CommuniTgrow, a joint venture between developers, project managers and urban designers, is set to create a new benchmark for urban development on the continent in the form of a planned development for 200 000 households north of Cape Town near Melkbosstrand.

Wescape was conceptualised by developer David Pearson of Pact Developers and has been developed into a replicable model by communiTgrow, to be used in other projects throughout Africa. Pearson began working on Wescape on his own in 2006, obtaining land and amassing a design team of hand-chosen, seasoned consultants with the vision of creating a sustainable city, particularly with the aim of uplifting the poor.

In 2009 he approached ARG Design, a Cape Town architecture, planning and design firm, to help define what the vision of an inclusive, sustainable city looks like. “In working through what it meant, we realised that it needed to go beyond sustainability to be regenerative,” states Gita Goven, executive director at ARG as well as chairperson of communiTgrow.

“Pearson came from the perspective of creating an inclusive city from an economic point of view, but in looking at that side, we also had to look at what would fundamentally make it sustainable from an environmental point of view. We had to understand both the urban systems and environmental systems and how to bring those together in the design process.” In looking at the bigger-picture regenerative systems with US-based Regenesis Group, the team saw the challenge of leveraging the best thinking on urban design, natural systems design, and regenerative communities within an existing planning process. CommuniTgrow grew out of the need to address all of these issues in a more thoroughly embedded perspective than was possible within the existing companies and processes.

Tali Bruk, head of the Department for Planning and Environment at ARG Design explains: “Traditional development is normally done in a siloed way: the result is that you get dormitory settlements that are just places where people reside, but where there is no actual community. CommuniTgrow’s approach is to begin with community development: what are the people’s needs for education, skills training, healthcare, access to employment? We have created an institutional framework to address all these needs.”

Within this framework, communiTgrow looks at six integrated and interconnected “pillars” that have to be addressed for a regenerative urban development: economy, housing, education, healthcare and community.

Six years on from the initial exploration of this concept, 3 150 hectares of land has been secured for the development, which will be designed by ARG Design, NuPlan Africa, Aurecon and a consultanting team, with various aspects of project management by Target Projects, Ariya and Bellandia. It is anticipated that the planning process will last another three years, with construction set to begin three to five years from now, and continuing for 20 years or more. The project team has secured approval to amend the urban edge to include the area for Wescape. The design, environmental impact assessment, rezoning and other statutory planning processes will get underway soon.

*Read the full article in the December-January 2012/3 issue of earthworks.