were dashed when the City’s ambitious Foreshore Precinct Project was cancelled in 2018, but the development of Harbour Arch now makes the eventual removal of the elevated freeway a real possibility. The developer, the Amdec Group, has strategically designed Harbour Arch in a way that will provide the municipality with an opportunity in perpetuity to reprise its vision for the foreshore by relocating the freeway either on grade or underground, thereby extending the city’s footprint, opening up views, and reconnecting the inner city to the shoreline.
Public access at Harbour Arch is paramount – this will be a space for all Capetonians. Imagine the largest landscaped urban park in the CBD, with water features, splash parks, bike tracks, skateboarding, and outdoor markets. Designed to extend the city’s pedestrian routes, Harbour Arch will ultimately provide a direct link from the CBD to the V&A Waterfront, the east city precinct, and eventually to Woodstock. This will create new walking routes from other suburbs into the city, and has the potential to enhance the quality of life for many of the city’s residents.
This project is not just about aesthetics and improvements to the built environment. The economic impact of Harbour Arch is equally significant. More than 20 000 jobs are being created during the construction phase alone, and many more employment opportunities – especially in the tourism, hospitality and retail sectors – upon completion. “Providing people with the means to earn a livelihood, which will enhance the quality of their lives, is of paramount importance to us. Through bold design and ambitious development, we can better serve communities by contributing to our city’s sustained economic growth,” says Wilson.
There is no doubt that the Amdec Group’s vision will dramatically alter Cape Town’s skyline and create a magnificent new gateway to the City, but it will also create significant opportunities for the city – not only economically, but also for the people who want to live, work and play in a dynamic, accessible, convenient and safe environment with a premium commercial, retail and residential offering.
Harbour Arch is ultimately about creating an efficient and sustainable neighbourhood of the future, one where diverse communities can congregate in safe and appealing public spaces. “A robust night-time economy is internationally regarded as a key catalyst for boosting a city’s appeal, safety and investment offering. Designed to encourage a live, work, and play lifestyle, Harbour Arch will bolster Cape Town’s economy, around the clock, making this part of the city safer through purposeful design.”
Change to city skylines is daunting, acknowledges Wilson. But if we are to keep pace with international trends and the changing needs of a growing city, it is also essential. “As George Bernard Shaw said: ‘Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.’
Concludes Wilson: “We are confident that Harbour Arch will bring major benefits to all Capetonians who will see more growth and innovation in our city flowing from the project. Through the meaningful use of under-utilised land in a prime location, coupled with dynamic urban design, we can better serve the City of Cape Town, contributing to its sustained economic growth while providing a new iconic destination of which Capetonians can be truly proud.”