This summer I spent one month in South Africa completing a planning study in McGregor, a small town roughly two hours from Cape Town. (See it on Google Maps)
This post summarizes the contents of our report, which we presented today to students and faculty in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Maryland.
The research was conducted by a team comprised of myself, Jocelyn Harris, and Brooke Taylor from University of Maryland, Matt Monroe from Rutgers University, and Iris Patten from the University of Florida. Our faculty advisor Prof. Sidney Brower. The report contains a survey of the housing and economic conditions of McGregor, and proposals for how community members might address problems in these areas. Like many towns and cities in South Africa, many residents of McGregor are living in substandard housing. We argue the solution to this problem must include not only well-designed new government housing, but also strategies to address the underlying cause: the social and economic inequality that exists in the town. The report is divided into four parts. We conducted extensive research with young residents of the town who have been working with the South Africa Heritage Resources Agency to document the town’s heritage.
Team members talking with local residents during the planning process:
Part One contains a summary of the system of local governance, population, private sector groups, and previous plans for McGregor. It also includes a summary of the broader provincial and national policy context for housing production. Proposals to adopt design review for new buildings and subdivision zoning to maintain the historical character have been adopted, however proposals to provide assistance to low income residents to maintain their homes have not been enacted. I described the country’s national housing policies last summer in a post titled “Government-Built Sprawl.”
Part Two contains a summary of the existing housing in McGregor. The town contains a collection of distinctive thatch-roofed cottages. Combined with the natural setting, the architecture has made the town highly desirable for vacationers who stay at several small inns, vacationers who have purchased or build vacation homes in the town, and retirees who have chosen to reside there. However, housing in the colored community, who make up the majority of the population, is generally substandard.
The wealthy upper town:
And lower town:
Part Three contains a discussion of new housing for the community. It contains an analysis of each potential site discussed for new housing including site plans obtained from the municipality, and a proposal for a site selection criteria and committee. It also includes a discussion of alternative designs for government housing and a proposal for a home renovation fund for the poor.
Lastly, Part Four contains a discussion of both the economy of McGregor and its region, and a consideration of the relationship between the economy and housing provision. The report argues a successful housing strategy must address the town’s poverty through diversification and policies that result in greater direct participation in the local economy.
While there are no easy answers to the problems the town is facing, we were inspired by the vision and dedication to self-improvement among town residents. Graced with world-class natural amenities and a unique building tradition, the town’s heritage itself is a rich resource. We hope the citizens are able to use our report to accommodate more equitable housing and economic opportunities for all residents.
The project team and McGregor heritage workers.