Cape Town Spatial Framework

A summary


Cape Town and much of South African cities’ apartheid legacy has created a fragmented and inefficient regional, metropolitan and spatial form with a lacking public transport offering. The city has been expanding outwards, utilising vast amounts of land which has made it costly for low-income citizens to commute to the city.


Cape Town Spatial Framework lays the foundation for establishing Transport Oriented Development, compact and mixed-use densification along public transport routes, reducing commuting costs, facilitating equal access to social and economic activity through strategically located urban development and the provision of safe public transport.

Soon after the Dutch settled in the city in the 17th century, they developed a city inspired by the Dutch urban grid structure and built Fort of the Good Hope (a popular tourist spot today). In the late 19th century British overtook the Dutch. Diamonds were discovered in the Southern part of Africa and the country experienced an economic boom, leading to the rapid expansion of Cape Town.

South Africa has, without doubt, been shaped by the colonialism period. Since then settlements, built for races and classes, have excluded large sections of the population from the economic, social and environmental benefits of vibrant, integrated, sustainable urban and rural development. These patterns sowed the seeds for the apartheid system that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. Apartheid was essentially a spatial, even geographic, partition attempt, with dire disintegrative spatial consequences. This was especially present in South Africa where planning was the key tool used by the apartheid government to racially segregate cities.


High-Rise Buildings

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The City of Cape Town is in a growing and changing phase. In order to ensure the city remains a quality place in which people wants to live, work, invest and visit, the city is in need of a plan which can guide the future growth and change in the most suitable way.

Cape Town Spatial Framework Explained

The Cape Town Spatial Framework – an integral component of the Integrated Development Plan – is such a strategic plan, and serves as the key strategic planning instrument to guide and inform long term planning and development in the municipality.

The revised plan – approved 25 April 2018 – aims to work towards a new spatial form for Cape Town. It seeks to curb urban sprawl by focusing on inward growth and transit-oriented development, along with higher densities and mixed land-use. In short, the plan intends to trans- form Cape Town’s spatial form by bringing people closer to jobs, and jobs closer to people.

In order to address the Cape Town’s fragmented spatial form and inefficiencies, harness potential, mitigate negative trends, and optimise scales of efficiency associated with the City’s investment commitments, it is essential that property and development economics, land use, and transport must be considered in an integrated manner.

The newly adopted Cape Town Spatial Framework puts special focuses on developing areas in line with TOD principles and from the urban core and outwards. The city has adopted the following TOD principles:


  • Intensification (densification and diversification) of Land Uses – Prioritising higher density and a greater diversity of land uses within development corridors that include higher-order public transport routes with a particular focus on precincts associated with transit (Transit Accessible Precincts);
  • Affordability – Reducing the costs (time and money) and distances of transport for commuters; and the operating costs incurred by the City and other service providers to provide public transport;
  • Accessibility – Facilitating equal access to social and economic activity through strategically- located ur- ban development and the provision of safe public transport, non-motorised transport infrastructure; and
  • Efficiency – Providing an investment environment and differentiated levels of service that are conducive to and incentivises compact, inward urban growth and development.


Cape Town Spatial Framework - City Plan - Urban Planning

Cape Town’s Strategic City Plan of 2018

Cape Town Spatial Framework - Heritage Plan - Urban Planning

Cape Town’s Heritage Plan of 2018


South African Cities has one of lowest densities in the world due to the legacy of apartheid spatial planning and the failure to address this issue properly. As a result, South African cities are inefficient and generates high transport costs and long commuting times.

During the apartheid era, the passenger transportation was largely focused on transporting labourers to and from work. Cities were – and still are – characterized by low-density sprawl, fragmentation and separation, all which contributes to a dysfunctional structure where the privilege was racially determined.

For more information read the Magazine.

Mobility and Public Transport - Bus - Pretoria, South Africa - Urban Planning


The past 20 years the number of gated communities globally has increased rapidly. In South Africa, there has been an increase since the end of apartheid. In an already divided society, these communities contribute to further separation of the country’s inhabitants.

Numbers from 2016 estimate that there is approximately 8,000 gated communities within the South African peninsula. These gated communities are estimated to accommodate a total of 430,000 properties. The government has found that there still are race separation still going on today as mapped out for key South Africa cities.

For more information read the Magazine.

Race residential locations - Cape Town, South Africa - Urban Planning


Read the final plan and specific details of the Cape Town Spatial Framework: Cape Town Spatial Framework Plan

Read the City-wide Policies and Guidelines in place for Cape Town: Cape Town Policies and Guidelines

National Legislation documents relating to building and development in South Africa: National Building Legislation


Unequal Scenes

“Unequal Scenes is a photographic project, a platform for multimedia storytelling, and a home for creatives, activists, scientists and journalists to connect and strategize creative approaches to make the world a more healthy, fair, and equitable place.

Unequal Scenes aligns itself with the UN SDGs, specifically in the fight against extreme inequality, climate change, and sustainable cities and communities.

We live within neighborhoods and participate in economies that reinforce inequality. We habituate ourselves with routines and take for granted the built environment of our cities. We’re shocked seeing tin shacks and dilapidated buildings hemmed into neat rows, bounded by the fences, roads, and parks of the wealthiest few” (

Johnny Miller is the founder of the drone journalist project, Unequal Scenes. In our Magazine he shared his views on the inequalities presents across the world and what we can do to create a better future.

The full interview can be read in our Magazine.

Magazine - #03 South Africa

To learn more about the Urban Planning in Cape Town and South Africa, read the Magazine.