It is a well-known fact that the design of a city can help make an environment conducive to creative thinking and living. If all of your street-facing property are entrances to parking lots, your city is dead. Put shops and cafés and galleries at street level and your city opens up. Make it easy for people to catch public transport or to walk and they’ll naturally network and connect. When there are passersby, people can perform or advertise events or sell art or hand out ’zines. Create a park and then put up a public sculpture and some benches: People may congregate. A well-lit city filled with restaurants, bars and theatres encourages people to engage with it at night. So, what is Cape Town doing to create an environment conducive to creative thinking and living?
Open spaces in Cape Town’s central city are gradually being transformed, squares and public venues upgraded, as part of the City’s vision of becoming a truly people-friendly city. These initiatives are supported by Cape Town Partnership, given its strong focus on the principles of liveable cities as articulated by renowned architect Jan Gehl. Gehl places particular emphasis on making cities denser but with better public spaces, more sustainable, and more accessible with better public transport and pedestrian- and cycle-friendly routes.
The implementation of these ideas would not only make the central city a more creative place to be in, but it would also take into account the social, historic and economic needs of Cape Town and Capetonians. A number of significant changes to our public space that were made in anticipation of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ have provided the basis for a new city fabric that is developing.
Until recently, the Grand Parade was being used entirely as a parking lot. Situated at the node of bus, taxi and train lines bringing people into the city, it is now a better public space with the Old Drill Hall on its perimeter as the buzzing new home of the Cape Town Central Library. Church Square, next to the Company’s Garden, has been pedestrianised and the city has erected a memorial to those who built Cape Town – its slaves – there. The 300-year-old Greenmarket Square has had an upgrade and the new ablution block has been topped with a stage for lunchtime concerts.
One of the most important legacies of 2010 is the upgrading of our public transport system. Cape Town’s new MyCiTi bus system offers safe, efficient and environmentally friendly urban transport with dedicated bus lanes. This project is part of a broader integrated rapid transit system, which places emphasis on pedestrian and non-motorised transport linkages and the promotion of bicycles as a key way of traversing the city.
Cape Town Station has been upgraded with a view to creating more inclusive public space. The station forecourt now offers a space for outdoor jazz concerts, fashion shows and other community events.
Several projects linked to the World Cup made it easier for people to walk the city. An upgrade to Waterkant Street included a walkway, known as the Fan Walk, from the station to the Cape Town Stadium. Two lightweight steel pedestrian bridges – one at Coen Steytler Avenue and the other at Waterkant Street – now make walking a lot safer for the 4 500 people who cross Buitengracht Street daily.
On the Fan Walk between Cape Town Station and Green Point is St Andrew’s Square, a public space that is also the site of the Prestwich Memorial. Designed by internationally renowned architect Lucien le Grange, the memorial contains the bones of hundreds of slaves whose unmarked graves were discovered during development of the area in 2003.
Around the impressive Cape Town Stadium, an urban park has been developed. The 103-hectare park includes sports fields, a golf course, and other sports facilities. Forty-eight hectares of the park is pedestrian-friendly public space, creating the potential for open-air performances, vibrant markets, public sculpture projects, impromptu barefoot soccer games and more.
Looking to the far future, a visionary project is Reclaim Camissa. Cape Town was called Camissa (“the place of sweet waters”) by the Khoi, but as the city has grown, the rivers that run from the mountain to the sea have been lost under our urban infrastructure. Reclaim Camissa aims to reconnect Capetonians with these lost rivers. Water could flow through the city to the sea through a series of green public spaces, incorporating fountains, stages, education centres and other civic resources.