Every Last Drop: The role of spatial planning in integrated urban water management in the Cape Town City-Region

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Water is essential to life. However, the current urban water system and environment is degrading freshwater ecosystems, nature’s ability to replenish resources and the relationship between people and the environment due to unsustainable consumption and discharge patterns. This is an international phenomenon and in the City of Cape Town, where water is considered a scarce resource, it is particularly urgent and important. This is due to the expected population growth, and an increased water demand as the current services backlog is addressed and living standards increase which when combined with the stresses of Climate Change and the associated future uncertainty make it even more alarming. These issues have direct and indirect implications that are too often hidden from and invisible to the public, especially with regard to the spatial form and structure of the City, which occurs through formal or informal processes of management and investment. While there is a movement towards tackling these issues, through the Integrated Urban Water Management Paradigm, there has been little physical change manifest in urban areas where the source and effects of these problems are so acutely experienced. This study has therefore sought to understand how spatial planning can be utilised as a tool to aid the transition to a more water-secure future through enabling sectoral integration and spatial co-ordination; where water influences the form and structure of the City. This is based on the premise that freshwater ecosystems and the role and effects of the urban water system are poorly addressed in spatial planning. Strategic Spatial Planning, unlike land use management, is a process of long term future imagining that is well-positioned to address the conflicts and tensions that arise through the implementation of a variety of sectoral policies with competing interests while including the voice of multiple stakeholders. In light of this, this study has undertaken a review of international and local literature to theoretically locate this study. This is followed by a contextual spatial and policy analysis of Cape Town to better understand the key priorities for water and urban development in the area. Using these two as a platform to guide appropriate intervention, a Spatial Development Water Framework (SDWF) has been created to propose a new water and development paradigm in Cape Town. This plan is governed by the principles of reverence, restoration, restraint and responsibility. Through acknowledging the spatial relationships between people, their activities and freshwater ecosystems this SDWF offers the opportunity to promote a more cyclical flow of resource use, the use of ecosystem services for more resilient and less energy dependant infrastructure, increased local subsistence and an improved relationship and connection between people and their water environments. It is through these strategies that it could be possible to transition to an increasingly secure water future in the City of Cape Town for improved social and ecological health, connected communities, shared prosperity and an intelligent water system.

Includes bibliographical references.