Parklets max­imises pub­lic space in grid­locked cities, cre­ates places to breathe, browse

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PROPERTY -

WITH all the pos­i­tive changes that ur­ban­ism brings, cities also face cer­tain risk fac­tors in this process, says Marcela Guer­rero Casas, co- founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Open Streets Cape Town.

Open Streets, a NPO founded in 2012, was the first for­mal Open Streets pro­gramme in Africa and of­fers a prac­ti­cal way to help bridge the city’s so­cial and spa­tial di­vides. The pro­gramme runs events in the city in­clud­ing Bree Street in the city cen­tre, Bel­lville in the north­ern sub­urbs and most re­cently, Mitchells Plain on the Cape Flats. It works closely with the City of Cape Town, as well as a host of spon­sors and part­ner or­gan­i­sa­tions.

Casas says prob­lems in­clude over­den­sity, overly high pric­ing, and the cul­ture of the area chang­ing and los­ing some of its charm. “A city is only as strong as its res­i­dents, busi­nesses, and com­mu­nity, and once these be­come too ex­clu­sive that sense of pro­pri­ety dis­ap­pears and the area changes.”

But she says a strong ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment is not only de­pen­dent on its di­ver­sity and sense of com­mu­nity – en­cour­ag­ing the use of pub­lic space can play a huge role in achiev­ing a healthy bal­ance.

Other ex­am­ples of this hap­pen­ing lo­cally, in­clude:

The pop­u­lar In­fect­ing the City (ITC) fes­ti­val, a pub­lic arts fes­ti­val that is held an­nu­ally in the City of Cape Town’s streets and gar­dens. For a few days ev­ery year, ITC trans­forms the city into an out­door venue where art is free and ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one. This cre­ates aware­ness of the arts and the artists tak­ing part, and brings peo­ple to­gether, en­hanc­ing com­mu­nity in open city lo­ca­tions that most ur­ban res­i­dents sel­dom oth­er­wise visit.

In Sea Point and the CBD, a hand­ful of in­no­va­tive busi­nesses are us­ing park­ing bays to cre­ate parklets. A parklet is de­scribed by Fu­ture Cape Town, one of the or­gan­i­sa­tions in­volved in the Sea Point project, as an in­ter­ven­tion that oc­cu­pies car park­ing bays or a side­walk, usu­ally tem­po­rar­ily, and acts as an ex­ten­sion of the pub­lic realm.

With two in the CBD and the most re­cent in Re­gent Road, Sea Point, these mini ur­ban rest- stops of­fer any­one that passes by the op­por­tu­nity to take a seat and re­lax with no obli­ga­tion to spend money, and no re­stric­tions to ac­cess.

Al­though the Re­gent Road parklet has not yet been granted a per­ma­nent li­cence by the city, its In­sta­gram ac­count, @face­soft­hep­arklet, shows the mix of peo­ple (on av­er­age 50 a day) that visit and use it daily and the con­tri­bu­tion it makes to Sea Point’s busy Main Road – in pro­vid­ing dig­ni­fied, safe spa­ces for mem­bers of the com­mu­nity a place to sit, browse free wifi, and as­sem­ble.

“When we launched the parklet with our strate­gic part­ners Fu­ture Cape Town, GAPP Ar­chi­tects and Cameron Barnes, we wanted to pro­voke a con­ver­sa­tion around pub­lic space; who can man­age and par­tic­i­pate in cre­at­ing it, and in do­ing so rede­fine the way that peo­ple view pub­lic spa­ces in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment,” says Jac­ques van Emb­den, co­founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Blok, an ur­ban prop­erty de­vel­oper.

“The project has un­doubt­edly added a vi­brancy and much- needed pedes­trian at­trac­tion to this busy, high­traf­fic road, and even con­trib­uted to the city draft­ing parklet guide­lines in 2015, which pre­vi­ously had not ex­isted, that aims to chal­lenge in­tro­duc­ing pub­lic space to busy ur­ban ar­eas.

“The magic truly hap­pens when ac­tive cit­i­zens work with their cities for the ben­e­fit of all groups, and also when the cities recog­nise the im­por­tance of these demo­cratic ur­ban projects and grant the li­cences, write the guide­lines and pro­vide the as­sis­tance needed to en­cour­age more or­gan­i­sa­tions and in­di­vid­u­als to imag­ine more of the same,” says Van Emb­den.

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