The fifteen or so who braved the cold were certainly not short of ideas and in the 90 minutes that followed, the conversation ranged from turning Harrington St into a pedestrian street to the endless number of opportunities to utilise the public spaces available in the area, also known as the Fringe.
Although different from our regular Walk & Talk format, in that it focused on an area instead of a street, the discussion was populated by issues, not surprisingly, similar to previous events; namely parking, infrastructure around construction sites and skating. The journey began at Harrington Square where we heard about plans the Cape Town Partnership and others are exploring to make the square into an inviting public space. It turns out the parking question in this case is far from simple given the high and growing demand by those working in the city centre. Moreover, the area is trying to cater to businesses which rely on transporting goods. Striking the balance is certainly tricky; yet the more space we allocate to the automobile, the more drivers the area will attract . The logic then follows that if we are in the process of breaking that cycle; then the alternative is to incentivise people to take public transport, and to utilise non-motorised transport. The skaters are already doing their part in showcasing what's possible on Harrington Street!
The next stop was Barrack lane and on our way, we could not help but notice, and try to avoid the massive and muddy trench dug out along Harrington Street. As a car sped by almost crashing into a pedestrian we were reminded how little concern is given to people walking when it comes to construction on the roads. Particularly in an area where the majority of users are pedestrians who traverse the Harrington square on a daily basis to get to and from work; it seems undemocratic, to say the least, that not only is the square filled up with cars from early hours of the morning, but that construction can completely prevent access to sidewalks let alone the square.
At Barrack lane, we observed the space where a collective of concerned citizens called the Laneway Lab will be turning it into a place for people to sit, eat, meet and socialise as part of their award from your street challenge. By bringing life back to this space they hope to set a precedent so that the entire network of lanes in this area can be rescued. At that stage we were joined by a couple of designers who, though established in the area for over a year, acknowledged openly, they are still on a big learning curve in how they inhabit this space. The Fringe is a highly diverse place and striking the balance between catering to local residents and to trendy businesses is not easy. Businesses seem to be flourishing, but only during work hours; and if we are building a 24-hour city where streets are inviting and open to all, are the right people being engaged? Again, opinions differed on how that is best done but the good news is local residents are indeed participating through a consultation led by ethnographer and artist Andrew Putter who has already collected a wealth of information and is sharing it with those involved in the design of the Fringe.
The multi-layered question of how public space, particularly in this area, caters to all was not going to be answered at this event; nevertheless at our last stop the group was given the best opportunity to day dream together on how to resolve, if only temporarily part of that conundrum. The Krom Elbow Lane; snuggled between Plein and Commercial St. where three beautiful hidden lanes meet indeed looked like the perfect place for a mini world food market where the diversity of the Fringe can be embraced and celebrated. Even if not on the agenda of Open Streets, the image of an international or so called 'ethnic' food market was certainly appealing. Suddenly the scent of chapati, Ethiopian spices, and fresh empanadas invaded the lanes. It was time for dinner no doubt and with the night falling; we all headed back home under an open sky on empty streets with a few residents walking home from their day jobs or simply roaming the streets. It was an Open Streets of sorts that required no road closures and no banning of cars. They all had long ago gone home.