‘This is how we would like the City to talk to the community about Princess Vlei: with transparency, accountability, inclusivity and mutual respect.’
This was the overall message from a diverse group of people who gave up the rugby and soccer on Saturday to attend a workshop hosted by the Princess Vlei Forum.
The workshop was part of the Forum’s Imagine Princess Vlei campaign to develop a community-led vision for Princess Vlei as a nature and heritage site. Following the watershed decision in March to scrap the plans for the mall at Princess Vlei, the City has committed itself to developing and implementing the vision with the community, and Ald. Belinda Walker has set up a team for this purpose.
Since its inception in 2012, the Princess Vlei Forum has been canvassing community views on what should be at Princess Vlei. This was building on the work done by the Dressing the Princess Project to rehabilitate and re-envisage the space, which was undertaken in collaboration with Working for Wetlands under the direction of Kelvin Cochrane, SANBI and the City.
The Forum is now working with the City to ensure that the process to consolidate this vision, and to manage the vlei in the long term, is truly participatory, meaningful and inclusive.
The Forum hosted this workshop to explore:
- Who are the community and other stakeholders who should be part of this process?
- What are the most effective methods to engage these stake holders?
- What principles should guide the way the City engages with the community?
The workshop was attended by over sixty participants from a range of community, cultural and environmental organisations, or with an individual interest in the area. It was facilitated by Vernon Rose, who has years of experience in strategic planning facilitation and organisational development.
Daniel Sullivan, from the City of Cape Town’s World Design Capital 2014 team, faced some tough questions from community members. There was particular concern that if this was seen as a WDC project, the City would not sustain its commitment beyond the end of the WDC 2014 period. Sullivan assured the participants that this was seen as a legacy project, and the intention was to use the WDC impetus to change the way that the City works with communities. “Our mandate is not just focussed on a one year project, but on how to change the way the City does things.”
Sullivan said that the City was very committed to making the Princess Vlei project work, and using it to demonstrate how community engagement can work in a constructive way. The project would serve as an inspiration not just for Cape Town, but for the rest of the country, and give substance to the City’s new tagline “making progress possible together.”
Vernon Rose pointed out that it was also up to the community to find ways of working to ensure that they were “not junior partners” in this project with the City, and this workshop was a step in that process.
The workshop came up with a number of guidelines on how to engage with the community, including: workshops and meetings; using the print and audio-visual media and social media; using public spaces such as libraries; and ensuring that the issue is placed on the agenda of relevant organisations.
Guidelines for making the engagement meaningful and constructive included sustainability – building in checks and balances to ensure that the project did not depend on the goodwill and interest of individual councillors and community members; community ownership and empowerment; transparency; signing agreements to ensure accountability; inclusivity; respect for heritage and nature, and many others.
The outcomes of the workshop will be conveyed to the City by Sullivan and by Forum members, and will be used to guide the process going forward.
Although there are many challenges ahead, the Forum welcomes the City’s commitment to this process. This is complex but extremely exciting time in the history of the struggle for Princess Vlei. If we all play our part, this could be a flagship project modelling meaningful community empowerment and engagement around public spaces and natural resources. We call on all with an interest in this Princess Vlei to join us in this exciting journey.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.