Where should city governments be located?

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In any one week, a ton of ideas about improving city life, can cross through one’s mind without  recording them. A weekend conversation  is a new short dialogue or chat series with fellow urbanist Brett Petzer, on some of the topics, ideas and issues we happen to be thinking about during the week. It is a part serious, part freeform conversation, to encourage debate and let in a little fresh air on some classic debates about the present and future of our cities.

The first edition of the conversation series sees us chatting about the physical location of city governments and how this location could improve service delivery to citizens.

Rashiq Fataar: I had a thought this week: where should local government physically be located in a city?
The current approach is of course to cluster staff and departments in a central location or complex, e.g. the Civic Centre building on the Foreshore or the Provincial Government building on Wale Street.

But what if they were located in different areas, with the aim of improving service delivery and performance? What if,for example, the Arts and Culture Department were to use an abandoned building and create a creative hub in which the department worked from? Or a transport department located above the main transport interchange? Or perhaps a Human Settlements orStormwater Department located where the immediate challenge is the biggest?

Brett Petzer: I can see the appeal of moving higher-order infrastructure out of the centre of town towards points of greater need, especially symbolically. I think that it would signal an precedented shift of priorities in local government if the provincial education department shifted to Khayelitsha, or if the department of health moved to Gugulethu. For a start, this would force decision-makers into direct daily contact with their most immediate priorities – and as a matter of routine, rather than something that occurs only within organised field research or on fact-finding trips.

However, the danger of empty symbolism is also great. Another problem is that decentralising government buildings would make it harder for the average citizen to travel between several of them, as one must when registering a business or applying for an educare centre licence, for example. Right now, although they’re far from the majority of Capetonians, they are all at least in the same place – and that place is where all the rail, taxi and bus lines converge.

Read the full first edition of the conversation at the FUTURE CAPE TOWN website.