Cape Town-140103-Reporter-Rebecca Jackman spoke with Philip Bam at Princessvlei about the letter he sent to the newspaper about the preservation of the area its participitation in World Design Capital-Photographer-Tracey Adams

The future of Princess Vlei has again been thrust into the spotlight with calls for its preservation and upgrading being described as a “golden opportunity” to showcase Cape Town as the 2014 World Design Capital.

The vlei, near Grassy Park, is the subject of a bitter struggle between authorities and local residents.

The authorities have set in motion a process to sell the land to developers who envision a double-level shopping mall precinct on the currently neglected land.

But local residents and interested groups are leading a campaign to save the wetland.

In the latest salvo, the Princess Vlei Forum has revisited its plan which it had submitted for World Design Capital 2014 back in April last year.

In the bid, titled Imagine Princess Vlei – A Community Driven Urban Nature Design Project, it proposes ideas it would like to see implemented:

- 7km walkway for cycling, running or walking;

- educational facilities teaching locals about the Khoisan and fynbos;

- improved facilities for the hundreds of religious baptisms that take place at the site;

- new children’s play area;

- an amphitheatre with views to rival Kirstenbosch concerts;

- food market or stall with local produce;

- sailing clubs for local children;

- a bridge over the road for safer access to the vlei;

- and possibly a monument to the heritage of the site.

The forum, though, believes it should be up to the community to finalise the proposal.

“Imagine Princess Vlei will fuse space, plants, animals, water, people, legend, memory and imagination, stretching the design process in a socio-ecological response to contemporary social and environmental challenges.

It will consolidate several years of community engagement with the Princess Vlei,” the bid states.

The Princess Vlei Forum, chaired by Philip Bam, submitted the proposal in April and in June found they had been short-listed. They were asked to present in July, but they were not on the final list announced at the end of October.

Media manager for World Design Capital 2014, Priscilla Urquhart, said that Princess Vlei was submitted as a project during public calls for submissions, but because of the dispute between the potential developers and the City of Cape Town, it had been set aside for now.

The city is in the process of deciding whether to sell part of the land to developers who wish to build a mall on the site.

“We’d rather start on a clean slate,” says Urquhart.

“It is in the best interests of all parties involved that we rather await the outcome of the dispute. It hasn’t been rejected or even not considered. It’s just being held at the moment.”

Urquhart said that the Princess Vlei project was one of many “incredible” projects submitted for World Design Capital.

Bam said: “It would give us a lot of hope if our proposal is still on the table. I’m hopeful looking forward that the decision will be made in 2014 with Cape Town being the World Design Capital. What a golden opportunity.”

In a letter published in the Cape Times last Thursday, Bam accused the city of failing to recognise that Cape Town was much more than just the Grand Parade and Green Point.

Referring to a newspaper article which “lauds mayor Patricia de Lille for bringing people from all over Cape Town back to public spaces”, a scathing Bam replied: “You refer to the challenge to make these public spaces accessible to all who live in the city. It is a huge challenge to get Capetonians from as far afield as the Helderberg, Atlantis and the far deep south to enjoy the public spaces within the City Bowl, but what about the public spaces within affordable reach of the thousands of poorer citizens, on their doorsteps, such as Princess Vlei?”

Meanwhile, many locals are against construction of a mall, even though they would be the ones most likely to use it.

Clive Harris has lived near the vlei for more than 30 years. He fishes there regularly and the family often braais and relaxes there.

He says his strong wish is for the developers not to mess with the area, but rather to improve what they already have.

He would like to see a children’s play area, improved braai and parking areas, more indigenous plants and the plastic, old tyres, cans and shards of glass cleared away at the edges.

Robert Johnson has been fishing at the vlei to feed his family for 20 years.

He says a mall is not necessary because there are a lot of malls around.

Councillor Belinda Walker, Mayco member for community services and special projects, says negotiations for the sale of the land are still ongoing and, based on that, she doesn’t see how anybody would be willing to start any major project there until the status of the land is verified.

“What I would like to see is some final resolution so we know either that it is or is not going to be for sale,” Walker said.

“Everybody wants to see this concluded.”

Walker added that there were many open spaces the city would love to improve, but it largely came down to a question of budget as well as long-term maintenance. - Weekend Argus