Evil Paradises and Skyscrapers

View of Metropolitian area of Cape Town (Google Images)
View of Metropolitian area of Cape Town (Google Images)

Cape Town, alternatively known as the Mother City, is the southernmost metropole area and South Africa's oldest city. The Cape Town of today is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that is fast establishing itself as one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. Cape Town has 8 skyscrapers that are established, over 150 high-rise buildings and 23 low-rise buildings (Emporis.com). According to Emporis most of the building activity is now confined to the eastern and northern reaches of the metropole. There are nine skyscrapers that Emporis mentions on its website, and a local newspaper article by South Africa entitled “explains how Cape Town is getting a new skyscraper in the CBD which is supposed to be the tallest building. Currently the tallest building in Cape Town is 492 ft. There is a fair variety of architecture that rises above the city. There are also many huge malls and shopping centers, a huge growing portion of gated communities and a large portion of corporate enterprise buildings. The city is the seat of Parliament and a major new motion picture filming and production hub. The city is pushing everything out of the way to make room for global urbanization and is destroying local urban areas in the process.

 

 

Post-Apartheid Skyscraper (Google Images)
Post-Apartheid Skyscraper (Google Images)

Cape Town, South Africa is a city of great diversity in its architecture, from vernacular design and the city's historical sites to modern design, but there is not an extreme emphasis on skyscrapers.  In the 1990s a lot of emphasis was put on restoration and rehabilitation of the city, while the past few years have seen the gradual repopulation of the CBD, with many office buildings being converted to upmarket residential blocks. In a recent article of a local newspaper, titled “Going-Up Cape Town’s New Skyscraper” the author Williams explains how a new skyscraper is to be built in the CBD of Cape Town and it will be the tallest building in the city. The 31-storey landmark will soar 139m above the City Bowl, higher than the Shell, Cape Sun, LG (BP) and Safmarine House buildings, which are just below 130m. It will be the first significant high-rise building in Cape Town since Safmarine House was built in 1993, according to the developers.

Mall in Downtown Cape Town (Flickr.com)
Mall in Downtown Cape Town (Flickr.com)

Despite the city focus on global urbanization and building attractions to appeal to people around the world, the connection between the urban and rural people of Cape Town is prevalent. Many poor people from the country side come into the metropolitan area to look for jobs in this huge up and rising industrial city. There is not enough housing, especially for the poor, so the lower class end up in poverty. Once they are settled in a slum, they are likely to be displaced back out to the rural edges of the city as a skyscraper, mall or another high end gated community or condominium takes the slum’s place. Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk in Evil Paradises describe and bring to light the plight of poor citizens, displaced by this type of urban renewal, with no access to certain necessities or priced out of new paradises due to the greed and corruption of local government officials and powerful private interests linked to the neoliberal transnational economy since the 1980’s. 

In the scholarly article “Spaces of Resistance: Informal Settlement, Communication and Community Organization in a Cape Town Township” the author Skew demonstrates well how there is a “social exclusion” be they economic, political or spatial which are found throughout the city. Examples of spatial exclusionary forms are gated communities, condos and apartments, which are one with their walls and gates that preserve such spaces for only those who can afford to live in them. The slums constitute a type of border, which the wealthy and many tourists refuse to enter due to fear of the unknown. The result is an increasing fragmented city, divided by the social and economic inequalities that become spatialized as slums and evil paradises.

World Cup 2010 (Flickr.com)
World Cup 2010 (Flickr.com)

In Evil Paradises, Davis describes the dynamic, ever-growing inequality of global cities as “the very engine of the contemporary economy, not just its inadvertent consequence” (Davis xi). This statement defines the word “Evil Paradise” and many paradises are exploited by nature. Many renowned global brand name companies such as the City Bowl, FIFA, Cape Sun, LG (BP) in Cape Town think they are doing the city a favor by building huge federal land towers and demolishing shanty communities. This will create new job opportunities for everyone, but what is left unsaid is that many of the local immigrant workers cannot afford to live in the newly constructed apartments or housing built. There is no incentive to build worker low-income housing and this affects the middle class people who can’t afford to live in new homes. A perfect example of what Mike Davis describes as an “Evil Paradise” occurred in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010. The first World Cup on African soil was supposed to be different because initially it was supposed to be an opportunity to raise standards of living for the country’s roughly 25 million impoverished citizens. In the article “Kicked out for the Cup” the author Werth explains how many residents were being forced out for the World Cup and relocated more than 16 kilometers outside of town in a “temporary relocation area” known as Blikkiesdorp, or Tin Can Town. With Table Mountain as a backdrop, the sprawling, remote camp consists of about 1,700 identical metal huts on a wide plain of gravel surrounded by heavy concrete fencing. Housing-rights campaigners contend that plans to move people to these relocation areas, far from schools and job opportunities, are in violation of international human-rights standards, and newcomers complain of ill treatment by the police and freezing temperatures. This perfectly portrays how Mike Davis explains evil paradises motives due to greed and corruption and their powerful private interests with no concern to the urban poor.

The progress gained through globalization has not benefitted everyone equally. Most of the labor used to build and operate “evil paradises,” skyscrapers, or public works projects come from the urban poor, yet the machine of urbanization rolls on. Each year thousands upon thousands of individuals make the move away from rural areas to seek a better life in the city. But what waits in the city is no easy street to riches, but rather a fight for limited space on land that is scarce and valuable. The rural poor make their way to the city only to become the urban poor, and instead of the open arms of opportunity, they slip through the cracks, forced to eke out an existence in the realm of the informal. They are branded illegal, part of a temporary problem that needs to be eradicated.