URBAN REVIVAL OP-ED
KwaDukuza’s festival of ideas – co-creating our city’s future at street level
Open Streets serves as a platform for KwaDukuza’s development plans.
We can create dynamic, liveable and safe cities through participation and engaging with our history. At the recent Open Streets Festival in KwaDukuza it was clear that residents are eager to connect with the place by learning about, sharing and valuing its heritage. This can help us deepen our relationship with our city and with each other.
KwaDukuza, formerly known as Stanger, holds historical significance in the region. Among other things, it is home to the King Shaka memorial which marks his final resting place. Like all South African cities, it has challenges around safety and social discord. In this context, bringing people together to interact and co-design public spaces is crucial to plan a better future for our city.
On 23 June, in commemoration of World Environment Day, the municipality held its third Open Streets Festival since 2019. For a day, King Shaka Street became a small playground where children and adults alike cycled, skated, played and shared their vision for a greener, more inclusive and more resilient KwaDukuza.
Open Streets was also part of our “Urban Living Lab”, a project we have been working on for the past two years with the support of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit through the peer learning network programme “Dialogues for Urban Change” and the Inclusive Violence and Crime Prevention programme, co-funded by Global Affairs Canada. The lab supports integrated urban development interventions focused on safety, well-being and social cohesion.
The municipality is working on a CBD regeneration plan to design and build infrastructure in the next few years that will transform the CBD into a pedestrian-friendly space that is inviting and safe for everyone. And so, on the day, we built a display of the different parts of the design so that residents could see it for themselves.
During Open Streets, people were invited to write on four large “ideas boxes” for everyone else to see. It was clear that in addition to permanent infrastructure offering more seating, lights and bins, there is a desire to have more interactive activities like art, markets, greening and sports.
This corresponds to the municipality’s understanding that a strong programming component will be necessary for the full transformation of the space. Such activities contribute to a reimagined, inclusive and safer city in which all the residents of KwaDukuza are safe and feel a sense of ownership.
History at the centre
One of the ideas that kept coming up by people writing on the boards was the value history has for them and how it can be celebrated in the CBD. The renovation of the KwaDukuza museum was indeed an important anchor for the selection of the street section.
A big investment has been made to rebuild the museum and the municipality understands there is an invaluable opportunity to bring history and heritage onto the street by linking the museum and the King Shaka monument, not just physically but also through programmes with the street and turning it into an inviting and celebratory public space.
This sense of pride and ownership is essential in continuing to write the history of KwaDukuza.
Safety is key
Safety is at the centre of our CBD regeneration plan; and we chose the site for open streets intentionally in an area which presents real safety challenges. The objective was to generate activities that are not normally available and that attract people to use the space differently. For instance, we had a few stalls, two jumping castles and some of the seating that is in the long-term plans. We also engaged with all the shops on that street about the plans and to involve them at an early stage.
The transformation was immediate. Children were writing with chalk on the street, people were walking, cycling and skateboarding up and down in a relaxed way. The aim is to create the environment to ensure that change is permanent. We need to think about how we create and support spaces that are safe, vibrant, inclusive and beneficial to the people who use them.
Safety is also about creating a space that welcomes everyone. The participation of a couple of civil society organisations in the area working on gender-based violence was an addition from previous festivals. The municipality understands the importance of putting vulnerable community members at the centre, including foreign migrants. Indeed, the work with the civil society sector needs to be improved and this is part of the vision: a vibrant city competing in the global village economically, socially, politically and in a sustainable manner.
People want to have fun
One of the most memorable images from the festival is the number of children cycling and skating up and down the street. Seeing their sense of freedom and joy was an important reminder of the legacy we want to leave behind with the CBD regeneration plans. Through a short-term intervention like Open Streets, we are giving young people the direct experience of what a different use of public space could look like and we are hoping to plant a seed for an outlook where the priority is not vehicles, but people.
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We will continue to host an annual Open Streets event which will increasingly involve more stakeholders and that will inspire other municipalities to use streets as public space, as a place for genuine public participation. We are also planning to expand the festival to the nearby People’s Park which was opened by the end of 2021 and which has seen an uplift of quality public space to our communities.
People-centred public spaces are central to the idea of a liveable and human environment and if used correctly they can be a powerful tool for social inclusion. We are aware that Open Streets festivals are not going to solve our problems, but we believe that creating that temporary opportunity where everyone feels welcome can generate a sense of belonging that leads to a better future. DM
Siyabonga Khanyile is the Executive Director for Community Services and Public Amenities at the KwaDukuza Municipality.