Open Streets Cape Town: Join us on 27 June 2017 for an #UrbanThinkers Twitter chat on #OpenStreets in African Cities

Open Streets Cape Town: Join us on 27 June 2017 for an #UrbanThinkers Twitter chat on #OpenStreets in African Cities

Imagine a public space that not only connects people, but connects them over a great distance across social and spatial divides. It already exists, and it’s called the street. Unfortunately, we don’t always get the opportunity to experience it that way, as it’s become synonymous with the car. But there is a global movement challenging that perception.
 
The concept of Open Streets dates back to 1970s Bogotá, where a group of citizens persuaded the municipality to close 5km of a major artery to vehicles. The idea struck a chord, and 5km has since grown to 120km every Sunday and public holiday. On those days, between 7am and 2pm, streets are for Ciclovía. They go car free, allowing residents to experience them – and the city – differently from the rest of the week.
 
Open Streets, as a movement, reminds us that streets are public space and belong to us all – not just automobiles. But the status quo of congestion, road fatalities and carbon emissions remains in most cities. Cars relegate people to the sidelines, preventing human connection. This has resulted in a lack of respect for each other, and for our environment and future generations.
 
City streets aren’t just uninviting, in many places they have become foreign to non-motorists.
 
This is particularly true in South Africa, where apartheid spatial planning used the street as a tool to divide. Residential neighbourhoods developed far apart from each other and the government separated them with “buffer zones” such as freeways. Car culture still dominates in the new South Africa. This is partly why Open Streets Cape Town speaks so directly to those who have grown accustomed to an inaccessible city that is still segregated by race.
 
In Cape Town, like Bogotá and many of the 460+ other cities that have adopted similar programmes, a group of citizens spearheaded Open Streets. It now has the full endorsement of local government and has grown from a “nice idea” to a programme that both government and its citizens want to see grow.
 
On June 27, Open Streets Cape Town and the World Urban Campaign are inviting urban thinkers and people who are curious about Open Streets to a Twitter chat to help us explore its future in Africa.
 
The principle is, of course, not new. Plenty of cities have vibrant street life, and many communities make great use of their streets as places for recreation and economic activity. The question is, therefore, whether a formal Open Streets format can enhance the positive street attributes already in existence. Second can it grow into the type of movement that spread Latin America from the outset and with surprising speed in North America in the past decade?
 
Furthermore, can our cities embrace a programme that challenges the idea that children should not be playing on the street? Is it aligned with the existing culture and can we find ways to share best practices among our cities? Are there similar programmes already in place and how could an Open Streets programme build on them? This is just some of what we’d like to address in the Twitter chat.
 
But it does not stop there. We’d like this conversation to be the beginning of a much longer discussion that can make our cities better places to live. Our hope at OSCT is that, in a similar way to how we initiated our dream, other city residents can find inspiration and motivation to pursue a model that works for their city.
 
All it takes is a few minds and hearts who believe their streets can be more than they are. The movement is large and there are loads of resources other groups have developed. You won’t be alone in the journey. Visit our website for some ideas and do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. We may not have all the answers but will be happy to share our experience and to put you in contact with others who might be able to help.
 
About us
 
Open Streets Cape Town
A group of volunteers inspired by the concept founded Open Streets Cape Town in 2012, and registered it as a non-profit organisation in 2013. Our flagship program is a series of Open Streets Days that began as a practical way to help bridge the city’s spatial and social divides by changing how people use, perceive and experience streets. We are now working with the City of Cape Town’s Transport and Urban Development Authority to institutionalise the concept as municipal programme.
 
The concept of shutting down streets for recreation and to promote active mobility is not new, not even in South Africa. An article in a local newspaper (the Cape Argus) from the 1940s shows how some neighbourhoods created traffic-free streets, even then, for play. More recently, in the early 2000s, South African government officials visited Bogotá and experienced Ciclovía. Cape Town’s municipality then tested a car-free “festival” in Cape Town in 2003, but the idea never caught on.
We built on those early efforts and have worked with government to put on 12 Open Streets Days thus far. We have a long way to go but by most accounts, the results have been amazing. In a post-apartheid city, Ciclovía is not just about cycling, exercising, and being outdoors; it is also about (re)connection. The people of Cape Town crave the opportunity to interact with each other safely and freely, in the way that only public space enables us to do, and this has afforded us the opportunity to attach some positive stories to the narrative of the city’s streets.
 
World Urban Campaign
The World Urban Campaign (WUC) is an advocacy and partnership platform to raise awareness about positive urban change in order to achieve green, productive, safe, healthy, inclusive, and well planned cities. Its goal is to place the Urban Agenda at the highest level in development policies. It is coordinated by UN-Habitat and driven by a large number of committed partners - currently more than 190 partners and networks - from around the world.
 
For more information, please visit: www.worldurbancampaign.org
 

Article by Marcela Guerrero Casas and Brent Smith
Photo Credits: Rich Conyngham, Marcel Duvenage, Ference Isaacs, Rory Williams (CC)