Pinelands: a South African Garden City

Robert Home looks at the early development and enduring heritage of the South African Garden City

In the early 20th century the garden city concept was being actively exported by the new town planning movement from Britain to its overseas colonies and elsewhere. The most fully realised garden city in Africa is arguably the Cape Town suburb of Pinelands, which survives largely intact and with protected status.1

Pinelands was modelled closely on Letchworth Garden City. With the end of the First World War, returning ex-servicemen to South Africa needed housing, and thousands of deaths in Cape Town during the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic were attributed to overcrowding, making planning and housing a major political issue.

Close to Cape Town the Department of Forestry had over thirty years planted thousands of pine trees on the farm of Uitvlugt, but the experiment had turned out an economic failure, making the land available for development. In 1919 an 800-acre site was granted by the Union government to the Pinelands Garden Cities Trust, supported with a loan of £15,000. The prime mover was a leading Cape Town businessman, Richard Stuttaford, who had visited Letchworth, met Ebenezer Howard, and became sufficiently enthused about planning and garden cities to donate £10,000 as start-up capital for the venture.2

The trust recruited Albert J Thompson, one of the small number of professional architect-planners and a garden city specialist, who arrived from England to work on the project.3 It was the first attempt at professional town plan in South Africa, and influenced the subsequent 1927 Cape Planning Ordinance. The first houses were thatched, adapting English vernacular style to an African context, and the abundant trees already on the site were incorporated into the landscaping, making it from the start a peaceful green environment, surrounded by its own green belt.

Pinelands also has a place in the history of planned racial segregation in South Africa, as a whites-only suburb complete with racial buffer-zone as the South African government moved towards apartheid and group areas legislation. 

The suburb is primarily residential and different denomination churches are located near to Central Square: Its two shopping centres (the Howard Centre and Central Square) celebrate the connection with Ebenezer Howard and Letchworth, and its developers applied the high moral tone of the garden city movement, with sale of alcohol to the public generally prohibited.

It now has some 10,000 residents, and is a popular place for white retirement, with protected heritage status and an active conservation movement; the early houses on Mead Way were declared a national monument in 1983. In the post-apartheid era it has been merged into the new metropolitan municipality of Cape Town, and is now served by two Metrorail stations.

  • Robert Home is a chartered town planner and Professor of Land Management at Anglia Ruskin University.

[1]Albert J.Thompson (1878–1940) had been with the architectural practice of Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker, working on Letchworth and Hampstead Garden Suburb. He was in South Africa from 1920-1927 on Pinelands and Durban North, and was a government town planner in Nigeria from 1928 to 1932.

[2]Richard Stuttaford (1870 –1945) was head of the Cape Town department store Stuttaford, a city councillor and chairman of the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce (1918-20). He was subsequently elected to the Union Assembly  as representative from the suburb of Newlands, and became a minister.

[3]Logan, J.W.P. (1935–36) Garden cities for Africa: Pinelands, a venture at Cape Town. Town and Country Planning, 4, pp. 26–28; Muller, J. (1995) Influence and experience: Albert Thompson and South Africa’s garden city. Planning History, 17(3), pp. 14–21; Home, R.  (2nd edition 2013). Of planting and planning: The making of British colonial cities. London, Routledge.