Though reasons for the implementation of such a programme seem to follow a common trend, (health, safety, social integration, etc.) the challenges are unique here. We have a city that is blessed with a magnificent landscape of oceans and mountains but which also means residents are spread out and in many cases separated by natural barriers. This not only makes public transport difficult, it makes connecting people logistically cumbersome. Add to that the blatant economic divide and a place where all income brackets, races and ages congregate becomes almost unimaginable. So the test is on! October 2012 will be the first step of a long-term experiment Cape Town is to undergo by opening its streets to its people and non-motorised activities.
Last week the transport department confirmed, Open Streets will be a central element of their Transport Month activities in 2012. A welcomed development by the Open Streets growing support group which, lead by Bicycle Cape Town, is quickly embracing a large and diverse number of interest groups (see below). On Friday, OS activist, colleague and friend, Diana Sanchez and I, were invited to give a presentation to the Local Areas Economic Development Branch of the City's Economic Development Department. The question, how can Open Streets create space to foster informal trade. In Bogota, we explained, people have the opportunity to come out to the streets to sell their goods and given the large audience, Sundays have become a central day for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Clearly, opening public space invites and enables commerce; furthermore, despite their social and economic defining lines, Cape Town has the advantage of a growing culture of neighbourhood markets.
Though not a panacea, the concept of Open Streets resonates for its potential of flexibility and openness to integration and racial mix; both for informal trading and informal interaction. With the Transport Department behind us, this week will define a number of logistical details including routes, dates, times and stakeholders involved. The department has committed to getting local government involved through City and media channels which augur widespread dissemination of the message and hopefully true ownership by local communities and organisations.
Who is behind Open Streets:
- Ubuntu Bikes
- Urban Design Institute of South Africa
- Western Province Cycling Association
- Wildfire Creative
- Woodstock Improvement District