Our Cities Ourselves opens at Bus Factory


ourcitiesourselvesA ROAMING exhibition of architects’ impressions of 10 international cities begins its tour of Joburg at the Johannesburg Development Agency.

Entitled Our Cities Ourselves: The Future of Transportation in Urban Life, the exhibition challenges 10 leading architects to envision 10 cities in 2030, centred on safe and enjoyable walking, cycling and public transport. It will be at the Bus Factory in Newtown until 25 February, open from 10am to 4pm; from 1 to 4 March it will be in Orlando East; from 8 to 11 March at Wits University; and from 15 to 20 March at Museum Africa in Newtown.

Orlando East is the subject of Joburg’s contribution, more specifically, a vision of the Soweto suburb in 2030. The end result is imagined as a vibrant, high density node with good quality retail and public spaces that operate 24-7.

The exhibition, made up of 12 panels, features Ahmadabad, India; Budapest, Hungary; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Guangzhou, China; Jakarta, Indonesia; Johannesburg, South Africa; Mexico City, Mexico; New York City, United States of America; and Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

Orlando East

Johannesburg’s panel includes an artist’s impression of Orlando East in 2030 by Osmond Lange and Ikemeleng Architects. Each image carries an explanation of what the space has become, such as: “The vacant lot that currently connects the Mooki Street BRT Station to the Orlando Metrorail Station becomes a gathering place. Station Square is framed by a clinic, post office and other institutions. A circular bike station allows people to safely rent or store their bikes as they commute to the new downtown or walk around the neighbourhood, now rife with activity.”

The explanation of another image reads: “The Johannesburg site is currently divided into isolated institutional, residential and transportation districts. In 2030, the holes in the urban fabric that separate these areas are filled in with new mixed-use and higher density developments that more meaningfully connect these zones.”

For the third image, the description states: “A new pedestrian street, including a piazza lined with ground-floor retail and community functions, is added running parallel to Mooki Street and linking Station Square to the stadium.”

As a result of this key transit node, bus and train mass transit options make it easy and quick to move from one place to the next anywhere in the city.

“The [JDA] is already working to make this vision a reality. In 2010/11 we are completing the construction of a new public square that links the Rea Vaya bus stations to the commuter rail station. Work will continue in 2011/12,” says the agency’s acting chief executive officer, Thanduxolo Mendrew.

Rea Vaya

Rea Vaya, Joburg’s flagship public transport Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, is an integral part of its contribution to the international travelling exhibition.

Joburg’s panel includes a piece on Rea Vaya and notes: “In August 2009, Joburg opened Rea Vaya, Africa’s first full BRT system. As former minibus owners take over operations, Rea Vaya has become the first successful urban transport investment for the post-apartheid government. Sidewalks and public spaces in Soweto are beginning to take shape, as well.

“A commuter rail line serves Orlando East, the study site in Soweto. The Rea Vaya BRT also travels through the site but is not well connected to the commuter rail. Despite proximity to a major transit hub with the potential to densify, much of the area remains traditional single-storey settlements.

“The images here propose a transit-orientated mixed-use development where more ‘eyes on the street’ allow people to walk safely between the rail and BRT stations and on to shops, offices, markets, restaurants and open spaces. A thriving, diverse Orlando East would allow its residents to enjoy a new sense of place where activity and accessibility transform it from a township to a new town centre.”

Lisa Seftel, Johannesburg’s executive director of transportation, says it is very exciting for Rea Vaya and the transport department that this exhibition is focusing on the BRT as a sustainable form of public transport.

Urbanisation

The cities in the exhibition are said to be among the world’s most “fascinating” cities in 2030 – when about 60 percent of the global population, or about 5 billion people, will live in urban areas. Most of these are in the developing world. These cities have proven to be leaders in innovation in sustainable transport and are considered fertile ground for further transformation, says Sharon Lewis, the executive manager: planning and strategy at the JDA.

“Each has the leadership potential to make the transformational leap in urban planning that we believe is needed, and are also places where the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy [ITDP] works.

“Nearly all of the cities are in developing nations, because this is where most urban growth will happen over the next 20 years. They have the opportunity to learn from and leapfrog over the mistakes made by developed nations, particularly the over-dependence on cars in the United States,” says Lewis.

Architects

Architects involved in the project are acknowledged leaders in their field, each having a close knowledge of the city they worked on, a track record of innovative urban design and a strong commitment to putting sustainability at the core of their work.

Over the past year, the architects have been working closely with the ITDP in these cities. In creating their designs, these architects made use of the ITDP’s Ten Principles of Sustainable Transport. The results combine creativity with pragmatism, and show what is possible when we design our cities for ourselves.

On its website, Our Cities Ourselves notes that, in the middle of the 20th century, cities across the United States were redesigned to accommodate the car. However, as people flocked to the suburbs, the cities were retrofitted with highways and parking lots to help accommodate the vehicles. Roads were expanded; public transit decreased and as a result, the cities declined. In the years that followed, cities around the world imported this auto-dominant urban design and started to suffer from its devastating effects.

Our Cities Ourselves proposed an alternative path, to underpin the images on show, using the 10 principles, which were developed with Jan Gehl, a Danish urbanist. Architects produced visions of iconic sites projected to experience at least a doubling of residents by 2030.

The ITDP was founded in 1985 to work with cities worldwide to find transport solutions that cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce poverty and improve the quality of urban life.

The exhibition is designed to stimulate debate, enabling the ITDP to maximise its impact, with the aim of making people think about what sort of cities they want to live in, the sort of streets they want to walk along, and the sort of future they want for themselves and their children.

It is presented by the JDA, ITDP, Rea Vaya, City of Johannesburg, Museum Africa, South African Cities Network, School of Architecture and Planning, Wits University.

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