Long Street a chance for an ex­cit­ing creative ex­er­cise

When we plan for the fu­ture we must ask what this space can do for for whole of Cape Town, writeRory andRashiq

Cape Argus - - COMMENT -

REAT de­sign al­ways starts with a great ques­tion. The trick, as Thomas Heather­wick, a UK de­signer who has worked on ev­ery­thing from the Lon­don Olympic caul­dron to an en­tire dis­trict in Shang­hai, puts it, is find­ing the right ques­tion.

To man­age the de­sign process, clients cre­ate ar­ti­fi­cial bound­aries based on ju­ris­dic­tion, pur­pose or bud­get, and tell the de­sign­ers to work within those con­fines.

Good de­sign­ers try their best to ig­nore those bound­aries, but it can be a chal­lenge. “I am in­ter­ested in ideas, at what­ever scale. Ev­ery pro­ject has ev­ery scale within it,” says Heather­wick.

When it comes to plan­ning the fu­ture of Long Street, the start­ing point can­not be “how do we pedes­tri­anise this space?” but rather “what can this space do for Cape Town?”

Even that is not likely to be the key ques­tion that will spark great de­sign. There is no ho­moge­nous com­mu­nity to say what they want, only dif­fer­ent peo­ple who have con­flict­ing hopes and fears about what change might bring.

Res­i­dents, busi­nesses, club pa­trons, street traders, drug deal­ers, taxi driv­ers and pros­ti­tutes will all be jostling to en­sure they have a fu­ture in this place of op­por­tu­nity.

How will the de­sign and man­age­ment of the space en­sure not that ev­ery ac­tiv­ity is ac­com­mo­dated, but that the de­sir­able ones fall nat­u­rally into place so that it is safe and wel­com­ing and sim­ply a great street? And how do we define that?

Long Street is a place where re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties have had a home for more than 100 years, where fash­ion en­trepreneur­s take a bold leap in open­ing a store, where govern­ment build­ings, restau­rants and, most im­por­tantly, peo­ple are stitched into a com­plex, unique and di­verse ur­ban fab­ric.

We need to ask about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the street and the peo­ple who use it, and how they feel when they are there. Be­cause ul­ti­mately a street like this is noth­ing if peo­ple don’t feel at­tracted to it.

While it is im­por­tant to re­think the struc­ture of the street as part of a con­ver­sa­tion about its fu­ture, it is nec­es­sary that this forms part of a city-wide fo­cus, on re­think­ing the role of our streets and how they can be im­proved to cre­ate a bet­ter life for cit­i­zens across the city.

We can­not fo­cus only on Long Street while turn­ing a blind eye to

Gstreets lead­ing to the Philippi train sta­tion, or the pot­holed pedes­trian route to­wards the Mfu­leni Taxi Rank, or the po­ten­tial to cre­ate High Streets in Langa and the Athlone CBD.

When we are imag­in­ing the fu­ture of Long Street, con­sid­er­ing op­tions for this fu­ture and then im­ple­ment­ing im­prove­ments, the process must be­come an en­try point for a con­ver­sa­tion and fo­cus on the broader role of the de­sign of our streets in im­prov­ing lives.

Fu­ture Cape Town, as a plat­form for the re-imag­i­na­tion of our city by its cit­i­zens, be­lieves that a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in in­no­va­tion is needed for en­gag­ing the pub­lic, such that the process it­self be­comes a legacy for in­volv­ing peo­ple more gen­er­ally in defin­ing the fu­ture of Cape Town, whether in the cen­tral city, Philippi, Mfu­leni or Bel­lville.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion has be­gun en­cour­ag­ing in­put from the pub­lic and pro­cess­ing this into themes for Long Street that can help in for­mu­lat­ing the de­sign ques­tions and an­swers.

Open Streets Cape Town, an or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­mot­ing a cul­ture of civic in­volve­ment through new tem­po­rary and per­ma­nent uses for streets as pub­lic as­sets, has also be­gun small-scale ex­per­i­ments to ex­plore how peo­ple re­spond to con­di­tions on Long Street and else­where across the city.

In­no­va­tive think­ing is es­sen­tial for over­com­ing per­ceived ir­rec­on­cil­able dif­fer­ences, and turn­ing them into op­por­tu­ni­ties. The dif­fer­ent view­points can be a stim­u­lus. Pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion can be the ve­hi­cle for ex­pand­ing the range of pos­si­bil­i­ties, but not if we stick to ask­ing “stake­hold­ers” what they think of a pro­posal.

The in­no­va­tion must be in the process it­self, not just the de­sign. If we are creative enough, we may


just find that lit­tle is needed by way of re­design­ing the street, and that new man­age­ment prac­tices and ways of sup­port­ing pos­i­tive pri­vate ini­tia­tives will be the key ele­ments of a strat­egy.

That is not as sim­ple as it sounds, of course, but it may be the only way to en­sure that the so­lu­tion is one that busi­ness own­ers, res­i­dents and oth­ers will be able to em­brace. Ethan Kent from the US Pro­ject for Pub­lic Spa­ces, who vis­ited Cape Town this year, wrote that man­age­ment is vi­tal, and “spa­ces need to be de­signed in a way that sup­ports man­age­ment – not the other way around”.

Through the place­mak­ing process, gov­ern­ments can set places up to self-man­age, and even self-gov­ern, by cre­at­ing a cul­ture of en­gage­ment in the com­mu­nity that sup­ports a given space.

He went on: “Cities are not go­ing to com­pete with each other by de­vel­op­ing and/or de­sign­ing bet­ter phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture, but by cre­at­ing the places, and gov­er­nance of those places, that at­tract ev­ery­one to help them fur­ther de­velop.”

Long Street is an op­por­tu­nity, then, not only to sup­port the city’s poli­cies for pro­mot­ing a safer en­vi­ron­ment for pedes­tri­ans, cy­clists and other forms of non-mo­torised trans­port, but also to test more inclusive and pro­duc­tive forms of pub­lic en­gage­ment.

Our re­spec­tive or­gan­i­sa­tions will con­tinue to sup­port en­gage­ment with other bod­ies and or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing the City of Cape Town, to fur­ther the de­bate around the ways that streets can con­trib­ute to civic life in Cape Town.

But the great thing is that we can start right now with de­sign­ing and test­ing ideas to cre­ate a cas­cade of ideas.

And lots of small-scale ini­tia­tives can teach us more than one or two grand de­signs could do.

This is Creative Week in Cape Town, so let’s think of street plan­ning as an ex­cit­ing creative ex­er­cise that can change the way we think about pub­lic space.

Ro­ryWil­liam­sisamem­ber ofOpenStre­et­sCapeTown,anon­prof­i­tor­gan­i­sa­tion­pro­mot­ing­bet­ter­des­ig­nan­duse­o­fourstreet­s. RashiqFata­ar­is­founderand di­rec­to­rofFu­tureCapeTo­wn, aplat­form­fordis­cus­sion,de­bate an­daware­ness­about­the­fu­ture ofc­i­ties.


BUZZING When it comes to plan­ning the fu­ture of Long Street, in­no­va­tion it­self must be in the process, say the writ­ers

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