After four successful Open Streets days in Cape Town we have been engaging with the City of Cape Town to see how we could roll out a more extensive network of Open Streets on a regular basis, and have looked for ways to reduce the cost of holding an Open Streets day. Some of these cost-saving measures include investing in permanent infrastructure, repeating days in the same location and partnering with NGOs, local businesses, corporates and other potential partners for funding. We have also looked internationally at how different cities roll out Open Streets networks on a regular basis, but there is no single magic spell or golden solution. What we have found is that whatever model is followed, there continues to be a strong relationship between the programme organisers and the local authority and we have been fortunate to have such great support from the City thus far.
We have also been encouraged to look at alternative venues for Open Streets days that are "simpler and easier to pull off". Whilst we agree with this in principle, there are a couple of fundamental issues that we confront.
The first is that Open Streets days are not events that are parachuted into a community or a place. They emerge through a process of engagement and through a partnership with local communities who want to explore the potential of their streets. They are an invitation from one community to the rest of the city to come and share and experience their streets. We all inherently know which streets represent the heart of our neighbourhoods. We would not invite the city to experience our community and then take them to a side street simply because it's easier to close off and manage as an events space. No chance! We would want to be proud of our neighbourhood. We would make exceptions. We would show them our best. Most often the streets that are the heart of our neighbourhoods are important transport routes and this presents challenges for traffic management and emergency access.
The second challenge arises from Open Streets' objectives to bridge the social and spatial divides of the city and to promote sustainable ways of getting around the city. In Cape Town this requires creating an Open Streets route of some length so that it physically links different communities and creates a space for people to get on a bike, skateboard, roller blades or simply take their dog for a long walk to see what's on the other side of the street. To achieve this, we believe you need a collection of streets of at least 1km that should ideally be accessible by public transport so that others can get there without a car. Excluding vehicles from this length of street creates a level of inconvenience and again gives traffic engineers planning the closure a headache.
Finally, Open Streets days challenge the very structure of our city. Since 1948, through the dark days of apartheid and right through to this day, the city has been, and continues to be, planned around the private motor car. For the most part, our street network consists of a neat hierarchy of streets with one class of road leading neatly into the next (a bit like a family tree with highways at the top and residential streets at the bottom - no mixing please). Mobility routes of the highest order run through and around neighbourhoods with few intersections as these could create friction and congestion. The inflexibly of this network and the lack of connections become immediately apparent when Open Streets, often together with local communities, suggest closing down a particular road. There are often no suitable alternatives and traffic and emergency access become difficult to manage. It's a stark reminder that we still live in an apartheid city and that very little has been done to change this structure. Open, gridded and connected cities like Bogota, Los Angeles and Barcelona do not have these problems and lend themselves much better to Open Streets.
We are mindful that these tensions exist and are committed to moving forward and negotiating each situation as it arises together with the community. Simply because it must be done. Our city and our society need to change!
Open Streets is often thought of as an event, but it is not. It is a movement and philosophy that believes in the potential of streets to be a platform for the fulfilment and transformation of society. Open Streets days are difficult to organise, but at the same time fundamentally important because they challenge the status quo and bring to light the inadequacies of our streets. They provide us with an image of hope, suspending our current reality momentarily to provide us with a glimpse of what our collective future could be if we thought about each other and our streets differently. Those who have been to any one of our Open Streets days know exactly what we are talking about.
- Marco Geretto (Open Streets co-founder)
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.