With 50% of the global population currently living in urban areas, and a projected 1.5 times rise to 6 billion city-dwellers by 2045, there’s no denying that investing in thorough, thoughtful and sustainable urban design is absolutely crucial. Designing the sorts of urban spaces that will, essentially, improve the quality of life for citizens requires a good measure of observation and research, which ultimately leads to the identification of trends.
We take a look at 8 that are sure to influence urban design in 2017 and where they are visible (or should be) in Cape Town.
Walk- and rideability
By no means a new kid on the urban trends block, ‘walkability’ has been around for a good while now. However, what makes it remarkable and worth mentioning once again, is precisely this staying power. As traffic congestion and lack of parking become ever-growing problems, more and more city-dwellers are opting for public transport, of which the ‘last mile’ is often completed on foot or bicycle.
For this reason, it’s of the utmost importance for cities – especially the CBDs – to be both accessible and safe for pedestrians and cyclists. While the development of and respect for dedicated cycling lanes is still a huge bone of contention in Cape Town, the Mother City has become famous for its walkability. Our very own City Walk route is a good example of the way in which this manifests – St George’s Mall offers a pleasant outdoor shopping experience, unhindered by motor vehicles, while the Company’s Garden is an inviting inner-city green space to enjoy.
Placemaking through pop-up events/installations
As most urban developers know, red tape and city bylaws often end up stalling (or even preventing) the process of transforming underutilised public spaces into ones that people actually enjoy spending time in.
However, this does not mean that those with great placemaking ideas should remain complacent until such a time as plans for any given project are approved. Quite to the contrary! Pop-up events and installations have become a go-to alternative in cities around the globe and continue to grab imaginations everywhere. A most recent example in Cape Town worth mentioning, was the First Thursday activation of Church Square. Involving surrounding businesses and crafters, as well as dancers and musicians from around the city, this relatively underutilised public space became a hub of activity for a night, displaying the amazing potential it has to draw people.
With rental prices constantly on the rise in inner-city suburbs and a seemingly voracious appetite among developers for transforming once affordable fringe districts into trendy hubs with a price tag, low-income earners are finding themselves being pushed to the outskirts more aggressively than ever before.
This has led to most – if not all – world cities fraught to some degree, with societal fractures caused by gentrification. While it tends to run much deeper than mere bricks and mortar, one way in which cities could start combating this thorny problem is by providing a wider selection of accommodation options. The City of Cape Town has identified social and affordable housing as a priority for more than 10 years already. The City recently announced that they have a R230m budget for social housing through the People’s Housing Process and that they will start developments in Woodstock and Salt River imminently. What form this takes exactly, remains to be seen.
Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)
One of the universal downsides of city living, I’m sure we can all agree, is traffic congestion. And, apparently, we have it really bad here in the Mother City.
In 2013, the TomTom global traffic index revealed Cape Town to be the most congested city in South Africa, with a global ranking at 55th place. The same survey revealed that traffic peak times have increased from two hours (07:00–09:00) to four (06:00–10:00) and that most of the congestion is caused by vehicles with single occupants.
Transport for Cape Town (TCT) has come up with several ways to combat this, with transit-oriented development (TOD) forming the backbone. Basically, TOD encourages people to live, work and play close to already popular transport routes. In order to achieve this, TCT has put plans in place to accelerate the development of an integrated transport network in the city, linking various nodes and modes.
Among other things, Cape Town’s TOD will seek to improve the location of future residential areas for all income groups in relation to economic and work opportunities. This holds substantial benefits for lower-income households who spend a higher proportion of their income on transport. If employment opportunities exist closer to their residences, their travel costs will be substantially reduced.
There seems to be consensus that 2016 will go down in history as a particularly eventful year – mostly in the worst sense of the term. However, amid all the heartbreak and anguish, there was one particular development that seemed to bring a measure of lightheartedness: Pokémon Go.
Upon its release in July, the augmented reality mobile game instantly captured the imaginations of young and old everywhere. There were initial concerns about people getting even more sucked in by screens and losing touch with reality altogether. However, as the game gained popularity, its potential to curb loneliness, encourage exercise and draw crowds soon became clear.
Taking to the streets to “catch ‘em all”, players have used the game as an opportunity to rediscover their cities, learning more about the real places these imaginary creatures lurk through the intriguing nuggets of information the game provides.
Here in Cape Town, the Company’s Garden and Sea Point promenade are two public spaces that have proven particularly popular among Pokémon aficionados, with large Poke-gatherings having been the order of the day during the first few months after release.
While the game has lost a bit of its original momentum and the craze has pretty much died down, it has also introduced a new kind of placemaking potential, something urban planner and data analyst, Tom Seiple points out in an article for ideas+buildings: “
“As design begins to mingle with this new tech, I see an increased demand for interesting and engaging physical spaces. Some of our greatest public spaces and landmarks have become the playground of this tech overnight. As foot traffic begins to explore new spaces, design is sure to follow; there is a real avenue for walkability advocates within AR. The flexibility of pop-up spaces and the frequency of pop-up gatherings seem more likely, again, which will likely feed into demand for walkability.”
Time. Ah, that one commodity we all so desperately need more of, but simply cannot produce. Fortunately, we’ve become masters of multitasking and so have our cities. While speciality stores will always have their place in society, they have momentarily been outshone by the fusion business – somewhere to tick more than one miscellaneous task off your to-do list in a single sitting.
This trend has been around for a while in Cape Town, with I Love My Laundry no doubt having kickstarted it. Breaking the norm of dull and depressing laundromats, they’ve created beautiful places where people can sit down, have a drink, enjoy a snack and chat with friends or strangers WHILE their clothes get a good scrubbing. Over the past year, these sorts of businesses have been popping up all over town, with many more expected to follow suit in 2017.
A few of our favourite examples include Revolution Cycles, where you can sit down and have a cup of coffee while your bike gets serviced; Widowmaker Saloon and Barber, where you can have your hair cut and beard trimmed and enjoy a freshly-made cuppa; and House of H, because sometimes you need a haircut, a new tattoo, a snack and a cold beer all in one go.
As the correlation between internet accessibility and GDP growth becomes ever-clearer, it’s hardly surprising that creating spaces that offer free and easy connectivity are a development priority list of most cities.
The City of Cape Town currently offers free Wi-Fi at more than 100 public buildings and several other spaces – including libraries, transport interchanges and, perhaps most notably, the Company’s Garden. The roll-out of free Wi-Fi may also be driven by less official sources. Church Square, for example, has the Piazza – a private building with a lit fibre connection – broadcasting 2Mbps Wi-Fi signal over the square from an access point mounted on the first floor, drawing an internet-hungry crowd to this space on a daily basis.
Breathing new life into old buildings
Every city has its quota of beautiful old buildings, many of which enjoy some form of preservation. However, there are always one or two that seem to slip through the cracks – making them vulnerable to steady decay and eventual demolition. Fortunately, a return to mindfulness about the massive heritage value these sorts of buildings hold is seeing developers choose a course of transformation that preserves the historical essence, instead of razing it all to the ground.
One of the best current examples of this in Cape Town is the Old Granary in Buitenkant Street. At more than 200 years old, the building has been of various services to the citizens of the Mother City – from a customs house to a post office to the Department of Public Works. Despite the fact that it has housed so many different organisations, it seems over the past few decades there has never been enough capital to maintain it, so much so that the once stately building started crumbling right before everyone’s eyes. Then, early in 2015, the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation Centre came to the rescue with a R12m donation toward renovations and the commitment to use it as their headquarters from 2017 onwards after 20 years of vacancy.