"The Princess of the Vlei"—ACC CityLab 28 March, 2013
Princess Vlei has become a site for fusing fynbos, memories, and hip-hop, but also for community-driven planning towards a large urban public park in a previously disadvantaged part of Cape Town. It has received media attention for the Princess Vlei Forum's struggle against the building of a mall, which would occupy a large part of its eastern shore. The conflict around how to use space—for a multi-use urban park or the selling of public land to private investors—has rightfully caught media attention, but there are multiple other stories. These include collaborative agreements and relations with the City and SANBI, with schools, universities and civic associations, but also the legend of the Princess, apartheid and colonial memories of oppression, and the urge to develop a 'peoples plan' for the Princess Vlei.
In this regard, Princess Vlei also represents a rupture in the normal way on how to talk about urban nature and green space in Cape Town—one in which urban nature gets caught up in colonial and apartheid legacies and contemporary struggles that challenges expert-discourses on biodiversity and ecosystems that tend to separate nature from culture. At the same time, the civic-led planning of a large urban park works to test and develop democratic practices within civil society. What is more broadly at stake is if 'Princess Vlei can travel'; if what is learnt there, can be used elsewhere?
In the CityLab's quest to visit those that are creating new imaginaries of what Cape Town can be about, we are letting ACC researcher Dr. Henrik Ernstson to talk to members of the Princess Vlei Forum to help surface the multiple stories and knowledge-practices enfolded within Princess Vlei and the struggle against the mall.
As an example of the expressions created through the engagement with Princess Vlei listen to the recently released hip-hop song about 'The Princess of the Vlei' by Emlie YX? and Mixed Mense.*
My own work in close relation to Princess Vlei has been published on this blog before. But please see my recently published working paper on 'Re-translating nature in post-apartheid Cape Town' on how what started in Bottom Road moved to Princess Vlei (article 1). This article builds upon my work in Grassy Park since 2008. Some material from this work has also appeared in my recent critical engagements with 'ecosystem services', see articles 'The social production of ecosystem services' and 'Ecosystem services as technology of globalization' (article 2, article 3).
About Dr. Henrik Ernstson. Dr. Henrik Ernstson has worked with people in the Grassy Park area since 2008. He focuses on how biophysical, cultural and political dimensions are fused together in 'urban nature' leaving the question of 'who is an expert' on urban nature radically open. He has a background in Physics and Systems Ecology, but writes primarily on the management and politics of urban ecology and is interested in the possibilities for more equal and democratic city-making. Recently he published an article on 'Re-translating nature in post-apartheid Cape Town' (article 1), which builds on his work in Grassy Park. He has also published on critical engagement with 'ecosystem services' (article 2, article 3), urban transitions and resilience in Cape Town (article 4), and on green space protection in Stockholm (article 5) He leads two research projects at ACC and Stockholm Resilience Centre and an international book project on the 'Histories and Futures of Contested Urban Natures'. Dr. Henrik Ernstson has been with ACC since 2010. For more information, see his blog In Rhizomia, www.rhizomia.net/).