“experiment and celebration of public space is something that gets produced on the day”
Join Open Streets Bellville on Sunday 4th October 2015 as the public inspire new thinking of how to use and re-design our streets.The stre
by Marcela Guerrero Casas
Planning Open Streets often feels like a huge experiment; and it is. Creating a car-free space for people to reclaim their streets entails a thorough planning and consultation process as well as a large number of logistical arrangements. From identifying the most appropriate streets to the planning of specific activities on the day, we undergo deep community consultation, and engage with many city services to ensure traffic disruptions are minimized and that people feel ownership of the day.
Open Streets Bellville has not been the exception. The process began through informal discussions with the Greater Tygerberg Partnership last year and it included a two month feasibility study earlier this year followed by a seven week planning process during which all activities are being planned are local groups are mobilised. With only a week to go, the sense of anxiety and excitement at the unknown results of this ‘experiment’ grow. There is a multitude of factors at play and not all of them within under our control –like the weather.
At the same time, as someone pointed out recently, we have a formula that has worked in Langa, on Bree Street in the CBD of Cape Town and in Observatory. Not only that, it is a formula that is tested and implemented in hundreds of cities around the world; in some places more often than others. In Bogota, where the movement was born, every Sunday 120 km become ‘open streets’ when road closures enable people to move around their city differently. The bottom line of this ‘experiment’ is that people tend to behave similarly when allowed to use and own public space freely and safely. When norms are suspended for a short period of time, people are more likely to come out of their comfort zone, interact with others and allow for different dynamics to set in.
In South African cities, not unlike other urban centres around the globe, where the automobile is an ever-present feature of our public realm, its absence does not go unnoticed. Lower speeds, more people occupying the same amount of space and a wide array of activities that normally seem out of bounds create a conducive environment for imagining, experimenting and experiencing our city differently.
The simplicity of its formula means there is no programme to ‘entertain’ the public because everyone who takes part is already on stage. This does not mean that talented artists and sports groups have not already claimed their spot in Bellville to showcase their different disciplines. It simply suggests that the experiment and celebration of public space is something that gets produced on the day and that everyone is invited to take part by using the space in whichever (legal and non-motorized way) they choose. Open Streets exist as a result of a global consciousness to build resilient cities; from environmental reasons to the need for greater social cohesion, the motivations are many.
In Johannesburg, for instance during the month of October, an ‘Ecomobility Festival’ will take place encouraging all residents to rethink transport mode by making parts of Sandton car-free. In Cape Town we also see Open Streets as opportunities to bring people together and help create bridges in a society that is deeply divided by geography, urban planning and history. Therefore, on 4th of October, the invitation to Capetoninans is twofold; we encourage everyone to take public transport, or ride a bike to travel to Bellville, and we propose that for one morning, we all inhabit a part of the city that is often a place people travel through but seldom a destination in itself.
Perception is a powerful thing and many have come to believe the CBD of Bellville is unsafe and unwelcoming; yet there is much more than meets the eye. Bellville is a vibrant cosmopolitan ‘city within a city’; it is the birthplace of iconic alternative music bands, has the busiest public library in Cape Town, was the first city in the whole of Africa to boast a Toboggan Run, houses one of the most valuable corporate art collections and was home to one of Cape Town’s two world-first transplants last year.
Those who are joining us are in for a surprise. Whether you arrive by train, mini bus taxi or by bicycle you will be greeted at the train station or on Voortrekker road by a group of street enthusiast eager to experiment once again what is like to take the streets from cars for a day and make them our playground.
About Open Streets Cape Town:
Open Streets Cape Town (OSCT) is a citizen-driven initiative, working to change how streets are used, perceived and experienced. OSCT was founded in 2012 by a group of volunteers committed to a more equitable, integrated, safer and vibrant city. It was registered as a non-profit organisation (NPO) in 2013 and seeks to build shared places that embody respect for all and help bridge the social and spatial divides of Cape Town. OSCT works in partnership with the City of Cape Town and is organising Open Streets Bellville in collaboration with the Greater Tygerberg Partnership.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to share your idea for an activity.
- Picture 1: Jason Boud
- Picture 2: City of Cape Town
This article was first published in Weekend argus on Saturday September 26, 2015.