What if this wasn’t the end of the road?
What to do with Cape Town’s incomplete Foreshore Freeway Bridge is an issue that has puzzled the city for decades. To complete or demolish? How can we develop a solution that will create long-term value for the surrounding precinct and the city in general?
In 2016, the City of Cape Town launched a speculative two-stage competition to answer this conundrum. The brief called for solutions to transform the incomplete Foreshore Freeway Bridge, as well as ideas to revitalise 10 hectares of the CBD. Several ambitious firms submitted excellent proposals, after which a shortlist of six consortia entered a final round of submissions, interviews, and financial analysis. One of the shortlisted bids was CityLift — an innovative masterplan by dhk in a 10-company partnership that proposes dropping Cape Town’s Foreshore freeways to the ground and lifting the city over them. Not only would this compelling scheme expand the CBD, but it would provide a new neighbourhood stretching one kilometre along the harbour’s edge. The visionaries behind the project include consultants from various companies who worked together bringing on board their specific areas of expertise, namely: dhk, Urban-Think Tank, Jakupa, OKRA, Future Cape Town, Nadeson Consulting Services, Nigel Burls & Associates, Viruly Consulting, Rode and Associates, BTKM Quantity Surveyors, and Trafficon.
Sadly, despite generating enormous public interest, the entire tender process was cancelled as a result of maladministration. Thus, the opportunity to relieve traffic congestion and provide real social transformation through affordable housing remains unrealised. But what if we can imagine, only for a moment, how a new Gateway Precinct into Cape Town could revolutionise the city? In response to the complexity of the project, Guy Briggs, Head of Urban Designat dhk Architects, said:
“Completing the freeway to the original design would simply relocate congestion and exacerbate the existing disconnection, especially between the V&A Waterfront and the city centre. Furthermore, it would extend existing freeway structures that are already at year 40 of their 50-year structural lifespan. All while failing to deliver significant development opportunities — at huge cost.”
Instead, the CityLift masterplan comprises a three-part solution: the city extended to the harbour (at upper levels), sub-surface strategic movement systems, and a new linear park that connects the city and movement levels. The first step involves demolishing the Foreshore Freeway Bridges and dropping the working freeway to the ground. Then, gradually lifting the city over public transport and cars moving below. This would create a raised ground level, extending the city grid at a height of approximately seven to ten metres. A four-lane road in both directions, including Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes, would be built beneath the raised city ground, including parking and service infrastructure to support the developments above. The raised urban fabric located two storeys above the existing ground level would also provide the missing link for a grand public promenade. Dubbed the ‘Big S’, the walkway and ‘grand urban balcony’ would stretch from Sea Point to Table Bay, boasting views of the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town Harbour, and Table Mountain. The promenade would be made possible by linking a series of land parcels and public parks, such as Green Point Park and Trafalgar Park, ultimately resulting in a more easily accessible CBD, and diminishing traffic congestion to create a 24/7 pedestrian-friendly city. Importantly, the raised city ground creates a secure harbour edge that retains the port functions at existing ground level while enabling sweeping views over the sea. CityLift also makes provision for a substantial component of affordable housing, in line with equitable and sustainable development principles. Traffic congestion is further considered by prioritising public transport, allowing a seamless flow of people and vehicles through Cape Town. The plan promotes long-term value through its incremental development and green infrastructure that is flexible enough to be adapted over 50 to 100 years of a changing environment. The extension of the city grid will also enable the completion of green links between Table Mountain and the sea.
Although the tender process came to a sticky end, there is much value in bringing the thought leaders of our industry together to tackle South Africa’s urban challenges. After all, where would our civilisation be if we stopped pushing the boundaries of what’s possible?
Deeper into the Mother City another unfinished freeway awaits. But perhaps there is light at the end of this tunnel. In January, a 11,254 m² stretch of land along lower Buitengracht Street was relinquished to the City by the provincial government. This comes after development has been held back for 40 years because of a road reserve intended for the Foreshore Freeway Precinct. With the ball finally rolling again in the CBD, talks of the Cape Town Gateway Precinct have resurfaced, which, if completed, will link the Foreshore to the Bo-Kaap, De Waterkant, and the V&A Waterfront. Future developments may see the Strand Street Quarry reimagined as a community sports and recreation facility, with infrastructure supporting tourism and employment and the development of new pedestrian corridors and public squares linking Battery Park to Green Market Square. Apart from the popular Fireman’s Arms pub established in 1864, the released land along the former road reserve is currently home to vacant plots and parking lots, left in situ by a plan from the 1970s to create a ring road linking the Foreshore to Buitengracht Street between Walter Sisulu Avenue and Wale Street. Needless to say, the plan — nicknamed ‘Solly’s Folly’ after the city engineer Solly Morris — would have to be severely updated to match the city’s modern needs.
The City has stated in its five-year integrated development plan (2022-2027) that it will pursue completion of the Foreshore Freeway as part of a Targeted Road Capacity Enhancement Project. In the Table Bay District Plan, the Foreshore freeway is still classified as a Planned Road and Street, whereas the development of the Foreshore Freeway Precinct is labelled as a potential opportunity. Whether the latest developments will remain a road to nowhere or finally lead us down the road to success, remains to be seen. Only time will tell.
All images sourced from dhk Architects.