Public places

Benchmark: Safe public spaces for citizens to connect

Children enjoy charging their phones and using the Wi-Fi.

What’s better than sitting on a sunny bench in the city centre, people-watching? Doing the same, just this time, connected to free Wi-Fi. Welcome to Cape Town’s first Isabelo Smart Bench.


With a keen focus on making public spaces friendly and useful throughout the city centre, the Cape Town Partnership partnered with Wesgro to bring the bench to the sunny corner of Wale and Adderley streets, nearby the entrance to the Iziko Slave Lodge.

Active public spaces are friendlier, and if incorporated around outdoor furniture, passers-by gravitate towards and around it. As Amanda Burden, New York’s former chief city planner suggests, having a place to sit is a powerful addition to any public space.

The Isabelo Smart Bench offers more than a resting place, drawn by the opportunity to charge their phones or surf the net, it also provides Capetonians a place to mingle and meet one another. These connections strengthen the social fabric of our society. 

Smart bench an experiment in placemaking 

Increased Internet access is crucially important for Capetonians, and the public benefit provided by it gets us, and our partners in the city, exited. Cape Town’s first Isabelo Smart Bench is an experiment in placemaking,” says Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, Cape Town Partnership CEO.

“Busier spaces are often safer and provide more opportunities for relationship building. Besides homework help for school children, or directions to tourists, this bench will be a conversation starting point. The space where it’s placed suddenly becomes more: a place to meet people, find out information or just relax.”

Interested in the Isabelo Smart Bench? Watch this explainer video:

‘A plug and play solution for public spaces’

isabelo 4Adriaan Hugo, lead Industrial Designer of the Isabelo Smart Bench and co-founder of the award-winning Johannesburg design company Dokter and Misses sees the bench as a ground-breaking “plug and play solution for public spaces”.

“It is a first for Africa. These different technologies have been available on our continent for some time and Isabelo brings them all together into one incredible user-friendly smart bench,” says Adriaan, pictured right alongside Katy Taplin.

“Given recent events in Cape Town, the safety associated with active public spaces has become more important now than ever,” Bulelwa adds:

The area chosen for the placement of the bench is very sunny during daylight hours as the solar-powered bench requires 8 hours of sunlight for charging. The area is also lit by night in addition to the prevalence of street lighting along one of Cape Town’s major thoroughfares. It is our hope that the Isabelo Smart Bench will serve as one more beacon of safety.

“For the Cape Town Partnership, Internet access combined with safety is a win-win for all of us. Expanding the benches throughout the broader Cape Town metropole, is something that we are working towards,” Bulelwa says.

Keen to hear more about the power of public space in cities? Watch Amanda Burden explain:

Have you tried out the Wi-Fi at the Isabelo bench? Please share your experiences.

Photos courtesy of, the Cape Argus newspaper and supplied.


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