After the most recent edition of Talking Streets; it is clear that transport & urban planners could benefit greatly from the exercise of walking in someone else's shoes. In fact, not only those working in planning, but all of us should try it in order to understand how different people experience streets.
On 3 September, a group of 20 convened at the Bellville Public Library to join the first edition of our revamped Talking Streets series, which seeks to engage people more deeply on their experience of our city's streets and interrogate planning practices further. The walk was facilitated by Rory Williams, one of our co-founders and board members, transportation planner and freelance writer who is curious about cities and citizens.
Our guest speaker was Gerhard Hitge, a former transport planner for City of Cape Town and a passionate urbanist. He highlighted three types of users transport planners design for:
- Captive users: people who find it difficult to travel and have limited or no options. This is a significant group in most cities of the global south; therefore the aim is to make the experience better.
- Choice users: those who use public transport instead of a car. The aim here is to encourage them to stay using the public transport system instead of becoming a private vehicle user.
- Car users: the most difficult group in terms of behaviour change. The aim is to get them out of their car more often by positioning public transport as an alternative.
Acknowledging that not all users are included in this matrix, for instance children, Gerhard invited us to analyse the current state of Voortrekker Road by thinking of the different factors that influence movement (activities, weather, time of the day, etc.) and thus frame our experience of the space. He then gave us a card to fill in and asked us to step into someone else's shoes by creating a character for ourselves from a variety of different categories (see image below).
The group was split in two and went in different directions along Voortrekker Road. Forty minutes later everyone regrouped and shared their experience. Some reflections included:
- Wheelchair users have great difficulty in navigating the street. Very few ramps;
- When walking with a purpose (e.g. going to school/work) one forgets to observe, unless there are obstacles on the way to reach one's destination;
- There is little signage with information about public transport although there is display space at bus stops;
- What is lacking in architecture is made up by the liveliness of informality (e.g. street music, people giving out flyers, etc.);
- There is limited rain shelter along the route;
- The environment is not conducive for cycling to school. Bike routes are needed; either along Voortrekker Road or on parallel routes
There were also some concrete ideas for changes that could help improve the street:
- There are great public spaces (Bellville public sports complex; Elizabeth Park) but little information for the public to attract usage;
- Beautification of the space is possible if local communities get involved: there is a blank canvas on existing infrastructure;
- Though it might seem an expensive exercise; catering for those with limited ability means all can benefit and that in the long term, the current outliers might become closer to the norm. Currently, what government spends on pedestrians vis-à-vis car drivers is disproportionate and does not benefit the majority.
Rory and Gerhard closed the session by inviting everyone to join future walks as professionals in experiencing the city. Planning the smaller details of street corners have an impact on how we move around the city more broadly (e.g. if people don't feel comfortable walking to the bus station, public transport will not be an option).
In addition to putting on Open Streets Days, we are experimenting with other activities such as walks, temporary interventions and public campaigns. Our aim is to continue the fun nature of Open Streets while addressing a serious agenda that can help us create a more people-friendly and sustainable Cape Town. The Talking Streets series is made possible by our partnership with the WWF Nedbank Green Trust.
Want to join future walks? Sign up for our Talking Streets mailing list to receive invitations.
Some quotes from the discussion afterwards:
Street music is the best part about a city.
Thank you for allowing me to be a high school student again!
"The elements of hope are where the fun happens, where the informality is. The architecture and landscape is hostile, but the redemptive part would be the people."