The new Ward 115 stretches from the Kloof Street and lower Gardens area to Green Point and the Bo Kaap, taking in the CBD, Waterfront, parts of Woodstock and Salt River and even Paarden Eiland. It’s an exciting prospect for Dave Bryant, because the area comprises business, residential, trade and industry – and it’s the site of much of the early history of the city, which clearly fascinates him.
“The new ward covers 30% to 35% of the economy of the metro, so it’s an important part of the city. Local government can make a difference, by helping to create solutions. But it can’t be top down and we need to work with communities and the private sector to come up with answers to some of the more difficult questions,” he says.
These include the balance between increasing the rates base at any cost, and retaining the heritage and character of Cape Town. “There has been R8 billion of investment in the CBD in recent years, and that trend is likely to continue,” says Bryant. He’s a firm advocate of the “red tape to red carpet” approach championed by the provincial and city government, but says the key is to determine what development is “appropriate”. The provision of more affordable housing near to the city centre is, in his opinion, made more difficult by high land values and high rates and the limited responsibility of local government.
“Looking at the broader city area, there’s going to be an ongoing debate about gentrification and densification, especially along the transport routes.”
With traffic congestion more and more of an issue, Bryant refers to major cities, like London, where congestion charges are levied. “Cape Town is a city with 18th century infrastructure – narrow roads – and it’s inevitable that at some point we have to limit the number of cars coming in, through charges or permits,” he says. But that goes hand in hand with improving public transport and encouraging car sharing and cycling. Yes, walking too, as he says, it takes just 20 minutes to walk across town.
Bryant, together with his colleague Brandon Golding, who represents Ward 77 in the upper City Bowl, is taking a partnership approach to the typical urban challenges of urban crime and grime. They work closely with a network of neighbourhood watches to improve safety, and these are now linked via radio. “Apart from improving security, the neighbourhood watches build a sense of community, where people walk the streets and get to know their neighbours, which is as important,” he says.
“What could be better than waking up in Cape Town every day and being able to effect change?”
The various city improvement districts are also important, especially in the central city where the focus has broadened from purely business to take in the needs of around 7 000 residents and the thriving leisure and entertainment sector. “There will never be enough resources for enforcement,” acknowledges Bryant, especially on the street. In this financial year, a “rent-a-cop” has been deployed to upper Long Street to help reduce illegal behaviour and aggressive begging, which has become a problem in the area. "Rent-a-cops" are metro police with powers of arrest.
Like many cities, Cape Town has its fair share of people Bryant prefers to call vulnerable people and rough sleepers. He estimates there are 700 people on the streets, compared to about 40 000 in a city like New York. “Every one of them has a different story, so to call them all ‘homeless’ isn’t accurate. Some work as car guards in the evening to survive and overnight in the CBD and go home at the weekends. Others are parolees who are afraid to go home to their communities, and others – especially couples – simply find the formal rules of the shelters too restrictive. We continue to work with the NGOs and look for solutions so that people don’t have to sleep in doorways and parks.”
There’s plenty to keep the councillor busy, and after five years in local government his enthusiasm is undimmed. “You have to recognise that you can’t please everyone, so you develop a thicker skin and get on with it – otherwise nothing will change.” He has an open-door policy and says his details, including his cellphone number, are on the city’s website. “I do my best to help. Once a woman called me in the middle of the night about her relationship – I think she confused councillor and counsellor – and I did give her some advice.”
About Dave Bryant
A media graduate from UCT, Bryant worked in London for a music label before volunteering to assist the Democratic Alliance with their election campaign. After a stint providing executive support for the mayoral committee, he was elected in 2011 as the ward councillor for ward 77, now ward 115.