In just one week since Open Streets took place in Lower Main Road, Observatory on Africa Day, nearly 400 pictures have been shared on the Open Streets Facebook page, multiple blog posts have been published and every major newspaper in Cape Town has covered the event in some way.
Why did a fairly simple event – closing a road to cars and inviting people to share a piece of tarmac for a few hours – capture the imagination and lenses of Capetonians to this extent? There were no headlining acts with booming sound systems; no sport stars or celebrity names associated with it; no freebies or sponsored hand-outs; and the event had no profound cultural affiliations. It simply presented citizens with the opportunity to come out of their houses and share the street. And people did.
They came, not only from Observatory and Salt River, but from Claremont and Sea Point, from Vredehoek and Nyanga. They came by train, bike and skateboard. And while they were there, they ambled up and down the road, they listened to buskers play and watched limber people do acrobatic yoga. They chalked their names and walked their dogs. People hula-hooped, did the salsa and at least tried to Zumba. They chatted to random people and met friends along the way; they added words to the collaborative Scrabble game and their wishes to the wishing wall. They protested for their rights and partied. Children played soccer in the street; they listened to stories and despite the chilly weather, some even braved the slip ’n slide.
The event was driven by ordinary citizens who could see the potential in creating a safe and inclusive space for people. Everyone contributed to the atmosphere and activations by bringing their skills and resources to the party, not to make a quick buck, but to share their passion.
And while commercial gain is not the aim of an event like this, retailers commented that more people on the streets was good for business: “Although I couldn’t sell petrol this afternoon, I had much more walk-ins in the shop,” said Dennis Lalla, owner of the Observatory petrol station.
Sibongile Phiri agreed: “The event has been good for business. We extended our opening hours for today and have had many first timers in the shop. It has given people from elsewhere a reason to come to Observatory.”
Here are some pictures that tell the story:
Hula-hoops and hounds
Busking and bicyclists
Chalking and children
Scrabble, stilt walkers and skaters
Protest and perspective
Read what others have had to say:
What are you doing?
While Open Streets aims to have regular events throughout the city, the onus should not only be on this particular citizen-driven organisation to create these opportunities. What are you going to do to create, activate and animate Cape Town’s city streets and public spaces? Share your experience of Open Streets with us below or let us know if you plan to do something in your area.
Text Alma Viviers. Photos Lisa Burnell