Public places

Saturday in the city

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Born and raised in the rural Eastern Cape, as a child, I used to romanticise cities and city life.

Friends who’d travelled to some of the Eastern Cape’s larger cities would impress me with talk of busy roads, hundreds of cars and fancy stores where all kinds of toys and treats were on display. My parents too had stories of large cities like Johannesburg and beautiful Cape Town with Table Mountain and the sea.

Years later, I would discover Cape Town’s charms for myself. One of my favourite memories as a new Capetonian was taking my kids, then aged nine and three to see the Christmas lights in the Cape Town CBD the first year we arrived.

With the move, money was tight that year. There was not much spare for luxuries. Still, those were good times.

So, we spent much of our leisure in the city centre during those years, in search of free or inexpensive entertainment. Saturdays were for visiting the South African Museum with its immense Whale Well, or for taking the kids to look at the stars at the nearby Planetarium. Afterwards, we’d buy parcels of fish and chips or eat the cheese and tomato sandwiches I’d packed in for a picnic lunch on the lawns of the Company’s Garden. On Sundays we’d head over to the Grand Parade. My daughter loved the rose-water milkshakes from the old kiosks there; my son preferred ice-cream.

It was the collective memories of me and my team at the Cape Town Partnership that inspired us to come up with the idea of creating reasons for Capetonians to visit the CBD over weekends. During the working day, approximately 400,000 people enter the city centre, but by night, most of these people return to their suburban homes. Over weekends, bar a few nighttime spots that throb with life, the city is a ghost of its weekday self.

“What was your first memory of the city centre?” We asked ourselves. One colleague spoke about coming to Town “to see Father Christmas at the Golden Acre” and how the visit soured in her memory due to the helium balloon she’d been given floating away and drifting up to the ceiling. Another recalled coming to the city by train to shop for clothes at the Grand Parade or on the Station Deck. Others accompanied parents and caregivers to pay bills, to window shop or to eat.

Without knowing it, or without meaning to, we form emotional connections with a city. Today I work for an organisation which aims to create clean, safe public spaces where people not only feel welcome, but where they can form an emotional connection to the place.

With the idea that a Cape Town attractive to locals will appeal to visitors too, we created the City Walk – a storytelling route for the city centre, stretching from the Company’s Garden, St George’s Mall and along the Waterkant Street section of the Fan Walk to St Andrews’ Square.

City Walk explores the common ground between aspects of history and heritage; formal and informal retail strategies; animation of public spaces; public art and ultimately enhancing a 24-hour city strategy.

  •  Every year, thousands of people are drawn to Adderley Street in the Cape Town CBD for the official switching on of the lights. This year, the official switching on ceremony will take place on 4 December 2016. The lights will be in place throughout the season, so if crowds are not your thing, why not follow my family’s example and view the lights from the comfort of a car or bus.

Naturally, the things that first attracted me to and around Cape Town are those I love still. Over weekends, I love to visit the mountains or sea – the thrill of immersing my feet in the chilly, but invigorating, waters of the Atlantic never pales. My kids are grown up now, but we still enjoy eating together as a family. Except now of course, their preferences are even more pronounced. And everyone has plans for Saturday!

This column originally appeared in the Big Issue Collector’s Edition 2016.

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