A Route Map for Open Streets
Ever since the successful Open Streets days on Bree Street and in Langa, people have been asking us, "So, when is the next one? Where is the next Open Streets going to be?" The truth is we don't know yet. We have had a number of communities inviting us to come and bring an Open Streets day to their neighbourhood and have made a number of proposals, but the costs involved in holding an Open Street day are prohibitive for most communities on their own. We certainly would not have been able to hold these two pilot days without the generous financial support of the City of Cape Town and the time and dedication of local communities and our Open Streets volunteers.
So you may ask why Open Streets days are so expensive to put on? Well, in part it's because when one organises an event, the organisers are legally responsible for the health and wellbeing of everyone who is invited. This is for good reason, we want people to be safe at Open Streets days and we have a responsibility to do so. So immediately, the planning of the day, which begins with everybody enjoying the street, soon becomes an exercise of risk aversion, and mitigating risk (whether real or perceived) costs money. And so, as organisers we need to obtain public liability insurance, portable toilets, pay for traffic officers, barriers, marshals, security guards, paramedics, street cleaners, place adverts in newspapers, hire cones, signs and so on to ensure the safety of those who attend. These costs account for about 70% of the budget.
The other resource-consuming process is building up relationships with local partners and communities. We hold meetings, hand out flyers, go door-to-door advising people of road closures and ask them what they would like to bring to Open Streets. This takes time and dedication and Open Streets days simply could not be possible without these personal engagements.
With this in mind, what makes Open Streets days so special also makes them so challenging. They are free and open to all. No one pays to attend. No one pays to participate. There are no big corporate sponsors. No flashing lights and advertising. It's simply about people. As so there is a massive gap, a gap that has been filled to date by the City.
But at its essence an Open Streets day is incredibly simple. It involves closing a street to vehicular traffic for a short period of time and opening it up for communities to use in whatever way they feel appropriate. It is therefore worth reflecting on what streets are. Streets connect people to places and facilitate exchange of ideas, goods and services. Streets are a public right-of-way and the platform on which we may enjoy many of the rights enshrined in the constitution, including: freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of association. Open Streets does not change the fundamental nature of a street. All that it does is, for a short time (usually 5 hours), limit the use of the street to people using non-motorised forms of transport. Essentially, it's a road closure and if it is, should we be defining it as an event? Why go through the process of obtaining an events permit if this is what a street essentially is?
This is a question that Open Streets and the City have been grappling with. Open Streets made a submission to the latest revision of the Events By-Law and we have committed to working with the City to develop an Open Streets Policy that reduces the costs of holding an Open Streets day and makes it easier for communities to organise these themselves. We are also looking at ways to engage local businesses, sponsors and partners to provide support and logistics to make them happen. Watch this space.
- Marco Geretto
Marco is passionate about cities. He firmly believes that our collective future will be determined by the way societies, everywhere in the world, build better cities for all to live in. Marco a professional urban designer with qualifications in architecture, urban design and town planning and is a registered Professional Architect and Professional Planner. He has over 10 years experience and has worked in both the private and public sector. He is currently employed as an urban designer in the Spatial Planning and Urban Design department at the City of Cape Town.