African liveability Community Economic development Public places

Creating meeting places in public space


While the need for public spaces to enable a city’s residents to meet, their children to run free and its visionaries to be able to sit on a park bench and day dream, has never been doubted by forward-thinking urban planners, the role of the public space was questioned by one of the world’s leading architects and urban thinkers, Denmark’s Dr Jan Gehl. Dr Gehl, whose concepts of focussing on the pedestrian rather than the motorist, are behind much of the Cape Town Partnership’s “Public Space for Public Life” programme, recently asked, ”One may well ask if access to public space as a meeting place for people is at all meaningful in the present day electronic and privatised societies. Can the digital, indirect world substitute for the direct contact to other people and to the surrounding society?”

His answer was to state unequivocally that when quality public spaces are provided, people would always use them. Today we use public spaces because we want to, it’s an option rather than a necessity. Compared to urban life a century ago when necessity forced residents to use the public spaces and meet fellow-citizens at the same time. Therefore, today’s public spaces have to be designed to be appealing to us by being, as Jan Gehl says, “well placed, well designed and inviting.”

In recent years various projects to reclaim city squares from motorists and to upgrade the city’s most historical public spaces have been initiated by the Cape Town Partnership and the City of Cape Town and funded by the city. Presently construction work is on-going at the country’s oldest public space, the Grand Parade and its second oldest, Greenmarket Square, returning both spaces to their origins as centrally-focused meeting points for the city’s residents. These, along with more recently created city squares in the Foreshore, have given those who live and work in the city more opportunities to interact with each other, with public art and to gulp in some fresh air, away from their desks.

  1. Greenmarket Square – Turning 300 years in 2010
  2. The Grand Parade – South Africa’s oldest public square
  3. Pier Place – Engaging with lifelike statues
  4. Jetty Square – Ghostly sharks
  5. St George’s Mall – Pedestrianising public space
  6. Church Square – Slavery remembered
  7. Heerengracht – ”The gentlemen’s walk”
  8. Thibault Square – Lunch time meeting place
  9. Heritage Square – Architectural memories
  10. St Andrew’s Square – Exhibiting a piece of history
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