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Mother City positive about weathering the storm caused by Covid-19

Aron Hyman Reporter
The annual 'State of Cape Town Central City Report' for 2019 paints a picture of a city centre on a path of upward growth despite a battered national and local economy. File photo.
The annual 'State of Cape Town Central City Report' for 2019 paints a picture of a city centre on a path of upward growth despite a battered national and local economy. File photo.
Image: Cape Town Tourism / Craig Howes

Property investments in Cape Town’s city centre stood at R13.83bn in 2019 - and soon the city’s iconic skyline will have some new additions.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Cape Town’s city centre was on the rise after weathering the storm of a “Day Zero” water crisis which threatened to see taps run dry by early 2018.

On Wednesday the annual "State of Cape Town Central City Report" for 2019 was presented, painting a picture of a city centre on a path of upward growth despite a battered national and local economy.

The report flagged several accolades which the Mother City raked in, including the Telegraph Travel Awards’ Best City in the World, Travel + Leisure’s Best City in Africa and the Middle East, and six other awards and nominations.

Some of these recognised the city’s resilience in navigating, through intense effort, a drought which threatened to see it become the first major city in the world to run out of water.

In the fourth quarter last year, the city added 4,384 new jobs and was the metropole with the second lowest unemployment rate at 21.2%.

The Cape Town city centre was one of the top five districts in terms of office development with 22,000m2 under construction in 2019 — though it lagged far behind business districts in Johannesburg where the biggest district was adding as much as 58,000m2.

But with billions of rand worth of investments in the pipeline, including 14 projects under construction, the CBD may soon surpass a few of its counterparts up north.

Business leaders, city stakeholders, and the local government hope the city can weather the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic — which resulted in the postponement of the release of the 2019 report — much of which is yet to be felt as a severely damaged economy will see prolonged vacancies in commercial and residential spaces.

There is disenchantment with working from home ... People need to come back to the CBD.
Tasso Evangelinos, CCID

Livestreaming from her Johannesburg home, trends analyst Bronwyn Williams of Flux Trends spoke about the sobering realities of a vastly different world to the one businesspeople and inner city stakeholders operated in during 2019.

This year started off with riots in Hong Kong and the later revival of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US after allegations of systemic racism, said Williams.

She said the Covid-19 global pandemic, however, brought the world to a pause and ushered in “The Great Staggering”.

Williams spoke about trends which were bound to force stakeholders to reshape the city’s make-up in the future.

She quoted research indicating that though former office workers were more efficient after they started working from home due to the pandemic, they also worked longer hours, with stats showing employees worked on average 30 minutes to an hour longer every day.

Isolation and an inability to separate work time from family time was leading to mental health problems.

Williams said this isolation had also led to a loss of innovation and creativity.

“What we gain in efficiency we lose in innovation and culture. We lose serendipity and innovation. Those chance ideas which happened between team members talking at the water cooler. Office space is also important for teams to work together to pull in the same direction,” said Williams.

At the end of 2019 the city centre had vacancy rates for its 1.02 million cubic metres of office space of 10.8%. Of its 274,605m2 worth of retail space, 9.4% was vacant. With estimates that a third of SA businesses won’t survive the year, those rates are already much higher.

Cape Town Central Improvement District (CCID — the organisation which compiles the report) CEO Tasso Evangelinos was optimistic about the city centre’s odds and said the city had a track record of defeating crises.

“There is disenchantment with working from home. The traffic has already returned to the city. People need to come back to the CBD,” he said.

“The city went through a crisis in the late 1990s and in 2018 it won an award for the way it dealt with the water crisis,” he said.

CCID chairperson Rob Kane wrote in the preamble to the report: “(Covid-19) has damaged the central city’s economy, for sure, but Cape Town is not known as the Cape of Storms for nothing. As Wesgro CEO Tim Harris notes, Covid-19 has also brought unprecedented opportunity, spurring innovation and transformation.”  


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