With the 10th Open Streets Cape Town event set to close off Bree and Longmarket Streets to motor vehicle traffic this Sunday (15 January) and open it up to all sorts of fun to be had on foot, bike or board, we decided to catch up with managing director and co-founder, Marcela Guerrero Casas to revisit the early beginnings, touch on the present and find out what’s set to happen in the future.
When and where did the first Open Streets event take place in Cape Town?
We first started talking and planning in 2012, but officially registered as a non-profit organisation in 2013 and launched Open Streets in May in Observatory. Since then, these events have happened all over the city – from Langa and Mitchell’s Plain to Voortrekker Road and Bree Street, where of course we will also be celebrating our 10th event this Sunday.
Open Streets was largely inspired by Ciclovía, a huge cycling/pedestrian event that creates 120km of car-free streets in Bogota, Columbia every Sunday and public holiday. What were the other driving forces behind starting something similar in Cape Town?
It was actually a bit like a perfect storm, in the sense that I met a group of like-minded people who – like me – also wanted to do something for the city. At the core of our motivation, was a need to connect to people. As you know, Cape Town is a rather difficult space to navigate – both physically and socially – and holding these events really helps even out the playing field and hopefully also assists in connecting people who may otherwise never have crossed paths.
Why do you think events like these are important to cities?
Apart from playing an important role in cultivating social cohesion (as mentioned above), events like Open Streets also help raise questions about how we use the streets in our cities. I mean, if you think about it, we actually accept a lot of nonsense as pedestrians and cyclists.
What goes into organising an Open Streets event?
There are two main things that have to be done before each of the events and both take a fair amount of time:
1. We need to get an event permit from the city, which is quite a long process with traffic management plans and sufficient safety and security having to be put into place.
2. Simultaneously, we’d get an engagement process going by arranging public meetings to get input from residents, as well as local businesses and various other stakeholders. Since participation in these events is entirely voluntary, these meetings are crucial to align all expectations and get as many people as possible excited. And I must say, public involvement has been really good since the very beginning. Streets are such equalising places, you know, and I think – given a chance – people like to take pride in and ownership of their neighbourhoods/streets.
Is there any particular Open Streets event that stands out in your memory? Why?
(Laughs) That’s like asking who your favourite child is – impossible to choose! Every single event has been so different and memorable in its own way. They’re all just so unique.
How do you fund your events?
As a non-profit organisation, we rely entirely on funding, most of which is currently provided by the City of Cape Town, Millenium Trust, Woolworths and citizen support (if you like the concept and would like to offer financial support, you can make a donation on the website!)
Apart from donating, how can ordinary citizens get involved?
As mentioned, Open Streets is really all about ordinary people, so we encourage as much involvement as possible and there’s always an open invitation for people to host events of their own – from free yoga classes to chess lessons, anything you feel inspired to do really. We’ve also made it really easy for people to do this, as there’s no application process to get involved – you just rock up on the day and do your thing. If you require a lot of space or your event may influence mobility in some way, we would prefer to know beforehand, though.
Beyond these one-day events, what do you hope to see happening on Cape Town’s streets on a daily basis?
Ultimately, our big driver going forward is sustainable transport – we encourage everyone attending Open Streets to either take public transport, carpool or get there by foot/bicycle. And hopefully, they’ll extend this to their everyday lives. To make the city more walk/ride friendly, though, we need to improve both the hard infrastructure (sidewalks, bicycle lanes etc) and the culture on the street. While it may sound very airy fairy, it’s extremely important that we adopt a much more humane attitude toward everyone we encounter on the streets we navigate daily.
Any last thoughts?
Yes! We’d just like to invite all Capetonians and visitors to the Mother City to join us for Open Streets on Sunday! Everyone can play a part.
When: Sunday, 15 November
Where: Bree Street
Times: 10:00 – 15:00
More information: Check out the Open Streets website
The Open Streets team will also be conducting a 7-day AtoB Travel Diary Challenge from 16 to 22 January, which invites a select group of people to document each trip they make on a daily basis. This will assist in getting a realistic reflection of the current state of movement and mobility in the city. If you’re keen to be part of the survey, you can sign up here!
Photos: Open Streets Bree Street and Langa by Lisa Burnell