What is possible using Aerial photography: The City of Cape Town is watching you... (and that's a good thing)
Cape Town property owners beware: with the click of a button, the City of Cape Town can check that you do not contravene any building by-laws.
The city is using "eye-in-the sky" aircraft to produce hi-tech imagery to watch over, warn and even prosecute Cape property owners.
Property owners are being "watched" by council officials using sophisticated systems which combine maps and photographs, enabling a tight aerial view of any property in the city in seconds.
While aerial photographs have been taken by the municipality since 1997, dramatic recent improvements in IT, including image resolution and navigability, have significantly enhanced the use of the technology.
The Cape Argus had firsthand experience of the system last week when a municipal official was able to access aerial images of an Argus staffer's property and, within seconds, was able to explain over the telephone the details about a small garden shed that required planning permission.
Demetri Qually, the city's mayoral committee member for corporate services, said the aerial photography contract had gone to an outside company.
"Images are taken using a high-resolution digital camera mounted in an aeroplane and the area to be flown is covered by flight lines planned to cover the area in question.
"The digital photographs are merged using sophisticated software, stitching the images to create a continuous large image," Qually said.
On the city's website, this is seen as a large graphic map of Cape Town, for easy navigation to a suburb or street, but this switches into photographic images once the zoom is focused on a property or street.
The Cape Argus was easily able to zoom in on mayor Patricia de Lille's home in Pinelands all that is needed is the address.
Asked whether the city had encountered complaints about invasion of privacy, Qually's office said: "The publication of aerial photography has not emerged as a significant privacy concern," adding that the prevalence of similar imagery was now widespread, especially thanks to Google.
While Google Street View's images are taken by cameras 2.5m above the ground, and can thus "peep" over fences, the city's hired aircraft capture unhindered views from high above.
Qually said the aerial imagery had a wide range of applications and was used across departments and functions including planning and building development management, disaster risk management, valuations and human settlements.
The photography was also used, among other things, to:
- Monitor changes in certain areas.
- Quickly locate specific properties or features.
- Estimate the number of dwellings.
- Plan for large events.
Determine the best entry or exit routes for disaster management.
"With the assistance of the aerial photography, the city also maps the location of all service complaints... which facilitates directing the complaints to the right department or district, ensuring speedier resolution of complaints.
"It also assists the city in spotting any trends in terms of the geographic location of service problems or complaints and pinpointing possible causes," Qually said.
He said the hi-tech imagery saved the city both time and money; ore information on a specific site or area was available to officials and the location, identification and planning could be done in the office, reducing the need and time required for site visits or inspections.
Qually said the photographic process was renewed annually, "mainly covering the city's informal settlement areas, to measure informal settlement growth and changes, or areas where there have been significant changes".
Full coverage of the entire municipal area was completed every three to four years.
The Argus staffer's property was last flown over late last year, it appeared.
Properties can be found at http://www.capetown.gov.za/en/stats/pages/citymapviewergo.aspx. Visitors have to accept the terms and conditions and then can pick a spot and zoom in.