Young Urbanists reshaping public spaces to work for people

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The City of Cape Town's plans to upgrade the Muizenberg beachfront is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the public to have a say in how the space should work for them.
The City of Cape Town's plans to upgrade the Muizenberg beachfront is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the public to have a say in how the space should work for them.
City of Cape Town
  • A non-profit is mobilising young people to have a say in how their cities are designed so that public spaces can be more inclusive.
  • Young Urbanists want to put an end to "spatial violence" enabled by the apartheid government, which locked out the majority of the population from opportunities in cities.
  • Its latest project is to get Capetonians to speak up about how they want the Muizenberg beachfront to look like as the City plans an upgrade.
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A non-profit wants young people to have a say in how their cities are designed so that public spaces can be more inclusive. The aim is to redress the shortcomings of apartheid spatial planning, which locked out the majority of the population from opportunities in urban areas, but which the group says still persists today through car-centric urban planning.

Roland Postma, organisation coordinator of Young Urbanists South Africa, sounds upbeat when he speaks of what he envisions a South African city should look like.

Postma, who is a planner, recognises that there are challenges in South Africa because of its apartheid past. But he believes there is a unique opportunity for cities and public spaces to address crises related to health, transportation, access to economic opportunities, and even climate change and biodiversity loss through design.

"All these things come down to how we redesign every street or spatial development. And that is something we can now do as a country, despite the challenges we face," says Postma.

Young Urbanists South Africa has been active in Cape Town and plans to launch a chapter in Stellenbosch and other parts of the country, such as Pretoria and Durban, as and when resources become available.

For now, it's mobilising Capetonians to participate in a public commenting period on the upgrade of the Muizenberg beachfront.

The City of Cape Town plans to replace and improve the coastal protection infrastructure and seawalls and upgrade some of the recreational spaces. There will also be upgrades to a gravel parking area.

The proposed upgrade at Muizenberg beachfront incl
The proposed upgrade at Muizenberg beachfront includes the western and eastern parking area.
Supplied City of Cape Town

The proposed parking area is a sticking point for Postma, which he believes is tantamount to the "spatial violence" of the apartheid era when people were excluded based on the colour of their skin – but now based on whether they have access to cars.

The prioritisation of cars over people is not a challenge unique to Cape Town, but speaks to how all major cities in South Africa have to rethink their designs to be more pedestrian-friendly and integrate public transport, which many more have access to.

In a previous interview with CapeTalk, Postma expressed concerns that the City of Cape Town's upgrade of Muizenberg beachfront may be taking the wrong step by having a "prime piece of land" dedicated to parking for cars.

Postma argued that a car park would just increase the dependency on private cars, which contribute to dirty air and climate change through their emissions.

The Young Urbanists' proposal for the area is to integrate public transport such as the train station and bus service rather than private cars.

"Yes, it's an opportunity to have parking, but it's also an opportunity to support the southern line returning and Golden Arrow. It should be a different space for people and not just a big car park between the train station and the ocean," says Postma.

UCT student and Young Urbanists member Ayanda Made
University of Cape Town student and Young Urbanists member Ayanda Made proposes a space that incorporates public transport such as buses, cycling and pedestrian walkways, as opposed to a car park.
Supplied City of Cape Town, with Young Urbanists' modificat

If the redesign allows for more activities that can attract people – such as a park – it could also have a positive ripple effect on businesses, he adds. "This will support businesses because a city attracts people. It doesn't attract cars. We need to have more activities for people, and this will be key for businesses."

Responding to questions from News24 Business, Cape Town Deputy Mayor Eddie Andrews said the City noted the concerns raised about taking a "car-centric" approach to planning. But the proposed designs for the beachfront cater for all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, people with special needs, and private vehicles with surfboards on roofracks.

Based on the City's assessments, only a few residents commute to Muizenberg Beach on public transport, and the latter make use of the parking bays. "Parking counts suggest that even on a mid-week spring day that falls outside school holidays the primary and secondary parking areas are well utilised and under demand."

While the City plans to pave the parking area, this does not mean there won't be future redevelopment that could incorporate a park.

As for accommodating non-motorised transport such as bicycles, the current bicycle racks are not well utilised. But the plan is to provide more of these to cater for "greater future demand".

Andrews adds:

Although coastal management supports improved public transport such as trains, it is beyond the scope, budget and time frames of this project.

He notes that while improvements are planned for the parking area, the primary focus of the upgrade is the coastal protection structure, which is past its design life and starting to fail. "This is done in order to maintain the beachfront as we currently know it, which supports multiple user groups and local business."

To attract more people, the City will be improving the quality of its lawns and recreational areas. A skatepark has also been proposed for the area.

The City also held a public "open house" event on the project where "constructive" inputs were received – and will be making revisions to the design, says Andrews.

The public can submit comments until 26 September.

READ | Muizenberg beachfront upgrade plan draws mixed emotions from residents

Apart from its advocacy, Young Urbanists South Africa has also been actively collaborating with the City of Cape Town in hosting an Urban Design Mobility Forum. The forum allows for the sharing of ideas and policy recommendations relating to urban-based planning.

For Postma, the success of this is that it creates a dialogue between the youth and the City's decision-makers. Some of the discussions centre around solutions for urban waterways in informal settlements – where University of Cape Town students can speak directly to Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, says Postma. Other topics the forums will delve into include cycling and housing.

Alongside bicycle mayor of Cape Town and owner of Khaltsha Cycles Sindile Mavundla, Young Urbanists South Africa also wants to address urban mobility issues by raising awareness of the need for better infrastructure in the city to make cycling safer and more connected. They have big plans and will be hosting a cycling event on 21 October with the mayor and others in the Western Cape government as part of African Mobility Month.

Young Urbanists will also collaborate with non-profit Friends of the Liesbeek and the City to clean up the Liesbeek River in Cape Town on Sunday, 25 September. The clean-up coincides with World Rivers Day.

In August the Young Urbanists hosted a Youth Run w
In August, Young Urbanists hosted a Youth Run with Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis. The campaign centred on raising awareness for cleaner air quality in cities.
Supplied Young Urbanists

Postma believes collaborations with local government, especially within metros, will be a crucial part of driving change on a national scale.

He implores young people to strive for cities that are built for people – walkable, safe and climate-friendly – and challenge the status quo of spaces built for cars.

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